'Faster Iraq" meme gathers more steam.

'Faster Iraq" meme gathers more steam.

'Faster Iraq" meme gathers more steam.

A mostly political Weblog.
May 11 2004 5:59 AM

The Shame of the Whitney

Plus, Faster Iraq meme gathers steam.

Dem Panic Watch 5: The needle, she no move. ... Kerry up by only one point in California? ... Don't worry! He's a good closer! ...Joke-spoiling caveat: Conservative T. Bevan is impressed with Kerry's advantage among April/March-deciders  in the IBD poll. And there is some pro-Kerry movement  among registered voters in the USAT/CNN/Gallup Poll, but not among "likely" voters. ... And nothing's happening  among the registered voters over at AP/Ipsos. ... 12:52 P.M.

The Full Monica: Eduwonk likes Kerry's latest education proposal-- basically more money and pay in exchange for easier dismissal of poor teachers. (Wasn't that Monica Lewinsky's education plan? It was!  But she was sound on this issue.) ... Questions:1) Has Kerry abandoned his previous plan to also water down the standards in the No Child Left Behind Act? Apparently not; 2) How do we know Kerry won't waffle and fold on the firing question at the first salvo from the teachers' unions (the way he folded on his feckless affirmative action rethink in the ealry '90s)? How do we know these aren't just more words from overzealous speechwriters--part of Kerry's current suck-up-to-centrists campaign, which followed his now-semi-renounced suck-up-to-liberals campaign in the primaries? We don't. 3) Any reform of this magnitude--sackng lots of now-tenured teachers, on federal command--will require a political fight. You can't just propose it and expect it to sail through Congress. You have to educate the voters and whip up some general interest pressure to counteract the highly effective special interest pressure of the teachers' lobby. That means running around in public telling horror stories about poor teachers who couldn't be fired, which means deeply annoying the National Education Association. There's no sign Kerry is ready to do that. [But Bill Clinton didn't tell many welfare horror stories before reforming welfare--ed. Ronald Reagan and Newt Gingrich had told the stories for him. Plus, voters have always hated welfare.] ...

P.S.: In an encouraging sign, Kerry has been unexpectedly tenacious in sticking with his Social Security semi-means-testing idea. Of course, nobody's really attacked him for it--yet.  2:49 A.M.


Monday, May 10, 2004

Nobody Covers the Art World like kausfiles! Here is a passage buried deep within the recent  NYT Sunday Business piece  on big shots who try to avoid paying sales taxes on the art work they buy:

As president of the Whitney Museum board, Robert J. Hurst has played a pivotal role in shoring up the institution's finances and securing prized artworks for its permanent collection. One of the Whitney's galleries bears his name. In addition to being a leading figure in the New York art scene, Mr. Hurst is the former vice chairman of Goldman Sachs, and held a $267 million stake when the firm's shares began trading publicly in 1999. ... [snip]

As the investigation of art dealings got under way in early 2002, investigators in Mr. Morgenthau's office discovered that Mr. Hurst had bought a large number of artworks in New York for which he had not paid New York sales tax, according to one senior prosecutor. The unpaid tax amounted to at least $2 million, said a senior law enforcement official.

According to a law enforcement official, Mr. Hurst had the art shipped commercially to a home he owned in Colorado. Shortly thereafter, the official said, Mr. Hurst reloaded it on a private jet and whisked it back to Manhattan.

A senior law enforcement official said that when Mr. Morgenthau's office confronted him about the matter, Mr. Hurst was offered the opportunity to pay the tax and did so. In a brief telephone interview last week, Mr. Hurst said: "I have paid all my sales tax. I am absolutely current." Although he said he would call to discuss his art purchases further, one of his assistants called later to say that Mr. Hurst was traveling and would be unavailable for an interview. [Emphasis added.]

Let's assume Hurst has now paid all his taxes. Is he really the sort of person the Whitney wants heading its board? This is an institution famous for using taxpayers' money to fund exhibits that many taxpayers find offensive (e.g. Andres Serrano's "Piss Christ"). Shocking the citizenry has been a successful marketing strategy for the Whitney. If the taxpayers' outraged representatives were to try to withdraw or limit their contribution, as they occasionally do, the Whitney would be among the first to call it censorship--asserting, in effect, a conditional right to the tax money. Fair enough. But you'd think the Museum would then want to be headed by people conspicuously willing to pay the taxes that help support it--not those who appear to go to elaborate lengths to dodge their tax obligations, which they seemingly only fulfill after they're caught out. ... 3:54 P.M.


Building on his strengths: ABC's The Note says Kerry "has yet to find a voice that comforts while it enervates." ... Hey, don't be too hard on him. It's early in the campaign, and he's already got the enervating part down. ... 2:19 P.M.

WaPo's excellent piece on the background of the Abu Ghraib comes close to making the case that the abuse was the logical consequence of a) having too few troops to b) fight an insurgency that intimidated potentially friendly Iraqis. ...No wonder the Pentagon sponsored screenings of Battle of Algiers. If I remember right, one character in the film is a plain-speaking French general who argues that winning the guerilla war requires torturing prisoners. ... I wish I could believe the convenient win-win line peddled by Sen. Pat Roberts on ABC's This Week--that torture doesn't pay off in terms of accurate information, so it's completely senseless on all counts. But I fear the fictional French general was closer to reality. WaPo implies that the tougher interrogation techniques instituted by our troops last fall did pay off, though it cites only "U.S. generals." ... What's not clear from the Post is the short-run tradeoff: If the U.S. had decided to scrupulously hew to the Geneva convention, even at the risk of more insurgent attacks and more casualties, how much worse would it have been? In the medium-to-long run, of course, the get-tough policy is looking like a disaster for the U.S., even within Iraq and even apart from humanitarian considerations.  ... 

Impolite question: Not that it would have made everything all right, or even partially right, but why didn't our generals or their subordinates ban photographs,to forestall the propaganda debacle that has now taken place? That would have shown some understanding of how modern information technology can help fuel global Al Qaeda-like hatred. It's been been suggested that the photographs were a part of the intended humiliation and "softening up." But even if you wanted to humiliate--which I'm not advocating!--surely there are ways to do that that don't also risk humiliating the U.S. around the world.  How much incremental benefit did the photos add? (You could have had flash bulbs pop without actually taking pictures, even.) ...

The horse race angle: Making voters ashamed to be Americans has to be particularly powerful electoral poison, no?If the "needle" doesn't move in Kerry's favornow--while his big positive bio ad blitz is simultaneously happening--do Democrats need any more evidence of what a weak a nominee he is? ... Why not nominate someone else and win!


Update: An April 5 WaPo piece by Tom Ricks actually quotes a soldier citing Battle of Algiers:

The soldier said that rough handling of detainees was common in his unit but that he thought it was often warranted. "It's a little like the French colonel in 'The Battle of Algiers,' " he said, referring to the 1965 film about the Algerian uprising against French colonial rule. That is, he explained, the French officer said, " 'You're all complaining about the tactics I am using to win the war, but that is what I am doing -- winning the war.'

Maybe they should have shown them The Longest Day instead. 12:22 A.M.

Sunday, May 9, 2004


Random Rasmussen: Here's an excerpt from the reader e-mail that cured me of my Rasmussen tracking poll addiction:

Rasmussen numbers are going to change even if the underlying facts they are polling do not change.    To illustrate this I created an excel file in which mimicked the polling of 500 people per day and repeated this for 100 days.  During this 100 day period, the underlying "facts" did not change:  45% of people supported bush, 45% of people supported kerry and 10% were other or undecided.   Let me emphasize:  this never changed during the 100 days:  I know this because it's how the excel file was programmed. 

Despite the fact that there was no change in the actual situation, the polling results did change:  one day Bush outpolled Kerry  50-40;  on another day Kerry outpolled Bush 49-42; and on another day it was Kerry 50-44.

Rasmussen evens out these one day jumps by reporting three day moving averages.  But those also move around, though not as much.  Let's look at the 3-day averages for one five day period in my simulation:

Monday:  Bush  48  Kerry 41

Tuesday:  Bush  46  Kerry 43

Wednesday:  Bush 45  Kerry 45

Thursday:  Bush 43  Kerry 47

Friday: Bush 43 Kerry 47

If that's what Rasmussen's numbers might be like in an unchanging dead heat, what would an actual shift of opinion look like? My e-mailer, E.L., writes: "If Rasmussen shows a lead of 4-5 points for two straight weeks, that would convince me that one candidate was actually ahead," though he admits that's "not rigorous statistics." I don't know if my Pundit Threshold--the level of statistical certainty I can tolerate before I start pontificating about a "trend"--is that high. But from now on I'll try not to get spooked by one, two or three point rises and falls in Rasmussen's numbers over the course of a few days. ... 8:42 P.M.

Faster Iraq Watch 4: Kagan and Kristol, on board for moving up Iraqi elections. ... But why wait until September 30 in the areas that can hold balloting even sooner? ... [Shouldn't this be an Iraq Panic Watch?-ed That too.] ... Link via Sullivan ... Slower Post Watch: Meanwhile, Fred Hiatt and WaPo--recognizing that Rumsfeld's resignation is not in itself a solution--seem, alarmingly, to be stumped. They've produced a vague men-of-goodwill-must-get-togther plea so bite-free it makes David Gergen look like Chris Rock!  I thought I'd clicked on an old L.A. Times editorial by mistake. (Sample: "The administration must set aside its prejudices and reach out convincingly to potential allies at home, in Iraq and throughout the world.") More troops? Fewer troops? Faster elections? Cede more control to the U,N,? Abandon democracy for stability? Accept a radical degree of Sunni/Shiite/Kurd federalism? Lower our long-term expectations about military bases? What's the point of being inside the Beltway if you don't even grapple with these issues? ...I suspect this is a placeholder editorial designed to show general concern while an internal WaPo ed-board debate rages. It would have been more informative to show us the debate. Why waste readers' time? ....  2:41 A.M.

Saturday, May 8, 2004

Cocooning on the Right: I like the N.Y.Post and read it every day. (They sell it on streetcorners in Venice, California!) But when the Post makes it through the past week without mentioning developments in the Iraqi prison abuse scandal  on the front page you might get the impression they're drifting off into their own alternative conservative universe in which readers must be protected from bad news about the war. ... Not that the Gary Sheffield coupon wasn't a big story! And not that the Post has to join the anti-Rumsfeld posse. But would "BUSH TO ARABS: I'M SORRY" have hurt? ... P.S.: This is what usually happens to the liberal-leaning press right before they lose an election (e.g., L.A. Times before the Gray Davis recall.) ...[Thanks to kf reader P.] 1:20 P.M.

Thursday, May 6, 2004


Dem Panic Watch 4: The estimable Ryan Lizza on the Kerry staff backbiting and recrimination. The knives are out for Cutter! And Shrum. And Cahill. Blame everyone except  ...  P.S.: Veteran Kerry skeptic Jon Keller offers some perspective on the person they're trying to avoid fingering:

On one point, the professionals who know John Kerry best are in agreement: His political career is like the movie Groundhog Day, in which Bill Murray's character keeps reliving the same day over and over again. "He always starts as a favorite, falters, has a near-death experience, then puts on the blinders, focuses, and comes out swinging," explains a veteran of past Kerry campaigns. "The difference is, few people thought it could be done in a presidential primary." This phenomenon, spun by Kerry apologists as a sign of when-the-going-gets-tough-the-tough-get-going machismo, is also subject to a less-flattering interpretation. "He's a guy who doesn't really start to pay attention until he thinks he may be in danger of dying," says [Dem consultant Dan] Payne, who identifies classic early Kerry campaign symptoms: "Delays, inattention to details, sloppy staff work, not having a tight message. He'll allow this to just go on and on until someone hands him a poll and says, 'You'd better get it together.'"  [Emph. added]

5:34 P.M.

Faster Iraq Watch 3: Roll 'em! Robert Wright advocates incremental elections, with those regions stable enough to hold them holding them ASAP. Key point: Elections in the Shiite areas would then pressure the Sunnis to get on the election bandwagon themselves--setting up a virtuous cycle where there is now a vicious cycle of illegitimacy and instability. ... Wright addresses the major problems with the plan (e.g. the loose federalism it requires; what to do with Baghdad). And the administration would have to give up any grand plans "to use Iraq as a platform from which to project American military power," since the elected government is unlikely to want that. Sounds good to me. ... P.S.: Note that the head of the United Nations election unit reports that technical plans for Iraq balloting are ahead of schedule. "Security aside, we are better than on track." Moving up elections and holding them where we can could be the solution to the security crisis. ... Will the Bushies be a day late on this too--clinging to the "strategic platform" idea the way Bush clung to the idea of not apologizing? ... 3:02 P.M.


Duh: If Bush apologizing was  a good thing to do today, why not yesterday? Classic case of failing to get ahead of the story. ... 2:24 P.M.

Meanwhile ... While everyone's been paying attention to events in Iraq, all heck is breaking loose to our South, with Cuba and its oldest ally, Mexico, having a giant argument fueled by scandal and conspiracy theories. ... Fidel Castro seems a wee bit sensitive about countries that vote against him in the U.N. on human rights. ... Plus, justly controversial Bush assistant secretary of state for Latin America, Otto Reich, seems to be leaving. ... Memo to Annie Bardach: Explain, please! ... 1:20 A.M.

Wednesday, May 5, 2004

Today's 'Uh-oh, We've Nominated a Turkey' Moment: From Lawrence Kaplan's TNR account of Kerry's  Israel flip-flop comes Kerry's increasingly convoluted explanation for why he mentioned Jimmy Carter and James Baker as potential Mideast envoys, something that upset mainstream Jewish organizations. Turns out it was those overzealous speechwriters again! But there's a peculiar twist at the end:

[O]ne of the first things Kerry did at the meeting [with Jewish leaders] was to blame his aides for the mention of Carter and Baker as possible envoys in his December speech--a claim that several participants double-checked as soon as they walked out the door. The names, Kerry said, had been inserted by mistake, and he had even asked that they be removed. The problem is, in the speech itself, Kerry said, "There are a number of uniquely qualified Americans among whom I would consider appointing, including President Carter. ... And, I might add, I have had conversations with both President Clinton and President Carter about their willingness to do this." Kerry spokesperson Stephanie Cutter even confirmed to The Boston Globe in December that he had spoken with Carter. Today, the campaign offers this explanation: The candidate eventually did speak with Carter--but only after noticing that a draft of his speech said that he spoke with Carter. [Emph. added]

Er ... is that how the Kerry presidency will work? I always thought speechwriters had power!**... But wait a minute: If Kerry instructed his aides to remove Carter's name as a possible envoy from the speech, then why did he go ahead and meet with Carter just because the to-be-corrected draft of the speech said he'd met with him? ...  That's where his story falls completely to the ground!

**--What's the reductio ad absurdum of this? Kerry reveals he went to Vietnam after reading a draft of his autobiography that said he went to Vietnam? ... Hmmm. [Don't go there--ed.]

P.S.: It's always an underling's fault with Kerry, isn't it? He doesn't fall! The Secret Service guy got in the way. He doesn't engage in 'Benedict Arnold' demagoguery! It was those wacky speechwriters. He didn't want Carter or Baker as envoys. That was an aide's mistake. Do we think that if Kerry were president he'd take any blame for the Abu Ghraib abuses? ... P.P.S.: And does Bob Shrum think Kerry will be loyal to him if his big new TV ad buy doesn't 'move the needle'? ... [But how is Kerry going to wriggle out of promises he personally made to the Jewish leaders?--ed. It turns out they were actually meeting with Kerry's overzealous body-double! You can hardly hold Kerry himself responsible for his stand-in's constant screw-ups.] 4:35 P.M.

Bush Al Arabiya interview:a) You can't say he kept the righteousness and self-congratulation about how Saddam wouldn't have taken corrective action to a minimum! b) His role in this talk was to momentarily eat s---, not lecture Arabs on the virtues of democracy; c) Still, a lot better than nothing and not at all fumbling or stumbling; d) The following may be the most significant sentence in the interview:

Iraq was a unique situation because Saddam Hussein had constantly defied the world and had threatened his neighbors, had used weapons of mass destruction, had terrorist ties, had torture chambers inside his country, had mass graves. It was a very unique situation. [Emphasis added.]

Translation: "We're not going to do this again anytime soon!" ... P.S.: WaPo's Robin Wright seems deeply hostile to the U.S. policy in Iraq. That came through in her dispatches, but it really comes through in her audio reaction to Bush's interview. She sounds almost Al Jazeerish to me, immediately brushing past Bush's attempt to address the prison abuse issue to insist that the question is "U.S. goals in the region" and the U.S. "policy attitude." Well, OK--but how did Bush do addressing the prison issue? Does it have no independent significance at all? ... This multimedia journalism strategy being pursued by the Post (and others) can be revealing in ways that don't necessarily burnish the brand. ... .1:53 P.M.

Buck us up again and we'll be completely panicked: Iraq can't be going as badly as Jonah Goldberg thinks it is, can it? ("If the 'new Iraq' were a patient on the operating table, the ping machine would be going kerplunk.") 1:22 P.M.

Tuesday, May 4, 2004

Finally back online: Muchas gracias, Sr. Sasser! [How many people will get his joke? 3?-ed. But they will laugh, and laugh, and laugh ... .]10:52 P.M.

'Hang a lantern on your problem': You can't say Nick Denton didn't follow the old scriptwriter's adage when choosing a name for his promising new Hollywood gossip site. ... Why not go all the way and call it Defendant9:39 P.M.

Senator Daschle's Outrage: Leave it to a U.S. Senator to confront shameful acts of inhumanity that endanger the nation and get all outraged over ... a  disregard of Congressional prerogatives!"Why were we not told in a classified briefing why this happened, and that it happened at all?" asked Senator Daschle, in a complaint echoed by Senators McCain and Warner. "That is inexcusable; it's an outrage."   (Why, they had to hear it on CBS! They were unprepared!) Leave it to our get-a-new-angle media culture to play up these self-serving institutional complaints as if they were in the same universe as the abuse itself. No wonder politicians succeed by running against Washington. ....

How, exactly, would briefing senators have helped the situation? It wouldn't have stopped the abuse, which had already transpired. Mainly, it would have multiplied the number of potentially talkative people who knew, increasing the chance that the news would get out and do the damage to America's reputation that it has done, no? Daschle's complaint is a traditional means by which Senators and Congresspersons protect their careers by distancing themselves from a scandal. ('We didn't know!') It's also part of the routinization of horror, in which a jarring and morally charged event gets sucked into a more familiar and arid Washington dispute, losing its valence. Too bad that while America starts to yawn at Daschle's "outrage," the rest of the world is still sputtering with rage at the original offense. ... P.S.: Does President Bush think sending Condoleezza Rice out to promise a full investigation on Al Jazeera (and  more or less apologize on on Al Arabiyah) is in any way sufficient to the moment? This is a bigger deal than discrediting Richard Clarke. Why doesn't Bush himself go on TV and apologize? ... If not him, wouldn't Gen. Abizaid be a better choice--in part because he speaks Arabic, in part because (let's be realistically un-PC) as a man he seems better suited to soothing angry Arab men offended at a sex-charged violation of their view of the proper role of women. ... Update: According to WaPo, the White House says Bush will appear  on Arab TV. But the A.P account contains this troubling paragraph:

There also was little inclination to officially apologize -- a gesture that experts say carries significant weight in Arab societies. When asked about the possibility of apologizing in order to compete in a ``war of ideas'' in Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he hadn't thought about it."

Isn't this worth apologizing for? Does Bush have more than one chance to get this right? Here's hoping he avoids a Clinton-style non-apology. ... ... 8:49 P.M.

Benedict Arnold is Flip-flopping in his Grave! In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, John Kerry has this to say about his campaign attacks on "Benedict Arnold companies":

But the Benedict Arnold line applied, you know, I called a couple of times to overzealous speechwriters and said "look that's not what I'm saying."

Benedict Arnold does not refer to somebody who in the normal course of business is going to go overseas and take jobs overseas. That happens. I support that. I understand that. I was referring to the people who take advantage of non-economic transactions purely for tax purposes -- sham transactions -- and give up American citizenship. That's a Benedict Arnold. You give up your American citizenship but you want to continue to do business and deduct and do everything else. That's what I'm referring to....

Is that really what Kerry meant by the "Benedict Arnold" line, which was a standard part of his stump speech? Let's go to Kerry's own web site, and search for the traitor's name.  Here are some representative samples:

1. "George Bush continues to fight for incentives to encourage Benedict Arnold companies to ship jobs overseas at the same time he cuts job training for our workers and cuts help for small businesses that create jobs here at home. ... "

2. "Unlike the Bush Administration, I want to repeal every tax break and loophole that rewards any Benedict Arnold CEO or corporation for shipping American jobs overseas."

3. "Instead of George Bush's raw deal, we need a real deal that stands up to the powerful interests. That's built on people and products not privileges and perks.  And that closes every loophole for the Benedict Arnold companies that ship jobs overseas." 

While Kerry's proposal  would merely eliminate some tax advantages for outsourcing,* it sure sounds to me as if the term "Benedict Arnold," as used by Kerry, applies to all outsourcing firms--firms that are then 'encouraged' or 'rewarded' by the tax code, in Kerry's view. And there's no mention at all of giving up American citizenship. You make the call! ... Union workers in primary states, especially, should make the call. Did you really think Kerry was only referrring to corporations that conduct "sham transactions"? ... It couldn't be that Kerry is dissembling again--letting the union workers think one thing and then telling the business readers of the Wall Street Journal another? That would be boring and cliched of him. ... More interesting but equally damning explanation: Those "overzealous speechwriters" have a strange power over Kerry, forcing him to repeat over and over again something he doesn't want to say! He complains that the words aren't what he means, but when Bob Shrum says 'say it,' he says it. Does Bush's speechwriter have that much power over Bush? ... [Thanks to reader T.S.  Emphasis added. Void where prohibited.]

P.S.: Was Anthony Raimondo, the Nebraska manufacturer bounced out of a job as Bush's 'manufacturing czar'  by Kerry "rapid response" attacks, guilty of creating jobs in China through "non-economic" transactions (i.e. transactions that wouldn't make sense if there were no tax breaks)? I don't think so. He was more the sort of businessman Kerry now says he'd "support." I'm sure Raimondo appreciates Kerry's change of heart.  

*Even Timothy Noah, who likes Kerry's outsourcing proposal, concedes that it would penalize all American firms that send jobs abroad--even those that do it in the "normal course of business"--in their competition with similar foreign firms. This doesn't bother Noah, but arguably it isn't "support." 

Update:  Robert Tagorda argues the key to Kerry's conveniently shrinking definition of "Benedict Arnold company" is a new requirement of giving up "American citizenship." Kerry does mention "citizenship" twice, suggesting it was a prearranged weasel-point he wanted to emphasize. The new, narrower definition, Tagorda notes, exempts "such companies as Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, and Bank of America, which, while perhaps strongly inclined to seek offshore tax shelters, are primarily operated in the United States." It

is narrow and even seemingly inoffensive to Corporate America. It targets only those companies whose CEOs have abandoned civic responsibilities while continuing to exploit American benefits. In other words, it's less critical of your typical company and executive.

In other words, it means a lot less than Democratic primary voters were led to believe it meant. Boy, were they easy to con! ... 2:13 A.M.

Monday, May 3, 2004

Center for Democratic Employment: I always assumed John Podesta was a responsible Clintonite sort, having served as President Clinton's chief of staff. So why has his group, the Center for American Progress, produced a  partisan Web site that proclaims Iraq "A Country In Chaos" and gives a large role to the highly suspect David Brock? Does Podesta's ex-boss, President Clinton, think all Iraq is "in chaos"? Does Hillary Clinton? I doubt it. (Fallujah is in chaos, and the whole country could slip into chaos, but that's different.) ... And take a peek at what seems to be the Center's masthead. It looks like the organization chart of the Department of Agriculture or the old Washington Monthly Memo of the Month! Are all these people with elaborate titles ("Special Assistant to the Senior Vice President for National Security," "Consulting Executive Web Editor") on Podesta's payroll? Is this an effective advocacy outfit or a holding pen for out-of-office Democrats who don't want to have to go out and confront the job market? I thought Clinton had ended welfare as we know it. ...[The "Progress Report" isn't an irresponsibly partisan Web site. It's a boringly respectable Web site trying to be an irresponsibly partisan Web site and failing.--ed True, but that "Iraq in Chaos" headline was annoying. And the $2 million Brock got from his lib funders is also annoying, right?--ed I don't begru ... Admit it!--ed OK. Really annoying! Think what Josh Marshall or Paul Glastris could do with that money.] Update: Taranto has an actual substantive critique of Brock's site, noting that it doesn't criticize news reporters for bias--it criticizes opinion writers and pundits for bias, which is a bit odd. Take the exceptionally weak Media Matters item, "Limbaugh Accused Liberals of Hating the Military."  Well, yes, Limbaugh did! That's, you know, what he thinks! And if he were talking about liberals my neighborhood--where "War is Not the Answer" and "Explore Alternative Solutions" posters abound--he'd often be right. Update 2: Admittedly, West Baghdad seems to be manifesting some chaos as well. ... 11:22 P.M.

Defeat: There are some encouraging signs suggesting the worst abusive acts against Iraqi prisoners really were the product of a limited number of American soldiers and contractors. (See Colonel Phillabaum's email in this NYT story.) But does President Bush--as opposed to his State Department--understand the extent to which the photos of Iraqi prisoner abuse have made America palpably less safe by encouraging some non-trivial number angry Muslims (and others) to become anti-U.S. terrorists? The real events themselves are bad enough; magnified by the highly efficient Arab anti-American propaganda machine they become a huge defeat in the war on terror. It won't be much of an answer, when another attack kills thousands of Americans, to protest "But there were only a handful of bad apples in Iraq." The President's job isn't just to be able to defend the U.S. position. It's to prevent the attacks.

How? The abuse scandal isn't the sort of bad publicity that will be countered by a sound bite here or there, or press conference answer by Secretary Powell, or a stern letter to Donald Rumsfeld, or anything that happens on Larry King Live. It's not a responsibility President Bush should delegate--to distance himself from the bad news, the way Clinton did with Waco. It won't be cured by accepting bids for another PR contract, and it's not something that can be confidently dealt with in the chain of command--if the chain of command worked to get information to the top, the problem wouldn't have arisen in the first place, right?  ... Some grand gesture would seem to be required. Why doesn't President Bush ask for three minutes on the U.S. networks, plus CNN and Al Jazeera and the other international satellite channels. He could look directly into the camera; and a) condemn and apologize; b) explain why this isn't what America is about; c) give his personal pledge to punish the perpetrators, describing those Americans already punished; and d) ask to be judged on the results. Keep the righteousness and self-congratulation about how Saddam wouldn't have taken corrective action to a minimum, and he might begin to turn this defeat around. ... The gesture would not only reassure the world that the U.S. still knows right from wrong--it would reassure the world (and the American electorate) that the President knows the world needs reassuring. ... 10:09 P.M.

'Faster Iraq' Watch 2: Quick elections seem to be working  in some Shia regions of Southern Iraq:

Although the American government insisted that national elections could not be held in Iraq before the transfer of sovereignty on June 30, in Dhi Qar they went ahead using the ration card system - a method which could have been used nationally, according to many Iraqis.

Using ration cards means it's "one family, two votes" rather than "one man, one vote." Do you really want to try to make it to January while holding out for Baker v. Carr-level fairness? The results so far using ration cards seem to be crudely representative and legitimate (and non-fundamentalist). ... Would a transtitional government selected this way be any less legitimate than a powerless, unelected June 30 "caretaker" government that waits until January to let Iraqis vote? A quickly-elected regime could always have another election next year and asymptotically approach perfection. ... P.S.: And couldn't an early election--say, in July--provide the occasion for inviting the rest of the world, including the U.N., to share (or take over) our peacekeeping duties? a) With an elected Iraqi government, other nations would have a harder time refusing to send troops; b) The new Iraqi  government might ask them in, and ask us to diminish our presence. Good news for us, maybe, because c) there's a limit to the amount of mischief France could make with an elected Iraqi government (acutely conscious of France's role bolstering Saddam) in place. In effect, the new government would be a brain looking around for some muscles. The UN wouldn't be telling it what to do, simply providing start-up security. ... .Just thinking out loud here! I will now go read Fareed Zakaria's book  to find out why this is of course a terrible idea. ...

[Won't there be security problems?-ed. There will always be security problems. There were security problems in Spain! But if Islamic fanatics set off bombs before the vote, you'd think that would hurt their cause in the balloting. Don't they know that? ... P.S.: It might even be better to hold elections right now, while we have a lot of the bad guys bottled up in Fallujah. (Fallujah, like other places with special security problems, could always be allowed to hold its elections later.) ... P.P.S.: If there's too much violence on election day, international observers can always declare the elections failed and schedule them again. Why would that be such a setback? You'd think it would be bad PR for the terrorists whose intentions--to stop democracy--would now be obvious to Iraqis and the world. ...

In Iraq, let's not let the good become the enemy of non-disastrous!] ...1:59 A.M.

Sunday, May 2, 2004

Dem Panic Watch 3: Brazile ... Edwards ... Rendell ... "one senior Democratic official" ... maybe Carter Eskew too!  ... P.S.: Is it a horrible disadvantage--as the NYT's Nagourney, following the WashTimes' Lambro, suggests--that Kerry doesn't yet have an Ohio campaign director or a "full-fledged campaign 'war room'" six months before the election? Not even anti-Kerry RealClearPolitics thinks this is a big deal. ... Vain, pompous, dissembling candidate--important! Delay in fully-staffing 'war room'--not important! .... P.P.S.: Nagourney argues that a robust war room would have improved the Kerry response in the "medals" controversy--apparently by marshaling "surrogates" to rebut Good Morning America'scharge instead of having Kerry go on the show and fight with Charlie Gibson.  Hmmm.  Wasn't that the sort of charge a candidate would normally be expected to answer himself? If a surrogate (or friendly foe like McCain) can handle that question, maybe surrogates can handle the candidate's other tasks too, like developing a "message"!  ... Maybe the candidate can stay out of the public eye entirely for six months while the surrogates do the actual campaigning for him!... Maybe the Kerry campaign could streamline its problematic organizational structure by eliminating the candidate and running a group of these more appealing surrogates instead!  Nagourney may be on to something here. ... Update: Reader J. emails: "[D]on't you think having a 'Dem Panic Watch' (or other '--- Watch') installment is a bit teleological? Like, instead of accurately analyzing what's going on in the news, you simply make a prediction and then tend to look out for that evidence which supports it?" You have a problem with that? It works for me. 1:38 A.M.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Faster Iraq Watch: George Will joins the are-we-really-going-to-try-to-wait-until-January-to-have-elections-in-Iraq camp. Count me in. It would be great if months could be spent lovingly building the supportive intermediary institutions of civil society, but this is a luxury we don't seem to have. ... 5:13 P.M.

Not Orwellian Enough: Here are the first few sentences of today's Paul Krugman column:

"We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield." That's from George Orwell's 1946 essay "In Front of Your Nose." It seems especially relevant right now, as we survey the wreckage of America's Iraq adventure.

Tomorrow a year will have passed since George Bush's "Mission Accomplished" carrier landing. Throughout that year — right up to the surge in violence this month — administration officials assured us that things were going well in Iraq. Living standards, they said, were steadily improving. The resistance, they insisted, consisted of a handful of dead-enders aided by a few foreign infiltrators — and each lull in attacks brought pronouncements that the campaign against the insurgents had turned the corner

So they lied to us; what else is new?

Krugman, revealingly, fails to grasp the meaning of the Orwell quote he starts with, no? It seems pretty clear to me that what Orwell's describing is the way our unconscious mind often deceives our conscious mind--until we're finally forced by brutal reality to change (or until we're extinguished on the battlefield). Krugman converts this not unsubtle insight into the crude:

"So they lied to us; what else is new?"

In doing this, Krugman attributes conscious deception to people (the Bushies) who are probably (in reality and Orwellian theory) guilty only of self-deception. This tendency--to call opponents liars when they're better described as self-deceivers--is one reason Krugman's almost always preaching to the choir (and not doing nearly as much damage to Bush as he could be doing). ...

P.S.: Of course, Krugman's misreading of the quote he's chosen to start his column is a pretty good example of the type of self-deception Orwell's talking about. Krugman isn't consciously misreading the quote. He just doesn't recognize that the quote doesn't quite say what he wants it to say.  ...

The rest of the column's good! ... [Thanks to reader B.] 1:29 P.M.



Drudge Report--80 % true. Close enough! Instapundit--All-powerful hit king. Joshua Marshall--He reports! And decides!  Wonkette--Makes Jack Shafer feel guilty.  Salon--Survives! kf gloating on hold. Andrew Sullivan--He asks, he tells. He sells! David Corn--Trustworthy reporting from the left.  Washington Monthly--Includes Charlie Peters' proto-blog. Lucianne.com--Stirs the drink. Virginia Postrel--Friend of the future! Peggy Noonan--Gold in every column. Matt Miller--Savvy rad-centrism. WaPo--Waking from post-Bradlee snooze. Calmer Times--Registration required.  NY Observer--Read it before the good writers are all hired away. New Republic--Left on welfare, right on warfare!  Jim Pinkerton--Quality ideas come from quantity ideas. Tom Tomorrow--Everyone's favorite leftish cartoonists' blog.  Ann "Too Far" Coulter--Sometimes it's just far enough. Bull Moose--National Greatness Central. John Ellis--Forget that Florida business! The cuz knows politics, and he has, ah, sources. "The Note"--How the pros start their day. Romenesko--O.K. they actually start it here. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities--Money Liberal Central.. Steve Chapman--Ornery-but-lovable libertarian. Rich Galen--Sophisticated GOP insider. Man Without Qualities--Seems to know a lot about white collar crime. Hmmm. Overlawyered.com--Daily horror stories. Eugene Volokh--Smart, packin' prof, and not Instapundit! Eve Tushnet--Queer, Catholic, conservative and not Andrew Sullivan! WSJ's Best of the Web--James Taranto's excellent obsessions. Walter Shapiro--Politics and (don't laugh) neoliberal humor! Eric Alterman--Born to blog. Joe Conason--Bush-bashing, free most days. Lloyd Grove--Don't let him write about you. Arianna--A hybrid vehicle. TomPaine.com--Web-lib populists. Take on the News--TomPaine's blog.  B-Log--Blog of spirituality!  Hit & Run--Reason gone wild! Daniel Weintraub--Beeblogger and Davis Recall Central. Eduwonk--Busting the education "blob." Nonzero--Bob Wright explains it all. [More tk]