Saturday, June 15, 2002

MY GIRLFRIEND RETURN FROM HER SEMESTER ABROAD in a couple of hours, so hopefully I won't have much time to blog this weekend.

Friday, June 14, 2002

NZ BEAR'S RUNNING AN ESSAY CONTEST ON THE future of the Catholic Church, but I'd like to propose a possibility that I don't think fits well under any of his three categories, namely: The conference of Bishops is able to repair some of the damage that's been done by the priest sex scandal, but isn't able to halt the underlying drift of American Catholics away from orthodoxy and away from becoming priests. Nevertheless, this trend among existing US Catholics is offset by the continued in-migration of millions of Catholics from Latin America where people are more in tune with the prevailing attitudes within the hierarchy. The next ten years sees the death and/or retirements of the major Irish Catholic American Archibishops (Egan, Law, Mahoney, etc.) and their replacement by Hispanics (well, Boston would probably remain Irish, but New York and LA will definitely go). Thus the great era of the US Catholic church as a primarily Irish institution with some associated Italian and Eastern European elements becomes a primarily Mexican institution with Puerto Rican and white subordinate groups.
THE NATION COMPLETES ITS TRANSITION FROM GOOD TO BORING to horrifying to laughable with this article on the "Homocon" threat. When Mark Steyn wrote that column about "jackbooted gay sociologists stomping on the face of Europe" it was satire, and damn good satire, but we have now entered the realm of the absurd. Isn't the fact that attitudes have changed enough that some gays feel comfortable embracing a sometimes-awkward alliance with the political right a sign that progress has been made? Wouldn't one think that with the dawn of true orientational equality gays would split 50-50 or -- gasp -- be conservatives? There's no permanent revolution, you can't just expect a group of people to stay permanently radical.
THE NEW REPUBLIC, OF COURSE, IS ALWAYS RIGHT so it's good to see that they agree with me that all this bellyaching about homeland defense is a dangerous distraction from fighting the war:
So, yes, improve border controls. Foster interagency coordination. Open up suitcases. But it would be nice if someone--preferably someone at the White House--remembered that building walls won't eliminate terrorism. Eliminating terrorists will.

THOSE OF YOU WHO REMEMBER THE GRAND OLD DAYS of October and November, back when we put the "war" in "warblogger," may recall that Northern Alliance-phobia was a major tenet of the idiotarianism of the day, as well as being (apparently) the main motivation behind the Pentagon's early refusal to drop it's bombs on enemy soldiers. Eventually we stopped waiting around for a "coalition" to materialize out of nowhere and decided to just take the allies we actually had (the UK, the Northern Alliance) and kick ass. Everyone else went along, and all was going smoothly until today, when fear of the Tajik menace and concern that we're being insufficiently considerate to Pashto sentiments resurfaced on the Times Op-Ed page.

Keep in mind that while the Pashto population of Afghanistan was busy loyally supporting their ethnic confreres in the Taliban, the Northern Alliance was toiling away for years to get rid of Mullah Omar with virtually no US support or encouragement.

Apparently, we've given too much power to the Tajik troika at the ministries of Defense, Foreign Affairs, and the Interior and their ally the Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum. Of course, the combined Uzbek-Tajik population is approximately equal to the Pashto population, and Pashto occupy such key offices as President, and King. But if that doesn't convince you that things are balanced consider that the Tajiks already gave up Interior three days ago and that Abdullah Abdullah at foreign affairs is half Tajik. Some people, methinks, just love to complain.

SOUTH KOREA DEFEATS PORTUGAL, THE US WILL enter the second round of the world cup. I suspect that Americans would be bigger soccer fans if they realized that the US team is actually very good and that it's extremely difficult to even qualify for the world cup at all.
ACCORDING TO BRIAN LINSE, Nick Kristoff, John McCain, and, in general, just about everyone is right and there is a gun show loophole after all. Who'd a thunk it?
WONDERING WHETHER OR NOT THE BUSH PLAN to give in to terror and establish a Palestinian state is a good idea? This paragraph clinched it for me:
Mr. Bush said that he had not decided whether he would issue a statement or set out his vision in a speech, but officials said today that he was leaning toward a speech. The Saudi foreign minister today said only that he was very pleased with his White House meetings.
I mean, I had thought that this plan was a total contravention of everything this administration was supposed to stand for in foreign policy, but then I saw that Saudi Arabia was in favor of it, so I figure it must be OK. They're moderates, after all, and they pay the oilmen who pay the president, so why worry?

Thursday, June 13, 2002

GO READ DANIEL PIPES TESTIMONY on Saudi influence in the US before the House Committee on Government Reform. For that matter, go read the rest of his site.
FASCINATING, IF A BIT LONG ACCOUNT of the Catholic church's finances in the Times raises a question in my mind. Why are American Catholics (according to the article) "the largest financial supporters of the Vatican" if at the same time many diocese are running defecits and Catholic schools are shutting down across the country due to lack of funds? Isn't the central church sitting on top of a fortune in real estate alone in Rome?
HOW ABOUT SOME FOREIGN INTELLIGENCE? Some folks on the Hill are considering merging bits of the FBI and the CIA into the planned Department of Homeland Security, de facto creating a domestic intelligence agency for the first time in American history. What I wonder, though, given the fact that sketchy converts like Jose Padillo and John Walker seem to have been readily embraced by al Qaeda why don't we just flood them with informers and double agents. Such informers wouldn't of course, necessarily be able to gain access to any even remotely high-level opinion, but they would be able to get something, and everytime an organization is found to have moles inside it, the whole show starts running a lot less effectively because trust breaks down.

Indeed, were I to feel like giving Bush, Ashcroft, Tenet, et. al. more credit than they deserve, it occurs to me that their bizarre handling of the Padillo situation might simply reflect the fact that he is a US operative returning home at last. We had to have him arrested to get him back in our custody so that other, very possibly unreliable, intelligence agencies that may have been tracking him wouldn't get wise to the plan, and the we transfer him to this secret military detention center from which he can say his piece without anyone needing to know that he hasn't really been arrested at all.

Wouldn't that be cool?

WILL SALETAN DISCUSSES THE ISSUE in typically breezy, semi-comic Slate style, but his quite damning column argues that not only is the administration engaging in potentially serious rights-violating with the secrecy surrounding Jose Padillo, but at the same time they're compromising the war effort by blabbing so much about other aspects of the case.

Wednesday, June 12, 2002

THE FOLKS BEING DESCRIBED IN THIS article on bonded labor in Pakistan sound an awful lot like slaves to me, but it's a slavery of an interesting sort, voluntarily entered into by very poor people in need of some cash and evidently without any better options. The practice is illegal in Pakistan, but the ban is rarely enforced. I must say that the man who wants to sell himself into slavery has long been my favorite ethical dilemma and I'm still not sure what I think about it.

Tuesday, June 11, 2002

OFF THE PINE HAS A GOOD BREAKDOWN of divisions within the pro-war camp that helpfully transcends the naive view that hawkishness should be identified with "the right" and dovishness with "the left."
NINE MONTHS AFTER: Jeff Jarvis writes:
It's nine months after and I have nothing to say to mark the anniversary. I'm tired of the anniversaries, the ceremonies, the fear, the sadness, the anger, the uncertainty, the war that won't end because it won't start, the nightmares, the pain. I'm tired of being tired.
I'm tired too and I'm going to say something about how I don't have anything to say. I paid my first-ever visit to Ground Zero yesterday -- it was the first time I'd been back in the city that I thought I could handle it -- and I'd been planning to come back and blog about how my sense of outrage had been renewed etc., etc., etc. But it wasn't. The whole thing looked almost banal. Not banal, really, the sheer scale of the thing is enormous, but it reminded me of, say, the Big Dig back in Boston -- just another piece of construction kitsch. After seeing so much on TV of earlier phases of destruction and recovery, the scene nine months later didn't really seem real.

It did make me think of the last time I'd spent a significant amount of time in the area. Senior year in high school I was hosting an exchange student from France and wanted to take him around to see the sights. He was pretty goddamn impressed not so much by the towers themselves, but by the fact that they were surrounded by a whole bunch of other really tall buildings. Back in Paris the tallest building is like fifty stories high or something -- it would barely register a blip on the Manhattan skyline. I was really pretty disappointed in the guy. He liked video games and playing pool a lot, and didn't seem to have any profound opinions on wine, existentialism, or anything else that a pretentious and disaffected high school kid might hope to learn about from a Frenchman. Reflecting on it, though, it occurs to me that he "got" New York and America in a way that I, the native, didn't really understand. The impressive thing about this city -- this country -- was never that we had some really tall buildings (after all, Chicago and Kuala Lumpur had bigger ones) it was the sheer number of big buildings that really stands out. New York has dozens of skyscrapers and the US has dozens of cities with skyscrapers in them. You could destroy any number of buildings, even -- god forbid -- all of New York, and we'd still be the richest, toughest country on earth and we'd come after whoever did it and destroy them.

That's what gets me worried about all this homeland defense talk. I'm afraid that all this talk about how to foil terrorist attacks sends the message that if -- if -- the defenses could be overcome that then, maybe, America would be crippled, either literally or just paralyzed by fear. I -- and everyone reading this I hope -- know that that's not true. That they could set off a dirty bomb in midtown Manhattan and kill thousands more and it wouldn't make a damn difference at the end of the day. Clancy foresaw (sort of) the suicide airplane tactic and envisioned it doing something much more disruptive than taking down some buildings, in his book practically the entire top-level government of the country was destroyed and still, life went on, and we prevailed. That part, at least, was totally realistic -- there's just no way a terrorist attack could possibly cause us to lose this war.

I think that's the message we need to be sending to the world.

FIRST THE SAUDI ENTITY GOES DOWN and now defending champions France are eliminated from the World Cup in the first round. Could the simplisme playing of Mathis, McBride, O'Brien, et. al. take team USA all the way? Well, no, but it would really teach the euros a leson if they did.
BRYAN PRESTON THINKS WE OUGHT to remove Saddam covertly. He points out a number of serious problems with the invasion scenario -- includingly, most notably, the threat of a WMD attack on Israel that triggers a Middle Eastern general war -- and concludes:
Removing Saddam from power via covert means has several advantages over an all-out invasion. Saddam would be the target of any operation, and removing him removes the problem. Building a suitable replacement government should prove easier in Iraq than it has in Afghanistan, but forces loyal to him will cause trouble for months or years. Removing him without invasion lessens the need for allied support, and minimizes the nuclear threat. Removing him covertly also keeps the enemy guessing, as a massive airlift of troops and materiel into the region (which could tip our hand as to timing) would not be necessary. Removing Saddam via special ops will not be easy, but it's an option that should be given serious consideration.
I think there's two problems with this. One is that I take it that we've been trying to foment an anti-Saddam coup and it hasn't been working out for us, so it may not be possible at all. More importantly, though, with the lower cost of the coup option also comes a lesser upside. Any government that replaced Saddam under this scenario would have to be staffed largely by high-ranking officials of the Hussein regime, and I seriously doubt that any saints fall into that category.

How comfortable are you with the idea of a small and potentially fractious group of turncoat former Ba'athist generals controlling an arsenal of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons? How much faith would you put in their guarantees that they'd ceased WMD research? Not only would we still have bad toys in the hands of some bad boys (albeit, perhaps not quite as bad), but we'd also lose the pretext (Saddam) for imposing a stringent inspections regime.

IT WOULD APPEAR FROM THIS ACCOUNT that President Bush is a bit confused as to what his Middle East policy is. One day we need a vision for Palestinian statehood and the next day the time "isn't ripe" for such discussions. I would suggest that Barak was right in his initial approach -- seeking peace settlements with the actually existing Arab states on the basis of mutual self-interest. An end to Israeli occupation of the Golan Heights, after all, would actually be good for Syria, and diplomatic relations and trade with Israel would be better for all of the Arab states than either the current situation or Israel's destruction. At the end of the day, despite the horrors of Palestinian terrorism, it's only the Arab states who can pose a real existential threat to Israel and if they could be pursuaded to forthrightly abandon that goal, then, I think, most Palestinians would abandon it as pointless and start focusing on what might be accomplishable -- namely, independence and the resettlement of refugees in Palestinian territory.

As Josh Chafets (and others, I believe) have argued the replacement of Saddam Hussein by a democratic regime might put us a long way toward these goals.

Monday, June 10, 2002

GOOD JOE CONASON POST ON THE real agenda of the Green Party -- the destruction of the Democrats by any means necessary. If I were Karl Rove I'd be looking into ways to funnel some money toward these crackpots. The result of Greenery, unless the phenomenon can be nipped in the bud, will be something like the prevailing situation in Canada where a now institutionalized split between two (more or less) conservative parties has given the Liberals a permanent lock on federal power, a situation that's been distinctly unhealthy for the country even though I think the Liberals over there are basically good guys.
ELECTROLITE AND MOIRA BREEN ARE CONDEMNING the vicious anti-Midwestern elitism revealed by my post here about how I would've ignored whistle-blower extraordinaire Rowley too. I quite agree with those condemnations -- I was just trying to be honest about my emotional response to her, not defend it. All I was saying is that I can understand how it was that her warnings (and doubtless those of similarly Midwestern agents based in the Midwest) got ignored, not that it was a good thing that they were ignored.
GLENN REYNOLDS WRITES in reference to this TAPPED post about Lou Dobbs:
So now Bush is not only to the left of Richard Cohen on guns in the cockpit, now he's to the left of The American Prospect on the war! Is this because of Karen Hughes' departure?
But I think it's a little simplistic to look at the "is this a war on terrorism or a war on Islamic fundamentalism?" question in simple left-right terms. The issue that Lou Dobbs has raised is basically the question of whether or not our problem is with the ideology of our enemies or simply the scope of their goals and the methods that they use to achieve them. To a person of the left, whether or not you think war in general or this war in particular is justifiable, religious fundamentalism is always (i.e., even when it's the fundamentalism of the Christian Coalition or United Torah Judaism) A Bad Thing, so insofar as we've been dragged unwillingly into a war against some fundamentalists, we may as well attack their fundamentalism. To many (not, by any means, all, but many) on the right, however, a little religious fundamentalism (particularly protestant fundamentalism to the American right) is all for the best, so the main problem we're faced with is the immoral tactics (terrorism) and the wide-ranging (global, it would appear) goals of al Qaeda.

A certain amount (and I don't want to make too much of this) of sympathy with religious fundamentalism mixes with the right's historic alliance with the oil industry, it's distrust of "nation building" and idealistic universalism, and it's Nixon-Ford-Kissinger strain of "national interest" foreign policy thinking to make much of the right want to see this war in as limited terms as possible.

Of course, many of the left never accepted the war at all in the first place, and to those it, of course, doesn't make much sense to construe it broadly. Others, however, who saw the need for a military response to 9/11 and who do not sympathize with the theocratic leanings of some in the Republican party (a group that includes people on the left like Welch and Layne but also people on the right like Sully and the professor) would like to see the US take the opportunity to thoroughly defeat a thoroughly pernicious ideology, not just to afford the United States some small measure of protection against terrorist attacks.

Those of us who hold this latter view, I think, also think that broadening the scope of the war is necessary for our long-term safety, but I, for one, would think that eliminating the Saudi monarchy would be worth doing (depending, of course, on what price we'd need to pay) even if it had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism. They're just bad guys and they shouldn't be running a country.

WE'VE GOT SOME OUTRAGE here and some more here about Grover Norquist's new initiative to catalogue lobbyists' political views so Republicans can get favored treatment and Dems can be shut out. I share in the outrage, but I'd also like to note that this is the sort of partisanship that can only tend to be self-defeating, since cutting yourself off from vast swathes of opinion makes it very difficult to get an accurate picture of what's going on.

Then again, President Dubya's never been big on knowing what's going on.

THERE'S A TED BARLOW PIECE I SHOULD HAVE linked to a while ago about global warming and left/right misunderstandings that's really a must read. It's incredibly important to understand the distinction between the basically mystical weirdos you sometimes see going on and on about protecting mother earth and the commonsense view of the left and the center that we need to defend nature in the name of humanity. I don't really care if someone wants to kill a tree or pollute a river or whatever as such, but I think it'd be a real shame if when I'm an old man fifty years from now there's no more nice forests or clean rivers.
JOANNE JACOBS JOINS THE ANTI-GRADE INFLATION pileon. She makes some good points, but I do feel that what often gets lost in these discussions is that the purpose of an education institution is to educate its students, and that the grading system is one among several tools that a school has to achieve that goal. People often write as though the purpose of a school were to produce a final distribution of grades that's fair or logical or whatever, but when you think about it that doesn't really make any sense. What we need are some kind of attempts to quantify the relationship not between performance and grades (i.e., are people's grades "inflated"?) but rather the relationship between grades and performance (i.e., does lowering standard cause students to produce worse work?).
SO THEY'RE KILLING BABIES IN lovely North Korea. Sounds pretty evil to me. And now that Hubert's out on his ass I don't know who's going to talk me out of my simplisme.

Sunday, June 09, 2002

IT LOOKS LIKE BUSH'S POLL NUMBERS, though still very high, are continuing their slow decline, with El Dubya down to 70% approval. I'd be more interested, however, in a question that asked, "if the election were held today...?" Normally one thinks of the "do you approve" question as producing very similar results, but I think there's good reason to doubt that in the post-9/11 world. I can only assume that when people answer the "approval" question they're doing so with some implicit frame of reference. If you asked me whether I approved of Bill Clinton's job performance, I would have said "yes," meaning that I approved of it relative to how I assumed the likely Republican alternative would have been performing. There's only two parties in the system (sorry, Ralph) so normally its pretty easy to tell what the alternative is supposed to be, namely -- the other party. After 9/11, however, the American people were faced with some radical alternatives other than President Bush. "Do you approve..." could be taken to mean not, do you approve relative to Al Gore or Tom Daschle, but do you approve relative to Osama bin Laden or Noam Chomsky or any of the other people who one saw on TV clearly opposing Bush's policies. As long as terrorism is the most important issue and the two parties more-or-less agree on terrorism, in other words, it's going to be very hard to see how approval ratings will transfer into votes.
THE CASE AGAINST HOMELAND SECURITY: The Washington Post has an editorial that nicely sums up the difficulties in combining effective domestic intelligence and basic freedoms, but unfortunately persists in insisting that what we need to be doing is striking a balance. No. What we need to be doing is breaking out of this dilemma by eliminating the threat, rather than seeking to counter it. We didn't fight World War II, after all, by trying to foil every conceivable method by which Germany and Japan could attack an allied country. Rather, we pursued defense of allied territory as a means to the goal of defeating the enemy. Defeating him not by defeating his each and every attack, but by taking to battle forward against him. In the Coldwar, of course, we didn't militarily vanquish the USSR but we didn't seek to piecemeal prevent them from hurting us either. Our giant military existed not to prevent a Soviet attack, but to deter one; and deterrence worked (more or less) against that enemy. Deterrence has already failed us in the struggle against Islamic fundamentalism, so the time has come to make good on the threat implicit in deterrence and go over and fight some wars.

The whole obsession with homeland defense is, I think, an unfortunate outgrowth of the administration's (and the non-Lou Dobbs media) decision to call this a "war on terrorism." Terrorism is a tactic and, of course, you combat tactics with countermeasures; you combat terrorism with homeland defense. Nevertheless, "terrorism" is not the enemy; militant Islamism is. If terrorism is the means du jour then, of course, we must be prepared to combat terrorism, but the goal should not be the prevention of terrorism -- it should be the elimination of the enemy.

Of course, to fight a war one needs intelligence. Foreign intelligence, primarily, and fortunately we've got it. We know which country (Saudi Arabia) is the leading source of funds and ideology for global Islamism. We know which countries (Syria, Iran) fund Hezbollah and which country (Lebanon) is its main base of operations. We know which nuclear-armed power (Pakistan) has allied itself with fundamentalist terrorists in Kashmir and we know which dedicated opponent of the United States is seeking its own nuclear arsenal (Iraq). We know which countries would be likely allies in a struggle against those powers (Israel, India, Russia, Turkey) and we know that the correlation of forces is on our side. What are we waiting for?

The answer, I fear, is another devasting attack. Wishful thinking (and willfull deception from Washington), unfortunately, seems to have convinced people that a better airport security system will make them safe, but no system of airport security will stop someone from smuggling a nuclear weapon across the border, and any attempt to thoroughly search all cross-border traffic would mean the devastation of our economy. The only thing that will make us safe is the destruction of those who would destroy us, or at least a sufficiently vigorous effort that those who remain will see that an attack on US soil will not allow them to achieve their objectives.