Friday, October 31, 2003

It may seem like the only blog I've been reading lately is Eschaton, but it ain't the case- regardless, I've found yet another interesting link to a CNN story about that new miniseries, "the Reagans", and the RNC's attempts to vet the content before it airs.
Gillespie said that if CBS denies the request, he will ask the network to run a note across the bottom of the screen every 10 minutes during the program's presentation informing viewers that the miniseries is not accurate.
This would seem like an odd request. The Republicans do not own the rights to the story of the Reagans, or to interpretation of the historical record, whether it be part of their own history or not. They've also brought out some serious threats if they don't get what they want- they're going to run television and print ads attacking the veracity of the series, and even threaten to buy them during the show itself. Why bother to do this, though, when they'll be attacked for playing fast and loose with the truth about any number of other oppositional political figures as well, including (but not limited to) the Clenis (tm) himself?

Oddly enough, this isn't about Clinton. It isn't about Reagan either, not really. It's about one man: Franklin D. Roosevelt. I am convinced that the entire reason behind the baffling and embarassing crusade to deify Reagan and convince people that his presidency was the best thing the Republic has ever seen is to try to blunt the reality that the most popular and influential president of this century was a Democrat- worse than that, a Democrat that they never beat. They instituted term limits because Roosevelt humbled them four times in a row, and face the problem that the man who almost singlehandedly brought them out of the worst crises of the century for America (the Depression and WWII) was not only not part of their party, but utterly hostile to everything they stand for.

In order to legitimize their movement, they need a symbol for it that can represent its success. Goldwater was its father, but he was electorally unsuccessful- spectacularly so. Bush I was ambivalent and a one-termer to boot, and Nixon was, well, Nixon. That leaves only two people: Bush the Younger and Ronald Reagan. They're already trying with Bush the Younger, but it's a story still being told, and true-blue conservatives are already becoming somewhat disenchanted with the guy's political maneuvering. This leaves Reagan, and only Reagan, so they are forced to do whatever it takes to turn the guy into the best president this century has seen.

So the efforts are everwhere. We see it at Republican conventions where they run retrospectives about Reagan. We see it in the cheap corner-store "special" magazines that popped up after 9/11. We see it in the manipulation of economic figures to try to simultaneously credit Reagan for both the prosperity during some of his presidency and the prosperity of most of Clinton's presidency, despite that line of argument implying that Carter was responsible. We see it in the consistent revisionist repetition that "Reagan won the cold war", despite the simple truth that had anybody else been in the Kremlin besides Mikhail Gorbachev, Reagan's belligerency would have led to annihilation. We see it in practically everything the movement says about Bush II, too, because they're trying to mold him into a younger Reagan, without all that pesky Alzheimers.

This miniseries threatens that project, perhaps fatally. The Reagans aren't the people that the Republicans want you to think they are. They're not as bad as some might think, but are by no means the heroic stereotypes the Republicans are trying to make them out to be. Nancy remains the woman who consulted mediums on a regular basis, and Ronald remains the man that said that "we drop the bombs in ten minutes" because he didn't know the mike was on. And, perhaps most damagingly, he remains the man who ignored the AIDS crisis throughout his entire presidency, in part leading to one of the worst plagues affecting the modern world. Perhaps most damning, however, he's simply no Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and nobody in the current version of the Republican party ever could be.

No matter how hard they try, they can't get around the fact that the "Grand Old Party" is not the party of Lincoln anymore. It is, at heart, the party of Nixon.
Atrios has been getting a lot of support from both sides of the Blogosphere (community does exist here after all, I guess) but one consistent trend that he commented on was the attempts of people like those at Oxblog to complain about his "incivility" while doing it.

Essentially, they don't like him because he's mean.

Thing is, why shouldn't he be? As he rightly points out, "It wasn't the Democrats that had HateRadio-Apalooza on the White House lawn", and the fact that the current President is a Republican doesn't mean that you can argue that only now should there be civility- it's transparently self serving.

Yes, Atrios is forthright about his anger at- and lack of respect for- movementarians and those who protect them. That doesn't mean he doesn't have a point, it doesn't mean that he doesn't write amazingly insightful material on a regular basis, and it doesn't mean that he hasn't earned the prominence that has turned him into, really, the hottest blogger on the internet. (In fact, he earned it the hard way. Pseudonymity means that you can't trade on your profession like the folks at Oxblog and your previous writing like Sully.)

The only thing that could bother me about Atrios is that I only started a few months after he did, and yet somehow he's managed to leave me in the dust, hitwise. Then again, if I updated umpteen zillion times a day that well, I'd probably be in the same position. Right now, though, Atrios deserves nothing but respect.
The Center for Public Integrity has done some investigating into the Iraq reconstruction effort and has (surprise surprise) found out it "reeks of cronyism".

The report by the watchdog group, the Center for Public Integrity, said most of the 70 firms and individuals getting up to $8 billion in contracts for post-war Iraq and Afghanistan donated more to Bush's presidential campaign -- a little over $500,000 -- than any other candidate in the past decade.

"There is a stench of political favoritism and cronyism surrounding the contracting process in both Iraq and Afghanistan," said Charles Lewis, executive director of the group, which investigates public service and ethics issues.

The report said 60 percent of the firms with contracts had employees or board members who served in previous administrations, for members of Congress and at the highest level of the military.

Winning companies were major political players overall and the group traced about $49 million in donations since 1990 from these companies to political parties, committees and candidates. The Republican Party committee got $12.7 million while Democrats got $7.1 million.

The report found that 14 of the 70 contractors got work both in Iraq and Afghanistan and that combined these companies gave nearly $23 million in political contributions and 13 of those firms employed former government officials with close ties to agencies and departments.

One of the biggest contracts for Iraq went to Halliburton Co., the oil services firm once run by Vice President Dick Cheney (news - web sites), who strongly denies any cronyism.

Engineering firm Bechtel, which has more than $1 billion in U.S. government business in Iraq, has former Secretary of State George Shultz as a member of its board.
Now, those involved strongly deny that anything shady is going on. Naturally. Still, let's be realistic here. Although this may not actually be what this war was about, that doesn't stop the prospect of opportunism one bit.

Hmm, wonder what the P/L ratios are projected to be for Syria?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

This is astoundingly goofy, if not outright evil.

This firm represents Donald L. Luskin, a Contributing Editor to National Review Online and author and host of Poorandstupid.com, among other activities. You recently linked to Mr. Luskin’s October 7, 2003, posting on his website entitled “Face To Face With Evil,” in which he chronicles his attendance at a lecture and book signing presented by Paul Krugman. You chose the unfortunate caption “Diary of a Stalker” for your link. More importantly, your readers, in responding to your invitation to comment, have posted numerous libelous statements regarding Mr. Luskin. Picking up on the theme you introduced, several have made false assertions that Mr. Luskin has committed the crime of stalking. Such a statement constitutes libel per se, an actionable tort subjecting both the author and the publisher to liability for both actual and punitive damages. As a result of your control over and participation in the comment section of your site, as well as the fact that Mr. Luskin has personally brought these libelous comments to your attention already, you face personal liability for their distribution. Determining your identity for the purpose of making service of process can be easily accomplished through a subpoena to Blogspot.com.

Other posters have made similarly actionable statements, straying beyond mere expressions of opinion and making false and defamatory statements of alleged fact. One has even threatened physical violence. To permit these posts to remain on your web site would be utterly reckless.

Mr. Luskin demands that you remove the October 7th link and caption, and the comments section associated with that caption, as well as the comments posted in response to another link that you posted on October 10th, titled “Liberal Incivility Watch,” immediately. This is your opportunity to resolve this matter without legal expense and exposure to liability and damages. If the offending posts are not removed within 72 hours, further legal action will be taken.
Ok, first, this is a clear free speech issue, and astoundingly hypocritical: Luskin was more libelous towards Krugman than Atrios has ever been towards Luskin. I have called Luskin worse, and would do it again- he deserves every bit of it. He's not just a stalker (although he is indeed a stalker, Mr. Upton), he's if anything worse. He compared Krugman to Hitler, after all- that is as actionable as anything I've read online, and is still protected by free speech.

In any case, this is clearly about intimidation. Luskin knows he has no case, but he's hoping to get Atrios to relent because he's threatened to remove his pseudonymity. Now, I have no idea how he expects *BLOGSPOT* to reveal Atrios' identity, because everybody who has used Blogspot knows that Blogspot doesn't ask for your name or location in the first place, and tracking IPs would be difficult at best.

Still, the threat itself speaks volumes. and shows both Mr. Luskin and Mr. Upton to be beneath contempt as out-and-out opponents of the basic constitutional freedoms upon which America is built- freedoms that Luskin's conservative brethren at NRO are supposedly in favor of. Indeed, the founding of America was built about the very kind of pseudonymous speech that Atrios now employs, and that Luskin now threatens.

So, in case you hadn't guessed it yet, Donald, I'm calling you anti-American, and as long as NRO continues to employ you and support you, they're anti-American too. You pervert the principles upon which is built, and make a mockery of the sacrifices of America's forefathers.

Period.
Nick Kristof on the Buffalo Commons:

This forlorn farm town — Rawson, population 6 — is a fine place to contemplate the boldest idea in America today: rescuing the rural Great Plains by returning much of it to a vast "Buffalo Commons."

The result would be the world's largest nature park, drawing tourists from all over the world to see parts of 10 states alive again with buffalo, elk, grizzlies and wolves. Restoring a large chunk of the plains — which cover nearly one-fifth of the lower 48 states — to their original state may also be the best way to revive local economies and keep hamlets like Rawson from becoming ghost towns.

...It sounds cruel to say so, but towns like Rawson are a reminder that the oversettlement of the Great Plains has turned out to be a 150-year-long mistake, one of the longest-running and most costly errors in American history. Families struggled for generations to survive droughts and blizzards, then finally gave up and moved on. You can buy a home out here for $3,000, and you can sometimes rent one for nothing at all if you promise to mow the lawn and keep up the house.

....[H]onesty and sweat aren't enough to make farming and ranching successful in marginal lands. The farms produce plenty of grain and beef, but they will never make much money, even with billions of dollars in agricultural subsidies. The economic model will be even less viable as underground aquifers run out in the next two or three decades. Much plains farming relies on the vast Ogallala aquifer, which is dropping at a rate of four feet per year.

So it's time to reach for something bold, like the Buffalo Commons idea, proposed in 1987 by Frank and Deborah Popper, two New Jersey social scientists. This would be the biggest step to redefine America since the Alaska purchase. Pushing it would give the environmental movement a chance to be known mainly by what it's for instead of for what it's against. But it would take close cooperation with the people with the most at stake: struggling farmers and ranchers, who for now are irritated by East Coast city slickers trying to turn their land into a buffalo playground.
Pardon my french, but this is one hell of an idea. In one fell swoop, it redefines not just America, but it's relationship with the world. The United States would be home to one of the biggest and most impressive natural preserves in the world; it would eliminate the need for the heavy blue-state financial support of red-state agriculture; it would allow the United States to drop subsidies, helping the third world get back on its feet even if Europe remains intransigent; and it could also become one of the biggest tourist draws in the world, because what is more closely associated with America than the wild, free, and untamed plains that gave rise to the romantic mythos surrounding both Native Americans and the American cowboy?

(For a change, the cowboy stereotype would actually help Americans).

Now, there are probably a metric tonne of reasons why this plan is improbable, but the central conceit remains solid: agriculture in the United States is on the decline, and all the empty space in its wake might as well be used for something. This, really, is as good a use as any I can think of.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

A quote from Seymour Hersh:

The point is not that the President and his senior aides were consciously lying. What was taking place was much more systematic—and potentially just as troublesome. Kenneth Pollack, a former National Security Council expert on Iraq, whose book “The Threatening Storm” generally supported the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein, told me that what the Bush people did was “dismantle the existing filtering process that for fifty years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information. They created stovepipes to get the information they wanted directly to the top leadership. Their position is that the professional bureaucracy is deliberately and maliciously keeping information from them.

“They always had information to back up their public claims, but it was often very bad information,” Pollack continued. “They were forcing the intelligence community to defend its good information and good analysis so aggressively that the intelligence analysts didn’t have the time or the energy to go after the bad information.”

The Administration eventually got its way, a former C.I.A. official said. “The analysts at the C.I.A. were beaten down defending their assessments. And they blame George Tenet”—the C.I.A. director—“for not protecting them. I’ve never seen a government like this.
Bolding mine. There might be something to the argument that current events are shaking out the problems that have been associated with a LOT of past administrations, but I personally doubt it- the "stovepipes" aren't exactly a Clintonian concept.

Thing is, this isn't tied to Bush per se, but to the entire ideology of movement conservatism. This loathing and distrust of government professionals is part-and-parcel with the movement. You always get the feeling that they're worried that the bureaucracy is out to get them. They certainly act that way, trying to make end-runs around their own employees as much as possible. While some of this may have to do with the revolutionary rhetoric and ideology that often accompanies modern "conservatism" (they distrust the systems of government and attempt to avoid it), there is a real basis to it... bureaucrats generally know the field better than their political masters, and ideologues aren't at their best when faced with the truth of a business that they wrap up in ideology- as happens in politics.

Either way, at this point the "can you name anything good that George actually *has* done" challenge becomes rougher and rougher. It's not just that he's screwed up what he was trying to take credit for (as in Iraq), he's screwed up things that most American citizens wouldn't think twice about, like the administration-CIA relationship.

Good show.

(Hat tip to Kevin.)

Edit: Another amazing story from this excellent piece.

Not all the senior scientists are in captivity, however. Jafar Dhia Jafar, a British-educated physicist who co√∂rdinated Iraq’s efforts to make the bomb in the nineteen-eighties, and who had direct access to Saddam Hussein, fled Iraq in early April, before Baghdad fell, and, with the help of his brother, Hamid, the managing director of a large energy company, made his way to the United Arab Emirates. Jafar has refused to return to Baghdad, but he agreed to be debriefed by C.I.A. and British intelligence agents. There were some twenty meetings, involving as many as fifteen American and British experts. The first meeting, on April 11th, began with an urgent question from a C.I.A. officer: “Does Iraq have a nuclear device? The military really want to know. They are extremely worried.” Jafar’s response, according to the notes of an eyewitness, was to laugh. The notes continued:

Jafar insisted that there was not only no bomb, but no W.M.D., period. “The answer was none.” . . . Jafar explained that the Iraqi leadership had set up a new committee after the 91 Gulf war, and after the unscom [United Nations] inspection process was set up. . . and the following instructions [were sent] from the Top Man [Saddam]—“give them everything.”

The notes said that Jafar was then asked, “But this doesn’t mean all W.M.D.? How can you be certain?” His answer was clear: “I know all the scientists involved, and they chat. There is no W.M.D.”

Jafar explained why Saddam had decided to give up his valued weapons:

Up until the 91 Gulf war, our adversaries were regional. . . . But after the war, when it was clear that we were up against the United States, Saddam understood that these weapons were redundant. “No way we could escape the United States.” Therefore, the W.M.D. warheads did Iraq little strategic good.

Jafar had his own explanation, according to the notes, for one of the enduring mysteries of the U.N. inspection process—the six-thousand-warhead discrepancy between the number of chemical weapons thought to have been manufactured by Iraq before 1991 and the number that were accounted for by the U.N. inspection teams. It was this discrepancy which led Western intelligence officials and military planners to make the worst-case assumptions. Jafar told his interrogators that the Iraqi government had simply lied to the United Nations about the number of chemical weapons used against Iran during the brutal Iran-Iraq war in the nineteen-eighties. Iraq, he said, dropped thousands more warheads on the Iranians than it acknowledged. For that reason, Saddam preferred not to account for the weapons at all.

There are always credibility problems with witnesses from a defeated regime, and anyone involved in the creation or concealment of W.M.D.s. would have a motive to deny it. But a strong endorsement of Jafar’s integrity came from an unusual source—Jacques Baute, of the I.A.E.A., who spent much of the past decade locked in a struggle with Jafar and the other W.M.D. scientists and technicians of Iraq. “I don’t believe anybody,” Baute told me, “but, by and large, what he told us after 1995 was pretty accurate.”
Horse's mouth, folks: none. Sure, Jafar could be lying, but why? The defectors that the Bush administration has been relying on have infinitely more reason to lie than Jafar would. Which was, of course, always the problem... but as the rest of the story makes clear, Bush wasn't looking for answers, it was looking for justification.

Friday, October 24, 2003

is it just me, or is Tom Friedman steadily morphing from Krauthammer to Krugman before our very eyes? His latest piece (from yesterday)certainly reads that way. His first bit of advice to the Republicans goes as follows:

What in God's name are you doing forcing Iraqis to accept Turkish peacekeeping troops? Are you nuts? Not only will Turkish troops in Iraq alienate the Kurds, our best friends, but they will rile the Shiites and Sunnis as well. Honor is hugely important in Iraqi society, and bringing in Turkish soldiers — Iraq's former colonizers — to order around Iraqis would be a disaster. "If we bring in the Turks, it will bring back bad memories," notes Yitzhak Nakash, a Brandeis University professor and author of one of the best Iraq books, "The Shi'is of Iraq." "Worse, a Turkish presence in Iraq will only prompt the Iranians, Syrians and Saudis to try to increase their influence. That is no recipe for a stable country."
And, believe it or not, it just gets worse from there.

Someday, there's going to be a great book that comes out of Friedman's steadily increasing disillusionment. It's looking like by the time the next election rolls around, Krugman will be able to completely retire from even commenting on Bush's foreign policy, because Friedman will be savage enough for the both of them.

(It almost makes up for the disappointing twaddle that is the Brooks column. A down-the-line Republican I could understand, but his stuff just reads like lukewarm NRO leftovers.)
There was a threat of a rocket attack on an El Al jet landing in Toronto, says the The Globe and Mail.

A missile threat led to the diversion of an El Al flight from Toronto's Pearson airport to nearby Hamilton on Thursday, an Israeli source said Friday.

The flight, with 180 passengers aboard, let Toronto-bound passengers off in Hamilton before continuing to Los Angeles. The return flight to Israel on Friday also landed at Hamilton instead of Toronto.

Transport Minister David Collenette, speaking from Ottawa, said the plane was diverted again because El Al believed the threat against the plane continued.

He would not give details about that threat, but an Israeli source told Canadian Press that it involved a ground-to-air missile.

Four Canadian agencies are investigating the threat, but there was no indication of a real weapon.
Needless to say, this is disturbing news. Even if it isn't true, it'll rattle both Canadians and Americans.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Holy crap. On several levels. Riverbend:
Today, one of the women who work at the ministry, Amal, objected when the troops brought forward a dog to sniff her bag. She was carrying a Quran inside of it and to even handle a Quran, a Muslim has to be 'clean' or under 'widhu'. 'Widhu' is the process of cleansing oneself for prayer or to read from the Quran. We simply wash the face, neck, arms up to the elbows and feet with clean water and say a few brief 'prayers'. Muslims carry around small Qurans for protection and we've been doing it more often since the war- it gives many people a sense of security. It doesn't not mean the person is a 'fundamentalist' or 'extremist'.

As soon as Amal protested about letting the dog sniff her bag because of the Quran inside, the soldier grabbed the Quran, threw it out of the bag and proceeded to check it. The lady was horrified and the dozens of employees who were waiting to be checked moved forward in a rage at having the Quran thrown to the ground. Amal was put in hand-cuffs and taken away and the raging mob was greeted with the butts of rifles.

The Iraqi Police arrived to try to intervene, and found the mob had increased in number because it had turned from a security check into a demonstration. One of the stations showed police officers tearing off their 'IP' badge- a black arm badge to identify them as Iraqi Police and shouting at the camera, 'We don't want the badge- we signed up to help the people, not see our Quran thrown to the ground'

Some journalists say that journalists' cameras were confiscated by the troops...

This is horrible. It made my blood boil just hearing about it- I can't imagine what the people who were witnessing it felt. You do not touch the Quran. Why is it so hard to understand that some things are sacred to people?!

How would the troops feel if Iraqis began flinging around Holy Bibles or Torahs and burning crosses?! They would be horrified and angry because you do not touch a person's faith. But that's where the difference is: the majority of Iraqis have a deep respect for other cultures and religions... and that's what civilization is. It's not mobile phones, computers, skyscrapers and McDonalds; It's having enough security in your own faith and culture to allow people the sanctity of theirs.
The incident is horrible, but that last paragraph is brilliant, Riverbend. Especially that last line... it shows precisely the difference between people like Riverbend and the Islamic theocrats that attacked the U.S., and says precisely what's wrong with the way that the U.S. is handling the occupation and the behavior of its own theocrats.

I really have nothing to add.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Judging by this story, it looks like Iran blinked first.

Iran will suspend uranium enrichment and allow unrestricted inspections of its nuclear program, as sought by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, a senior Iranian official said Tuesday after three European foreign ministers came to Tehran to press the international community's case. Iran set no date for the steps.

Iran faces an Oct. 31 deadline, set by the International Atomic Energy Agency, to prove its does not have a nuclear weapons program as the United States alleges. Otherwise, the IAEA will likely turn to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

Iran also pledged to hand over long-sought information to the IAEA that should help it determine whether Tehran has tried to make nuclear weapons, diplomats said Tuesday in Vienna, where the agency is based.
The political implications of this aren't immediately obvious... what should be a victory for the U.S. may actually be a victory for France:

Iran's decision was bound to provide particular satisfaction to France, which led the effort in trying to counter the military option in Iraq.

"For France, it's a way to show that dialogue is more efficient than confrontation," said Philippe Moreau Defarges of the French Institute for International Relations.

After talks with the British, German and French foreign ministers, the secretary of Iran's powerful Supreme National Security Council, Hasan Rowhani, said Iran would sign an additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty allowing inspectors to enter any site they deem fit without notice.
Now, there's no timeline on this, so it could be a delaying action by Tehran, but the precedent has been set. Why is an interesting question... it may be the diplomatic pressure, or it may be that Tehran has been relatively unsuccessful, and wants the guaranteed PR benefits of publicly renouncing nukes instead of the uncertain benefits of possession of nuclear weapons. The recent deployment of nuclear-capable subs by Israel may have influenced Tehran as well, as this would indicate a second-strike capacity by Israel that Iran could never hope to match, and Tehran may wish to focus on trying to marshall world public opinion in favour of disarming Israel instead of matching them bomb-for-bomb.

In any case, it's really welcome news. I doubt even the Iranians really want an arms race in the middle East. It's too dangerous and too uncertain a situation to throw nukes into the mix.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Jesse rightly takes Ben Shapiro to task for drawing a false distinction between prescription and recreational drugs, but missed a key problem with Ben's weaksauce argument:

Unlike recreational drug addiction, prescription painkiller addiction belongs squarely in the medical arena. Recreational drug addiction is just that -- recreational. A junkie first picks up marijuana, cocaine or heroin in order to have a good time. No one prescribes heroin for back pain. But for many who become addicted to prescription painkillers, the dealer who gets them hooked is their family doctor.
Um, Ben? Oxycontin IS a drug that is abused recreationally. Constantly. The only difference between Oxycontin and heroin is that Oxy is time-release, whereas heroin does its damage all at once. Those who abuse Oxycontin illegally, as I pointed out in a previous entry, use it exactly like heroin. There's no difference between what Rush was doing and what any corner street junkie is doing.

As a point of fact, Oxycontin is the new drug of choice on the street, so they were likely using the exact same drug. That's why I personally doubt Rush's story. I think it far likelier that he was using the drugs as per instructions, found out about Oxycontin's effects when crushed, decided to give it a try, then because a junkie. Impossible to verify, but I'd say it's pretty damned likely. Fortunately for him, he has an army of supporters to tell his side of the story. Unfortunately for all those poor street junkies, they don't.
The Beeb tracks the replacement of the former Bolivian President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada with his Vice-President (and now President) Carlos Mesa. This comes in the wake of massive protests in Bolivia over Sanchez de Lozada's plan to export natural gas; I had heard some speculation last week that this could turn into a revolution if the President didn't do something about it. He did. He left. He's now in Miami.

It looks like the protestors got what they wanted:

A respected journalist and political independent, Mr Mesa immediately pledged to hold "a binding referendum" on the plan to export gas to the US and Mexico.
There's a related story on the protestors explaining their beefs:

So why the protests?

Mainly because macro-economic arguments [about growth] cut no ice with Bolivia's impoverished indigenous Indian majority, who feel that the economy is run for the benefit of a wealthy elite.

Bolivia has been a democracy since 1982 after decades of political instability and repeated military coups. But during that time, inequalities of wealth have increased and there has been no reduction in poverty.

As a result, ingrained Latin American hostility to giving up control over natural resources has now combined with the Bolivian masses' wider sense of economic exclusion to produce a socially explosive mixture.

Nationalism also plays a key role. The idea of selling off Bolivia's gas to the US was always certain to anger the president's left-wing opponents, fearful of being exploited by the "gringos" to the north.

Bolivian pride was further dented by the idea of exporting the gas by way of a Chilean port - an outlet that was in fact part of Bolivian territory until Chile seized Bolivia's coastline in their 1879-83 war.

What have the protesters been demanding?

As far as Bolivia's gas reserves are concerned, the protesters are calling for them to be nationalised and made available exclusively to the Bolivian people.

They are unconvinced by economists who say that it would take no more than 1% of Bolivia's reserves to satisfy the country's entire market in gas.

Other demands include higher wages, better pensions, comprehensive land reform and Bolivia's withdrawal from the planned Free Trade Area of the Americas.
I'm not sure what I think of these demands... the money for said higher wages and better pensions has to come from somewhere, but there's an important lesson in this: despite the hyper-focus on Middle Eastern security in the media and by American policymakers, the issues of development and inequality that ignites protests across the Americas never went away, and we ignore them at our peril.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

By the way, on the "Rush and Oxycotton" issue... I can certainly sympathize with the horror of drug addiction, and I can agree with those of my readers (who emailed me about the issue) saying that taking cheap shots at Rush does no good for the fight to switch the U.S. to a saner and more humanitarian policy on drug addiction.

Still, let's be honest about one thing: there's no way that Rush's travails are going to lead to him advocating harm reduction, and if he does, he'll just get ignored. The attitude is a symptom of a larger problem, and Rush is a major factor in that problem's promulgation. He also called Chelsea Clinton a dog on the air, so I hope I can be forgiven for not being, well, forgiving.
Sorry I haven't been blogging lately.. no computer problems to speak of, just intensely busy with non-blogging work.

(Ah, to be paid for this...)

Most interesting story for me, right now, is the Geneva Accord, a symbolic "peace deal" between Israeli former officials and leftists and Palestinians who may or may not be connected with the actual Palestinian Authority. The Israeli right (and government) hates it, and it's unlikely that it will be adopted officially any time soon, but it provides some proof that negotiation is possible. Since it also is fairly clear in finding a solution to the "right of return" issue that the Palestinian leadership can accept (no actual return, but resettlement in the region and some financial compensation), it may provide the groundwork for a more realistic settlement.

Then again, with the spectacle of Minister of Tourism Benny Elon calling the leader of the Israeli delegation a "collaborator", and a refugee representative from the Palestinians saying that any agreement that doesn't involve a right of return is "dangerous" and "will not succeed"... perhaps that's just wishful thinking.

Then again a little optimism, (tempered with realism) may be a welcome change, no?

Friday, October 10, 2003

Well, well, well... looks like Rush got caught buying Oxycontin on the black market.

I never figured Rush for a Oxycotton user. Always pictured him as more of a cocaine man, myself.

By the way, for those who don't know, Oxycontin isn't like other perscription painkillers that people get addicted to (like Valium and the like) because of the method of use. Those who abuse the stuff (which undoubtedly includes Rush) don't simply swallow the pills- they either grind it up and snort it, or they dissolve it in water and inject it.

And if you're thinking "well, it's just painkillers", remember that snorted or injected Oxycontin is arguably more powerful than heroin. That means that, yes, Rush is a bigger drug addict than Kurt Cobain could ever hope to be.

(Lets just hope that the dittoheads don't follow their master on this little habit, hmm?)

Not content with attacking Paul Krugman (and myself, at least a little while ago), Donald Luskin is now trying to take on Atrios.

Sadly, as this passage shows, Luskin remains unable to get it:

The defense? First, that there is no civil way to talk about the Bush administration's lies and policy failures. Huh? He acts as if those topics themselves were uncivil, thus completely ducking any accountability or even an examination of how those topics have been discussed.
Once again Luskin dodges Krugman's real point. Krugman has argued extensively that the actions of the Bush administration aren't remotely civil, and he (and others) have done a pretty good job of explaining why. Considering how dangerous and harmful he is, why on earth should Bush's opponents remain "civil" as well? Krugman called it when he said:

In the months after 9/11, a shocked nation wanted to believe the best of its leader, and Mr. Bush was treated with reverence. But he abused the trust placed in him, pushing a partisan agenda that has left the nation weakened and divided. Yes, I know that's a rude thing to say. But it's also the truth.
Why isn't he allowed to say that, and, indeed, what is so "uncivil" about it?

What does Luskin believe that "civil" means? If he is pushing the Krauthammer theory that anybody who has a serious problem with Bush hates him? The same response would apply to him that applied to Krauthammer: there are hundreds if not thousands of reasons why one can legitimately loathe Bush's policies, and since he is the person responsible for them, what exactly is irrational about loathing the man responsible for them?

If not that, then what? Is it about so-called objectivity? Should Krugman roll over and create a false "objectivity" between radicalism and reality? That just allows the right to move the center- they can easily paint any strong response to Bush as "extremism", even from centrists who are put off by Bush's radical agenda.

Well, actually, I know the definition: whatever fits Luskin's own agenda is "civil". Whatever doesn't support (or directly challenges) that agenda is "uncivil". Stalking Krugman is "civil", but saying "Bush betrayed his trust" is "uncivil". Making vague intimations that Krugman is evil and (I kid you not) Hitler-like in one entry is "civil". Calling him on that, like Atrios did, is "uncivil" and "not for the faint of heart".

It's fortunate that nobody takes Luskin seriously. Except, maybe, as a source of merriment.

Edit: Luskin should really proofread his blog before he makes comments like this. You want civility? Look at one of the sites that Luskin linked to a day beforehand. Let's survey his thoughts on the good Professor, hmm? Lessee:

-"the leper"
-like Castro
-"evilly famous"
-"shooting star for wrong-headed left-wingers"
-"Krugman... can be compared to the remnants of Saddam's regime"
-"The remnants of a dying orthodoxy"
-the source of "increasingly obnoxious bombs"

and that's just from the one entry. What this yahoo has written in the past would make your toes curl.

So, if you'll permit me to be a little "uncivil" for a moment: Luskin, you hypocritical ass.

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Ok, as promised, my take on the Syrian bombing.

The problem here is relatively simple. Does Israel have the right to enter Syrian territory? If it does, should it have done so? If it doesn't, then does it matter?

The answer to the first question is relatively simple: No, it doesn't. National sovereignty isn't a grey area; countries are allowed to defend their borders against hostile intruders, but aren't allowed to venture into other countries to pre-emptively attack, else there would be endless "pre-emptive" attacks that are, simply, attacks. (After all, any military you don't control is a potential threat.) This isn't just a moral goal or political theory; it's a core concept of the U.N. Charter, to which Israel (and, yes, the United States) is a signatory (and, therefore, a benficiary). It doesn't matter whether it's Israel or Syria or Serbia or the Sudan or Jordan or Canada or India or Pakistan or Ethiopia that you're talking about. Crossing borders isn't, well, Kosher.

(Israeli advocates usually interject that the U.N. is hostile to Israel. I don't believe it is, innately, but even so that doesn't get Israel out of its Charter requirements. You have to play by the rules if you want to benefit from them. Socrates understood this when he drank the hemlock, and Sharon should understand that now. They might also say that Israel needed to act in order to defend themselves. That's fine as an abstract, but the entitlement to *an* act doesn't mean entitlement to *any* act. Israel couldn't nuke Syria either, although that'd certainly solve the problem of Syrian-based camps.)

So, the question is... does it matter? That's tougher. The U.S. is onside, which is unsurprising considering that Sharon is simply adopting the Bush doctrine. (I hadn't expected it to be Israel that first jumped aboard that hay wagon, but there you go... unless you count the Russians.) With the U.S. onside, there can't be a security council resolution against Israel, and Israel has a history of ignoring the things anyway. Syria can't respond; they don't have the military might. The Arab world as a whole could respond, but any real threat to Israel can be (and likely will be) met with a nuclear response. The E.U. and the Russians won't be overly happy; the E.U. because they have to keep their large Muslim minorities happy, and the Russians because they're on the border with Iran and they know that Iran will only further step up its attempts to get the bomb, which is a serious threat to Russian security. That race for the bomb will be the #1 priority for Iran now, and I wouldn't be overly surprised if cash gets funnelled in from other parts of the Middle East to make it happen, because Israel's threat to "hit its enemies at any time in any place" will be taken very, very seriously.

So, it's quite likely that Israel's attempt to pre-emptively ensure its security will make it, yes, less secure. Unsurprising. After all, we've seen it before, haven't we?

Monday, October 06, 2003

Canadian readers will be aware that Ontario's Progressive Conservative party was thrown out of office last Thursday. Not just "defeated", but pretty much humiliated... their arch-rivals, the Liberal party, grabbed 72 out of the 103 Ontario seats, leaving the "Tories" with just 24. (The leftist third party, the NDP, had their seat share reduced to 7 seats from the 9 they had in the previous election.)

Thing is, this is an election with significance to Americans, because the Tories weren't really "Progressive" at all... they were neo-cons through and through, taking much of their policy and rhetoric from the Republican party: preaching the gospel of tax cuts, constantly cutting spending in order to choke regulation, privatizing everything in sight, attacking immigrants, even (oddly enough) supporting the war in Iraq. This makes sense... aside from (perhaps) Alberta, Ontario is the province most akin to the United States in terms of its economy and temperment, and the Tories have always had a big advantage there, generally dominating Ontario politics. They might as well have renamed themselves "Republicans", and may well have done so if Canada were actually a Republic.

And they lost and lost big.

More than that, they lost to a Liberal party that defied a lot of conventional wisdom. A party whose ads said, and I quote "I won't raise your taxes, but I won't cut them either; our schools and hospitals need that money desperately". A party that (famously) eschewed attack ads, which didn't have the money or the corporate support of its opposition, that was up against some pretty noticeably gerrymandered seats and a bias towards conservative-voting rural electors, that was facing enormous vote-splitting with the NDP that lost it the election last time, and had a leader who didn't have the slick personal charisma of most politicians- if anything, Dalton McGuinty is a pretty huge square and is definitely a policy wonk. The Liberal party won big by utterly and completely rejecting neo-conservatism and everything it stands for.

Point is, if it worked in Ontario, the most Americanized part of Canada, it can work in the United States too. Not all of the United States, of course... nobody would argue that, and there are real differences between even Ontarians and Americans. Still, it shows that the neo-conservative conventional wisdom can indeed be rejected, and that's a major step. Neither Americans nor Canadians are doomed to the cycle of massive tax cuts and spending cuts that rip the beating heart out of government; they can reject it and ask for something different. As the Liberals said, they can "choose change".

Ontario made the choice. America can too.
Temporarily at least, my computer is working again. (No idea how long it'll last, although maybe whatever it was that was causing the noise in the fan has worked itself loose.)

(I'm almost out of the habit of blogging.)

So, the two major stories now are the bombing in Haifa (19 dead, more wounded, although this time involving Israelis of both Jewish and Arab descent) by a Palestinian woman that belonged to Islamic Jihad, and the attack on a Syrian training camp by Israeli jets. I'll talk about the jet thing later, but first, Haifa.

The Haifa bombing has prompted renewed calls for Arafat's expulsion and/or extermination. Thing is, nothing has really changed. If the Israelis remove him, they'll either wound or kill dozens (perhaps hundreds) of Palestinians trying to get to him, and lose a comparable number of soldiers. Even if they do succeed, he'll just keep running things from France or Saudi Arabia or wherever, communications being what they are nowadays, and any new Palestinian leadership will simply attach a demand for his return to any negotiations that take place. They'll have to do that even if they don't like the guy, or they'll face the wrath of a population that will see his removal as a national humiliation. Not a good place to be when you're being forced into a civil war.

If the Israelis kill him, on the other hand, he'll be an instant martyr, as visible a symbol of the conflict and of Arab nationalism as anything to date. I'm sure that they know quite well how important this role is- expect the "Arafat our Martyr" posters and songs and such to get rolled out the instant his EEG goes flat. Plus, any attack on Arafat will likely lead to breathtaking collateral damage, if the typical Israeli technique of using missiles for assassination holds true against Arafat. (I'd hope it wouldn't and that they'd use a more discriminating technique. I don't necessarily expect it, but I do hope.)

Still, there are going to be a lot of very angry Israeli Arabs right now, and that's a more significant development than the calls for Arafat's ouster. Israeli Arabs just lost their own sons and daughters to the Palestinians, a group that they would normally sympathize with. This is going to prompt some questioning: if the Palestinians are attacking indiscriminately, then why not let Sharon and the Israeli government do whatever they want? Even the most virulently anti-semetic Arab is going to tell the Jihadis to screw off if he's not an Islamist himself, and it'll renew his interest in both a peaceful solution to the conflict and any nascent dislike of Islamists.

After all, the claims that Arabs are better off in Israel than they would be under any number of Arab leaderships in the area (including the PA) do have a real point to them, even if they are usually made by transparent apologists for Likud policy. They can vote, they have rights, they have freedom of speech, and have the opportunity to become a significant part of a Labour coalition. Even if they don't believe that the "demographic dilemma" will lead to their being a massive electoral force in a few years, they're still not going to let a good thing go. Assuming that the Jewish Israelis don't threaten to transfer Israeli Arabs over to Jordan, (thus directly threatening said Israelis), they've got a lot more to lose by supporting these guys than by opposing them, and any goodwill will have been annihilated by this attack on their own. This, of course, benefits the Jewish Israelis, because anything that makes Arab Israelis identify more with the "Israel" part of their identity than the "Arab" part of their identity aids national cohesion and security. Important, that.

Thing is, the Palestinians should know this. Was this an attack on secular Arabs, or was this an oversight? Either way, assuming that Israelis don't go down the rabbit hole of attacking Arafat, Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews may have become a little more united. I'm all in favor of such unity; I just wish that it didn't come on the heels of tragedy.