Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Iran: drawing a line and the "freebie defense" 

Less than a day after Russia and China stepped up to support the referral of Iran's nuclear doings, whatever they are, to the United Nations Security Council, Tehran has declared an end to diplomacy.
Iran struck back Tuesday at the Big Five powers' decision to refer Iran's nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council, saying the move would mean the end of diplomacy over its atomic program.

In other words, Iran double-dares the UNSC. We will soon learn whether the Security Council can provide the least bit of security.

The Associated Press locates some room to maneuver, though:
Still, in what appeared to be an attempt to show it was cooperating with the West, Iran handed over documents last week to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency on casting uranium into the shape of a warhead, diplomats in Vienna, Austria, said.

Huh? The background would be hilarious if it weren't so frightening:
Diplomats in Vienna said that IAEA inspectors in Iran had received last week 1 1/2 pages that describe how to cast fissile uranium into the hemispherical shape of warheads. The document, which Iran acquired on the nuclear black market, was apparently handed over to allay suspicions ahead of Thursday's meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board....

Late last year, inspectors saw the document that apparently showed how to mold highly enriched grade uranium into the core of warheads, and it figured in a November report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Initial reports said the IAEA was given the documents at that time but the diplomats said Friday that Tehran handed them over only last week in a show of cooperation meant to head off increasing international consensus on reporting Iran to the Security Council over suspicions that its nuclear activities might be a cover for developing weapons.

The document was given to Iran by members of the nuclear black market network, the IAEA said. It showed how to cast "enriched, natural and depleted uranium metal into hemispherical forms."

Iran has claimed it did not ask for the document but was given it anyway as part of other black market purchases.

Oh. Well, that's a horse of a different color, right there. I mean, if Iran didn't ask for the plans necessary to shape enriched uranium into warheadesque shapes suitable for implantation in an atomic bomb, but got them as a freebie "as part of other black market purchases," then what's all the fuss about?

It is astonishing that anybody thinks that these tyrannical clowns can be trusted with nuclear weapons.

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New rules for Supreme Court confirmation 

Alito was confirmed today, on something close to a party line vote. As Powerline points out, this partyline breakdown represents a substantial change in the rules governing the Senate's advise and consent role in the confirmation of judicial nominees. The "Ginsberg rule" is no more. The "Alito rule" is the new standard.

Under the Alito rule, Senators will vote against highly qualified nominee for no reason other than that they expect the nominee to rule contrary to their preference on major issues. Under the Alito rule, the president's party, in effect, must control the Senate in order for the president to have top-notch nominees of his choice confirmed. When the the president's party doesn't control the Senate, only compromise nominees acceptable to both parties can expect to be confirmed.

It was objectionable for the Democrats to have changed an understanding of the Senate's "advise and consent" role that has worked reasonably well for 200 years, or so. The new approach will probably produce more mediocre Justices, selected not for their intellect, fairness, or other judging skills, but because they haven't offended anyone. But the process is not irrational, and in some ways it makes more sense than its predecessor in a world where the Court exercise as much power as it now does. In any case, the important thing is to have one set of confirmation rules that applies to both parties. Thanks to the Dems, we now have a new set.

It remains to be seen whether the Republicans will have the stones (or chutzpah) to play by the same rules should a Democratic President have an opportunity to nominate someone to the court in, say, 2009. Certainly I don't expect the media to hold them to the same standard, and thus they can expect a loud outcry should they attempt to do so. Liberals have turned the thing on its head, with Eleanor Clift recently quoted as saying Ginsberg passed by such a wide margin because Clinton was a "uniter" and put forth a candidate with broad appeal, unlike "divider" George W. Bush (similar to the current nuanced distinctions being drawn by the New York Times between "whistle blowers" and "leakers"). It will likely be up to the next president to test these waters.

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The Value of Al Qaeda Propaganda 

is quite limited.

This morning I've seen a few rants that Zawahiri and Bin Laden's new videotapes are smashing propaganda coups. They demonstrate that they are alive, that they can recruit, that they aren't broken, etc. etc. etc. They can namecall. They can threaten. So what?

Regular readers know that I am an avid follower of facts, and care markedly less about the media's take on the facts - since they typically get them wrong, and besides are more focused on their particular axe than transparent communication. I feel pretty much the same way about propaganda. Many folks make it out to be determinative, but I think propaganda really only works in the end if it's consistent with reality. Everybody remembers Leni Riefenstahl as a brilliant propagandist for Hitler. And she was. Name an American propagandist of the same era. But we know how that story ended, don't we?

Videotapes from UBL and Zawahiri do not in any event measure up to Leni Riefenstahl and Hitler. Not even close. Not even with Al Jazeera helping. Or CNN International. Why?

It's not for lack of trying. But imagine if Hitler had asked Riefenstahl to make a film of him in his bunker. It would not have been so compelling, right? The mere fact that he was in hiding someplace spoke poorly of his cause, especially since he was a head of state. While Hitler was in a bunker, FDR, Churchill and Stalin were moving freely, conducting meetings, visible to the press and their constituents.

UBL and Zawahiri and Zarqawi have no constituents of record. They control no state apparatus. They are in hiding. Moving constantly to evade capture. And while they haven't yet been hit, there is little question they are being shot at. Zawahiri's tape was little more than him saying "hah, you missed me." He might have well have said, "phew, but you got my 4 brothers". UBL had been out of sight for a year; people were beginning to mumble that he might be dead.

Here's an amusing irony. Tonight, our President will stand before Congress and deliver the annual State of the Union Address. He will have a block of time on major networks and cable channels. He will speak for an hour. He will do so in full public view before cameras and the press. The speech, and fragments of it, will be seen all over the world by God knows how many people.

The speech will be criticized from the four corners of the world. It will enrage the left. Every nuance will be subject to some pundit's excruciating "analysis." No one will remark that it is "propaganda" or has that degree of value. UBL and Zawahiri are the masters of Al Jazeeran propaganda. But not us. We're clumsy. Besides, Bush can't speak and says nucular.

Then on Sunday another American event will be broadcast around the world and seen by a billion+ people, for at least 3 hours and maybe many more. They will probably be wearing Levi's or some other American blue jean. Drinking Coke. Ordering in from McDonald's or Domino's or something. The national anthem and probably "America the Beautiful" will be sung before the game. A couple of years ago it would have been Ray Charles singing. It will be likely be a new global icon of American music. But of course our culture is anathema to the rest of the world. They hate us you know.

Those Al Qaeda geniuses are such good propagandists.

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Strategic progress against al Qaeda 

In his TCS column, James Joyner argues that we have made great progress in the war on al Qaeda and its ideological allies, at least as measured against al Qaeda's own announced objectives. Joyner rattles off a list of al Qaeda's announced strategic objectives, "as summarized by Michael Scheuer" (who wrote both Imperial Hubris and Through Our Enemies' Eyes), and then assesses the progress that al Qaeda seems to have made against them. I have re-formatted Joyner's presentation to weave al Qaeda's strategic objectives and Joyner's assessments together, with my own comments to boot.

Al Qaeda's objectives are in bold, Joyner's assessments are in italics, and my comments are in plaintext:

The end of U.S. aid to Israel and the ultimate elimination of that state.

Israel is stronger than ever and U.S. support could hardly be stronger. The 9/11 attacks, if anything, solidified U.S.-Israeli relations, since it brought home the everyday far of terrorist attacks Israelis endure on a daily basis.

The removal of U.S. and Western forces from the Arabian peninsula.

Western forces have indeed left Saudi Arabia, only to be mobilized and reinforced in Arab lands.

In a very real sense, we withdrew from Saudi Arabia through Iraq. That fact has been instrumental in moving the House of Saud rather decisively to our side in the war. Until May 2003, Saudi Arabia was not, to say the very least, useful in the fight against al Qaeda. After the United States removed Saddam, Saudi Arabia quite clearly went to war against al Qaeda, both at home and elsewhere. One of the reasons was that OIF persuaded Saudi Arabia that the United States, having organized the war against al Qaeda and linked it to the invasion of Iraq, would not retreat behind its oceans the next time it had a popular mood swing. In that sense, our extended commitment in Iraq -- which has been more extended than optimistic hawks had hoped or predicted we would be -- has stiffened the Saudi spine, even if they are not happy with the rise of the Shia in that country, the disorder on their northern border, and our support for Arab political rights.

The removal of U.S. and Western military forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands.

Western forces are deeply entrenched in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim lands and have toppled the first two regimes and strongly influenced the direction of others, notably Pakistan.

"Strongly influenced" in the preceding sentence means "coerced." Pakistan was the Taliban's great friend in the world, and the Taliban was al Qaeda's great protector. Before September 11, Pakistan was effectively a huge supporter of al Qaeda. Today, there remain elements in its intelligence agency, government and society that support al Qaeda's interests or even subscribe to its ideology, but other important actors -- including its fascist president -- have been polarized against the Islamists. Pakistan has hunted down and killed more than 600 veterans of al Qaeda's training facilities.

The end of U.S. support for the oppression of Muslims by Russia, China, and India.

The U.S. still does not support oppression of Muslims in Russia, China, or India but is certainly less sympathetic to the Chechnyan cause than before 9/11.

Our relations with both China and India are closer today -- by a longshot -- than they were before September 11, 2001. The unilateralist Bush administration has had more genuinely constructive diplomacy with the two most populous countries on Earth than any previous American presidency.

The end of U.S. protection for repressive, apostate Muslim regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Jordan, et cetera.

The U.S. has drawn closer to the governments in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Jordan, although it is pushing for serious democratization.

Far be it from me to argue with Joyner, but it seems to me that it is not correct to describe our relationships with the "apostate regimes" as having "drawn closer." They are, in the main, very unhappy with the American democratization strategy, which is integral to the wider war. Why shouldn't they be? They are silly kings and dictators-for-life -- clown regimes. However, we have driven the creation of many more enemies of al Qaeda in the world, and these regimes are among them. Whereas before they would buy off the Islamists and hope that they went elsewhere, now they are full participants in the war against them. We are not "closer" to the apostate regimes, but we have driven a wedge between them and al Qaeda, which is what counts.

The conservation of the Muslim world's energy resource and their sale at higher prices.

Oil prices have gone up rather dramatically, although owing more to economic growth in China and India than events in the Middle East.

This is al Qaeda's least important strategic objective, but they have made more progress on it than any other. Joyner's take is a bit too positive for my taste. It may be that rising energy prices are "more" attributable to growth in China and India than events in the Middle East, but there is no question that Islamist "event" risk drives the price of oil at the margin. There is no evidence, though, that Muslim oil is being "conserved" -- only Iran has pushed to squeeze supply, and the Saudis frustrate them at every turn.

Not only have we stymied al Qaeda in the pursuit of its strategic objectives, but we have degraded its ability to fight. Joyner links to a recent column of Christopher Hitchens, "Al Qaeda is losing: there is desperation in Osama's voice". If you cannot find two minutes of your allegedly valuable time to read the whole thing, ponder at least this:
I have been attacked for callousness and worse for saying that Bin Laden did us a favor on 9/11, but I am increasingly sure I was right. Until that date, he partially owned Afghanistan and his supporters were moving steadily toward the Talibanization of Pakistan as well. There were al-Qaida sympathizers within the Pakistani intelligence services, armed forces, and nuclear establishment (which then included the A.Q. Khan network). There was also an active Saudi support system, consisting mainly of vast tranches of money, for jihadism worldwide. Now, Afghanistan is lost to Bin Laden and Pakistan has had, at least officially, to modify its behavior considerably. The A.Q. Khan network has been shut down. [Indeed, one might well argue that it would not have been discovered without the Bush admininstration's aggressive policy. - ed.] The Saudi ruling class identifies its state interest with a repudiation of al-Qaida, inside and outside its own borders. And the one remaining regime that openly preached holy war and helped train jihadist forces like the "Fedayeen Saddam"—the pseudo-secular terror state in Iraq—has been irretrievably smashed. Wherever Bin Laden is now, it cannot be where he wanted or hoped to be four and a half years ago.

This last bit seems undeniable, notwithstanding Western defeatists who scoff that our failure to produce Bin Laden's corpse in fact is proof of our failure (did the fact that Hitler lived in 1943 and 1944 and well in to 1945 prove that we weren't rolling back Germany?).

Now, we often hear that America's forward-leaning policy has been a boon to al Qaeda's recruitment. Perhaps, but apart from naked assertions by Arabs and Arabists who have a stake in the stability that the Bush administration has vowed to sacrifice, what evidence is there for this? That al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has been able to build a force of at most a few thousand? That preachers in Europe have become more shrill and the Muslim youth more disaffected?

My own view -- a guess, really -- is that al Qaeda has indeed used American policy to recruit many new supporters and even soldiers. But what have been the consequences of this? There have been at least two, both of which, perversely, accrue to the advantage of al Qaeda's enemies.

First, the new recruits are not nearly as useful to al Qaeda as the "old guard," and represent a profound security threat to the core of the organization. As we have driven al Qaeda underground it has lost its training facilities in Afghanistan and elsewhere. It no longer has the same capacity to train, indoctrinate and test the loyalty of its recruits in the open, secure in the Taliban's protection. I described this problem a few weeks ago:
Al Qaeda and its followers are of greatly varying training and competence. A veteran of Afghanistan who can travel in the West is extremely dangerous. An untrained Dutch Muslim on the streets of Amsterdam can kill a few people, but probably cannot kill a great many people and certainly will not be trusted by the people in al Qaeda with that organization’s most precious secrets or assets.

It is therefore important to kill or capture al Qaeda veterans. Yes, others will spring up as long as the ideology remains sufficiently credible to attract new blood. But -- and this is a huge "but" -- the new recruits will take time to train (especially now that Afghanistan is interdicted) and an even longer time to earn the leadership's trust. Every new recruit is a potential spy, and will not soon be trusted with WMD even if the network acquires them in deployable form.... When we destroy the old guard we buy critical time.

Remember that. Al Qaeda was formerly closed to us and -- more importantly -- to the intelligence services of the Muslim "apostate regimes" who have now joined the fight. A flood of new recruits, if it is indeed the "flood" claimed by the defeatists, cannot be useful to al Qaeda -- especially now that it can't be alone with them at isolated training facilities for months on end -- unless it compromises the security that heretofore made the network so difficult to penetrate.

Second, the new recruits operate at the periphery of the network and are doing stupid things. Al Qaeda, which once had a tremendously subtle public relations campaign, is losing its touch, probably because of the isolation of its brain trust and the influence of the amateurs. As its military effectiveness declines, so does the appeal of its ideology. Hitchens, again:
But what if the other part of Bin Laden's latest tape is true and another attack is in the making? Well, since 2001 there have been hideous assaults in Spain, Turkey, England, Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Kenya, Iraq, Jordan, and Indonesia. I know of no evidence to suggest that this has increased Bin Laden's following in any country, and of considerable evidence to the contrary.

Here's some evidence of al Qaeda's declining influence. In a Pew Research poll published in October, support for al Qaeda and its tactics (including suicide attacks on American soldiers in Iraq) were on the decline throughout the Arab world, except for Jordan. Two weeks after that poll came out, the strategic geniuses in charge of al Qaeda in Iraq blew up a wedding in Jordan. That week, thousands of Jordanians poured into the street to denounce al Qaeda and to rally around their "apostate regime." If Pew took that poll today, al Qaeda's "numbers" would be down substantially in Jordan as well.

Not only has al Qaeda utterly failed to progress against the objectives it set for itself, but it has had to manage a huge rotation in its personnel. As seasoned veterans of Afghanistan have been killed or packed off to some secret CIA jail, al Qaeda has had to integrate whack jobs and incompetents who have not had the training and indoctrination of the old guard. The new recruits, whether or not a flood, create huge new security risks that accelerate the killing and capture of the veterans, new management challenges for those veterans who remain in charge, and a growing command and control problem that threatens to discredit al Qaeda and its ideology.

It is not May 1945 yet, but it may be the summer of 1943.

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Palestinians ban Danes and Norwegians from visiting Gaza 

If only they had thought of this before Arafat got the Nobel Peace Prize.

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Progress, of a sort 

The United States and other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council reached surprising agreement Tuesday that Iran should be hauled before that powerful body over its disputed nuclear program.

China and Russia, longtime allies and trading partners of Iran, signed on to a statement that calls on the U.N. nuclear watchdog to transfer the Iran dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions or take other harsh action.

Foreign ministers from those nations, plus the United States, Britain and France, also said the Security Council should wait until March to take up the Iran case, after a formal report on Tehran's activities from the watchdog agency.

Foreign ministers from Germany and the European Union also attended the dinner and agreed to what amounted to a compromise — take the case to the Security Council but allow a short breather before the council undertakes what could be a divisive debate.


It remains to be seen whether the UNSC is in fact a "powerful body" -- it is certainly less powerful than the sum of its parts -- or that it will do a damned thing to contain Iran. Russia and China each have deep economic interests in Iran, although they are very different (Russia would benefit from dramatically higher oil prices and might therefore support a buyer's embargo even if it meant they lost their nuclear power business, but China would suffer from a spike in oil prices). However, none of the nuclear powers want to see that status lose its cache. If Iran has made one thing clear in the last few months, it is that its acquisition of atomic weapons will substantially depreciate that currency.

Iran certainly has a way of driving the great powers completely around the bend. Of the five permanent members on the UNSC, three have occupied Iran in modern times (the United Kingdom, the United States, and Russia's antecedent, the Soviet Union) and each suffered a geopolitical defeat for the pleasure. China also has, if you stretch the definition of time and ethnicity to include the Mongols (they conquered it on their way to sacking Baghdad in 1258, which isn't that long ago by China's reckoning). Long before oil was important, Iran sat at a crossroads.

I am only now getting up to speed on Iran, and will write more on that country and the West's confrontation with it in the near future. Suffice it to say that there are no simple solutions. All of them, though, require that the great powers at least pretend to unanimity, so today's news is progress, of a sort.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Brains, sex, play, stroking cats, foreplay and laughter... 

It's another enlightening sex post from Cassandra...

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If you believe that politics is primarily for entertainment... 

...then go here and encourage Cindy Sheehan to run for Dianne Feinstein's seat in the Senate. If you are a righty, you can't lose!

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Pot to kettle... 

"Al-Zawahri Calls Bush a 'Butcher' in Video"

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Security and Politics 

For those busy twisting their hankies about NSA surveillance, I recommend you read Debra Burlingame's op-ed piece in today's Wall Street Journal (available via Taranto).

I said it in earlier commentary and I will say it again. If the Democratic Party wants to lose in the '06 interim elections and get really crushed in the November '08 elections, it will continue to make a stink about this and the Patriot Act. On the other hand, if the Democratic Party has serious political objectives, it will stop running down this blind alley. The American public will not vote for people who try to stop coordinated intelligence and surveillance activities. Warrants, schmarrants. If the Democrats don't want to be McGoverned (that is, utterly decimated electorally in a unprecedented landslide), they will drop this "angle."

Otherwise, they will hear from Debra Burlingame. I've met her. She will run circles around them, and make them look weak, foolish and malicious.

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Could Americans be any stupider? 

Either you oppose the president's policies or you are incapable of "acquiring, processing and understanding information". So says Paul Craig Roberts, who is in desperate need of a fisking (and who could profit from reading Philip Bobbitt this morning).

Via The Smirking Chimp.

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NSA data-mining: beyond the politics 

Philip Bobbitt, professor of law at the University of Texas and author of The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History -- a book for which the descriptor "magisterial" was invented -- explains "Why We Listen" in today's New York Times. Bobbitt comes as close as possible, I think, to nailing my own view of the NSA "eavesdropping" program. Only to get you to read the whole thing, here's a fair use excerpt (commentary below):
In the debate over whether the National Security Agency's eavesdropping violated the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, we must not lose sight of the fact that the world we entered on 9/11 will require rewriting that statute and other laws. The tiresome pas de deux between rigid civil libertarians in denial of reality and an overaggressive executive branch seemingly heedless of the law, while comforting to partisans of both groups, is not in the national interest.

Owing to the globalization of telecommunications, many telephone calls between parties in foreign countries or with an American at one end are routed through American networks. By analyzing this traffic, the National Security Agency has been gathering clues to possible terrorist activities.

The agency was authorized by the president, we are told, to intercept messages if one of its supervisors believed there was a link to Al Qaeda — rather than requiring the usual statutory showing before a special court of probable involvement in terrorist activity when one party to the exchange is a "U.S. person" (a person in America or at an American corporation abroad). This would appear contrary to the provisions of the surveillance act.

The N.S.A. is our most important intelligence agency. Typically, about 60 percent of the president's daily brief comes from its intercepts. But the agency was created during the cold war to collect against enemy countries, and that war, indeed that kind of war, has now been superseded. Signals intelligence in the 20th century meant intercepting analog signals along dedicated voice channels, connecting two discrete and known target points. In the 21st century, communications are mostly digital, carry billions of bits of data, are dynamically routed in packets to be reassembled and are globally networked....

If we agree that the National Security Agency now needs to trace and analyze large volumes of phone and Internet traffic looking for particular patterns and to cross-reference leads, then it seems clear that traditional, specific warrants may sometimes not be appropriate.

Furthermore, not only are there presumably conspirators within the United States, but conversations between two foreign persons could be routed, via the Internet, through American switches to give the appearance of a domestic-to-international connection. It is difficult to imagine getting warrants now in such situations, because the standard of probable cause to conclude that the target is a terrorist cannot be met....

This is not to play down the damage done to our war aims by the executive branch's repeated appearance of an indifference to law. A president does have an obligation to assess the constitutionality of statutes, but when he secretly decides a measure is unconstitutional and neglects to say so (much less why), he undermines the very system of public consent for which we are fighting. Having said that, we also must not be so absorbed by questions of statutory construction that we ignore the revolutionary political and technological events that are transforming the world in which our laws must function.



Bobbitt is not only right that FISA needs revision in light of the technology, but it also needs revision in light of the threat (I appreciate that the Bush administration's legal arguments may stand up in the inevitable litigation that will contest them, but nobody should prefer that domestic surviellance hang on the commander-in-chief power). FISA was enacted in the static Cold War in the wake of Nixon's paranoid surveillance of activist groups and others who opposed him. At the time, the concern was that the federal government would use the threat of Soviet espionage as an excuse to listen in on the telephone conversations of people that it considered subversive, whether or not they were merely exercizing their rights under the Constitution. Spycatching is a deliberate process that requires the precise gathering of evidence that will usually be used in a criminal prosecution. Why not get a warrant? There is almost always plenty of time, and it guarantees that the evidence won't be chucked out in the prosecution under the exclusionary rule (the best guarantee against unchecked warrantless searches, I might add).

Today's task -- the interdiction of terrorists -- is an entirely different problem. Very often, no crime (other than perhaps conspiracy or some infraction of immigration law) has occurred. The purpose of the current program is to stop an attack. Evidence need not be perfect, or even rise to the level of "probable cause" necessary to get a warrant. We just need to disrupt the enemy's operation. That is -- essentially -- a military operation, whether or not it involves a "U.S. person" as defined in FISA. Yes, that is the harsh reality of today's world: the jihad is forcing us to conduct military operations on our own soil, just as the Confederacy did 145 years ago. Get used to it.

Now, a word on the politics. Whether or not Bobbitt's final charge -- that Bush "secretly" decided that FISA's application was unconstitutional and did explain why -- is fair, it is certainly true that the Bush administration has not fought for the modernization of the FISA that by its actions it obvious thinks is necessary. Or if it has, it has not done so forcefully enough for me to have been conscious of it, and I pay a lot more attention to such things than most voters. So in addition to creating yet another needless "Bush lied" kerfuffle, it hasn't done a good job of educating Americans about the difference between the new threat and the old challenge of Cold War espionage. It needs to do that very clearly. Perhaps it will do so in tomorrow's State of the Union address. I certainly hope so.

If I were a Democrat with national aspirations, I would denounce Bush both for disrespecting the law and failing to "come clean with the American people" about the threat we face, and then demand that the FISA be amended to permit the analysis of digital signals, domestic or foreign, that suggest jihadi activity without a warrant. It will be interesting to see whether any Democrat has the stones required to do that.

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Military history recommendations 

At the request of a friend, one of the Chicago Boyz posted and solicited recommendations of military history books to read. I rattled off a few suggestions for "starter" books in the comments over there, and reproduce them here.

John Keegan, The Face of Battle, explains why soldiers fight better than any book I know. It compares Agincourt, Waterloo and the Somme, which were fought in 1415, 1815, and 1916 very close to each other. Keegan's description of Agincourt is particularly vivid.

Michael Oren, Six Days of War : June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East, is simply riveting. You cannot understand Israel and Palestine today without a good grip on that war, and there is no better way to get it.

Bruce Catton, The Civil War. I actually listened to this on an unabridged audiobook, and thought it was tremendous. Catton is famous for his Civil War books, but this one volume gets you off to an excellent start.

Samuel Eliot Morison, The Two-Ocean War: A Short History of the United States Navy in the Second World War. Want to know what happened on and around all those islands in the Pacific, or at Midway, or against the German submarines in the North Atlantic? And oldie, but a goodie.

Cornelius Ryan, The Longest Day (D-Day) and A Bridge Too Far (Operation Market-Garden, the biggest airborne battle of the war). 'Nuff said.

These aren't necessarily the best, but they are a good place to start.

Let's join the fun. If you read military history, what do you recommend (whether for newbies or veterans)?

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Sunday, January 29, 2006

Civilian casualties in Iraq soar to 250,000! Not. 

Brace yourselves.

Not content with the Lancet's extrapolated estimate (as of October 2004) that 100,000 Iraqi civilians in excess of the usual rate had died since the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom, Attaturk (one of Atrios' co-bloggers) is now saying that the Lancet study underestimated civilian deaths by 60%. The supporting "analysis" is here.

The argument is obscure, but it turns on the Lancet's exclusion of casualties from Fallujah from the original estimate of 100,000 dead. This clown argues that if the Fallujah data were included, the total number would rise to 250,000. Suffice it to say that he does not explain his reasoning or his arithmetic, but if you try to derive his math from the accompanying tables you still only get to around 130,000, not the 250,000 claimed by Rising Hegemon. And, I believe (but will not waste my time verifying) that the original Lancet study took into account the exclusion of the Fallujah data in arriving at its headline estimate for the whole country.

Both claims are sharply at odds with even the current Iraq Body Count estimates, although the two are measuring somewhat different things (IBC measures casualties from combat violence, whereas the Lancet purported to measure excess deaths from all causes). More tellingly, the new lefty number seems to require that 150,000 civilians died in Fallujah (if anybody else can explain the math better, please do). Even Islam Online -- not exactly one to sugarcoat the depredations of the war -- reported that 70% of the city's pre-war population of 300,000 had fled before the city was retaken in November 2004. So even if American soldiers ruthlessly slaughtered everybody remaining in the city -- an absurd and libelous accusation -- the new lefty number is laughably high.

No doubt, the purveyors of this "social science" also claim that they "support the troops." Well, maybe not the Canadian guy.

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Looking back at "Considering dissent and limited war II" 

About ten weeks ago I wrote a post called "Considering dissent and limited war II," my second attempt to define the boundary between "legitimate" and "illegitimate" anti-war dissent. Notwithstanding its heavy linkage, I wasn't quite satisfied with the result, and have gone about considering the whole topic for the third time in the last six months. To prepare for the new post, which is a complete re-do, I went back and read the original post and -- more importantly -- the more than 100 comments. Together, they catalog a rich set of arguments about both the general topic of dissent during war and the Iraq war in particular. In the new post, I will try to respond to as many of the better arguments as I am able.

In any case, I am grateful that we have such sharp and constructive commenters.

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Majority Leader Frist and insider trading 

Tim Russert hammered Bill Frist this morning for his HCA stock sales. Suffice it to say that Russert does not understand the concept of management selling, and the distinction between the lawful selling of stock by insiders and unlawful "insider selling." My original take back in September stands: Not only is it highly unlikely that Frist violated the law, but the specific timing of his selling was more helpful to HCA's stockholders than it was required to be.

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The Adirondack Public Observatory 

One of my great memories as child was when my father -- a medievalist -- set up a telescope in our back yard in Iowa City and we (probably he) nailed the rings of Saturn. I felt like Galileo, minus the persecution.

The best stargazing in my narrow experience, though, is in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, where my family has had a camp for 90 years. It gets dark up there. You can lie on your back and see more stars on a clear moonless night than I have ever seen anywhere. You remember why we call our galaxy, which we see from the edge, the "Milky Way."

Which makes it an ideal location for this most excellent idea, the Adirondack Public Observatory, which is being built less than three miles from our home.
The not-for-profit Adirondack Public Observatory in its first year has raised about $40,000 toward a $500,000 goal, according to board members. They have chosen a site in Tupper Lake, about 110 miles north of Albany. The parcel, at 1,600 feet in elevation, overlooks the town beach and campground at Little Wolf Pond.

"We are in what's called a dark puddle here," Staves said, noting the contrast in nighttime satellite images of the Earth. "We can actually see the Milky Way, which is something you can't actually see most places now."

An observatory site was offered near the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, scheduled to open this summer on the other side of the village of Tupper Lake, but there was too much light pollution from nearby Sunmount hospital, said Jan Wojcik, observatory board member.

This is a wonderful idea, and I am going to write them a check.

Franklin County, New York, of which Tupper Lake is the epicenter, has usually contended for the lowest per capita income in the Empire State. It is the sort of place where many of the locals want the state to build a prison because the jobs would be so great. Tupper Lake, however, is at the beginning of a startling resurgence. The Big Tupper ski area, which has been closed for many years, is being redeveloped on the back of soaring Adirondack land values. More importantly, the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, a creation of (among others) the TigerHawk Uncle, is going to open on July 4, 2006. The Natural History Museum is going to be one of the premier non-Lake Placid tourist destinations in the Adirondacks, and a center for the conservation and study of the most important wild place left in the East. If the Observatory gets off the ground, Tupper Lake -- improbably -- will become a hot spot for the popularization of science in the North Country.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

"The New World" 

When you have a chance to go see a movie about your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, plus a guy named John Smith, you take it. Unfortunately, that is about the only reason to see "The New World."

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Jumping ugly on Lynn Swann 

At the risk of drawing some ire from my friends on the left, I do think that the right blogosphere does a (slightly) better job of attacking Republicans who play the race card than the left does of policing its own. Glenn Reynolds was a loud voice in taking down Trent Lott, and now Michelle Malkin is all over the Scranton campaign for its ugly innuendos about Lynn Swann.

One wishes we had seen this reaction on the left to Hillary's disgraceful pandering, among other recent examples. There is too much racial division in this country, especially between whites and blacks. Politicians who exploit the raw emotions around that division and pander either to whites or to blacks are not honorable. There is a difference between traditional American ethnic politics -- which are just fine -- and exploiting the great tragedy in American history for political advantage. Just freakin' stop.

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Early Corzine 

New Jersey has a new governor in Jon Corzine, whom I voted against mostly because the Democrats in the state have waged war against both employers and affluent taxpayers, and I am fortunate to be both. I have nevertheless expressed the hope -- and it is only a hope -- that Corzine's personal wealth and obvious national aspirations will motivate him to uproot the state's culture of political corruption and inefficiency.

Corzine's first trial balloons, released yesterday in the form of recommendations from his transition team's outside advisors, are quite promising.
Corzine's ethics advisory team called for a series of reforms including public financing of elections and a ban on corporate and business contributions to campaigns. It also called for the reinstatement of a bribery statute the Democratic-controlled Legislature quietly repealed in 2004: "The repeal makes prosecution more difficult and thus makes it far easier for lobbyists to pay gratuities to public officials and for public officials to accept them."

So that's good. A few prosecutions would help, though. Since the state is dominated by Democrats, I'm sure he will have an opportunity to demonstrate that he is not just another New Jersey hack.

On the budget, which faces an obscene shortfall considering the strength of the economy, he wilted in the face of Republican foot-stamping. The "final report" from his transition team abandoned earlier "draft" proposals that I liked a lot: a phasing out of the state pension system -- why should state workers get archaic defined benefit plans that are no longer available in the private sector? -- and a proposal for a sales tax on clothing.

No, I do not think that new taxes are the best way to close the deficit, but new taxes will be part of any deal and a sales tax on clothing strikes me as an excellent way to go. In an affluent state like New Jersey, the vast preponderance of clothing expenditures are obviously luxuries, not necessities. The idea that they should be exempt from sales tax is archaic. People waste a huge amount of money on clothing, virtually all of which is imported (both to the United States and to New Jersey).

Of course, the real trick to more efficient government in New Jersey is to rationalize the levels of government below the state. There are so many overlapping jurisdictions -- townships, boroughs, counties, random authorities for this, that and the other thing -- that the taxpayers underwrite an enormous amount of conflict between organs of government. You can't open the paper in this state without reading about politicians fighting with each other, sometimes to the point of litigation, each side funded by the taxpayers.

This last -- overlapping jurisdictions that spend our money on both sides in fights with each other -- is the core inefficiency in American government generally. See that last proposal discussed in the Star-Ledger story:
Another transition policy group recommended giving the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs responsibility for protecting the state's military installations from Pentagon budget cuts. No state agency had this responsibility in the past. The Bush administration's plans to close the Fort Monmouth Army research post in 2011 will cost New Jersey more than 5,000 high-paying civilian jobs.

So, in my capacity as a New Jersey taxpayer I am going to underwrite an agency to lobby and perhaps sue the federal government which I pay for in my capacity as a federal taxpayer. All this, so I can "protect" 5,000 high-paying civilian jobs in a state with a crying shortage of competent professional employees.

To paraphrase a lefty bumper sticker, if you don't get outraged when different levels of government -- both of which you pay for -- lobby, obstruct and sue each other, you just aren't paying attention.

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Toward global victory in Anbar 

Many of you have read my wide-linked post on victory conditions in the wider war. If not, suffice it to say that I argue that we will not defeat al Qaeda and its formal and informal allies until the jihadi ideology, more than 70 years in the formation, is discredited among Arab Muslims. Victory in the war that we only recognized on September 11, 2001 does not require that Arab Muslims "like" the United States, only that they reject al Qaeda's ideology.

With that background, I take this post at Iraq the Model as evidence of real progress. It is not necessarily the best news for the future of Iraq in the abstract, but it strongly suggests that al Qaeda and its cognates have lost their way among their most likely allies.

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Friday, January 27, 2006

A Palestinian blogger on the election of Hamas 

Haitham Sabbah is a Palestinian Jordanian who blogs in English. He is smart, humane, extremely hostile to Israel, often too willing to believe anti-Semitic propaganda, deeply suspicious and critical of American policy, thoughtful and respectful to those who disagree, and an excellent blogger. And not at all happy that Hamas won.

Read the comments, too.

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Three short reads 

Extinction denial
Conservationists are mistaken, argues Professor Tim Halliday in this week's Green Room; many animals and plants cannot be saved from extinction, and the job of conservation scientists is to document them as they disappear.

If public speaking makes you nervous...
Forget pretending you are talking to one person or concentrating on a single point in the audience -- having sex is good way to calm nerves before giving a speech or presentation.

But Stuart Brody, a psychologist at the University of Paisley in Scotland, said it has to be full sexual intercourse to get the best results.

Ah. But what does it take to get only mediocre results? (CWCID: Cassandra)

Richard Posner: What if wiretapping works?
The revelation by The New York Times that the National Security Agency (NSA) is conducting a secret program of electronic surveillance outside the framework of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (fisa) has sparked a hot debate in the press and in the blogosphere. But there is something odd about the debate: It is aridly legal. Civil libertarians contend that the program is illegal, even unconstitutional; some want President Bush impeached for breaking the law. The administration and its defenders have responded that the program is perfectly legal; if it does violate fisa (the administration denies that it does), then, to that extent, the law is unconstitutional. This legal debate is complex, even esoteric. But, apart from a handful of not very impressive anecdotes (did the NSA program really prevent the Brooklyn Bridge from being destroyed by blowtorches?), there has been little discussion of the program's concrete value as a counterterrorism measure or of the inroads it has or has not made on liberty or privacy.

Not only are these questions more important to most people than the legal questions; they are fundamental to those questions. Lawyers who are busily debating legality without first trying to assess the consequences of the program have put the cart before the horse. Law in the United States is not a Platonic abstraction but a flexible tool of social policy. In analyzing all but the simplest legal questions, one is well advised to begin by asking what social policies are at stake. Suppose the NSA program is vital to the nation's defense, and its impingements on civil liberties are slight. That would not prove the program's legality, because not every good thing is legal; law and policy are not perfectly aligned. But a conviction that the program had great merit would shape and hone the legal inquiry. We would search harder for grounds to affirm its legality, and, if our search were to fail, at least we would know how to change the law--or how to change the program to make it comply with the law--without destroying its effectiveness. Similarly, if the program's contribution to national security were negligible--as we learn, also from the Times, that some FBI personnel are indiscreetly whispering--and it is undermining our civil liberties, this would push the legal analysis in the opposite direction.

Ronald Dworkin, the distinguished legal philosopher and constitutional theorist, wrote in The New York Review of Books in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks that "we cannot allow our Constitution and our shared sense of decency to become a suicide pact." He would doubtless have said the same thing about fisa. If you approach legal issues in that spirit rather than in the spirit of ruat caelum fiat iusticia (let the heavens fall so long as justice is done), you will want to know how close to suicide a particular legal interpretation will bring you before you decide whether to embrace it. The legal critics of the surveillance program have not done this, and the defenders have for the most part been content to play on the critics' turf.


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German and Arab Allegiance, A Brief History 

Tigerhawk posted on German funding of Al Qaeda initiatives, referring to it as ransom. Whatever. There's a long and sordid history here folks, and I recommend you just keep scrolling. The photos of the Grand Mufti and his friend Adolf are especially revealing and poignant.

Update: I found another interesting WWII narrative that gives you some more flavor for old friendships and enmity. For many, this history is simply unknown, and it can't hurt to have it.

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Kerry and Gore gone wild 

Cardinalpark touches on John Kerry's desperate (and arguably self-destructive) bid for attention in this post below.

Meanwhile, as Captain Ed reports, the increasingly loopy Al Gore continues to find new ways to demonstrate his repudiation of mainstream political thought, accusing the new Canadian government of being a tool of big oil, blaming the Prime Minister's election on "media concentration," and conveniently overlooking the well documented financial scandals of the formerly ruling liberal party.

Former U.S. vice-president Al Gore has accused the oil industry of financially backing the Tories and their "ultra-conservative leader" to protect its stake in Alberta's lucrative oilsands.

Canadians, Gore said, should vigilantly keep watch over prime minister-designate Stephen Harper because he has a pro-oil agenda and wants to pull out of the Kyoto accord -- an international agreement to combat climate change.

Gore believes the issue of the oilsands and the sway he contends the industry holds with Harper didn't garner news coverage during the election because "media concentration has taken a toll on democratic principles around the world, and Canada is no exception."

Al Gore one-ups John Kerry by making these statements not from Davos, but from the Sundance Film Festival!

What is going on with these two supposedly serious men who were both presidential nominees of one of the two major parties in this country? Have they no sense of farce?

Instapundit linked to this interesting comment over at The Truth Laid Bear that I think goes a long way to explaining where exactly we are with these two.

All politicians "play to the base", making occasional outrageous statements that engage and excite their core constituencies, but won't necessarily help them with the electorate as a whole.

At some point, though, you have to begin suspecting that a politician may no longer even be trying to win elections, but rather has crossed over into a continual base-appeasing mode that guarantees sufficient attention to fund ongoing campaigns, without any particular regard for whether or not any will ever be successful. The process of campaigning has become an end in itself; a permanent job description, rather than a step towards actual elected office.

Today's example: John Kerry's call for a fillibuster on Alito's nomination.

Kerry has become the Paris Hilton to Al Gore's Nicole Ritchie on the stage of American politics: creatures whose fame has become self-sustaining; and who remain in the public eye not because of any achievement or acumen, but who are simply famous for being famous.

This sounds about right to me. There was a time when I considered Al Gore to be presidential material (can't say the same for Kerry) but those days are long past.

Update: Thx Pen. Grievous error corrected.

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The People's Google 

Check out this chilling demonstration of the difference between the Google you and I use and the version available in China. Click through both links.

Via Rob A.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin has collected proposals from around the 'sphere for the new Google logo.

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Dangerous gay prime ministers 

"Imagine having a gay prime minister. Nobody would be safe."

The modern requirement that we all withhold judgment becomes very confusing when Muslims -- whom we are supposed to respect and tolerate notwithstanding their beliefs -- start bashing gay people. Like, how do we tolerate intolerant people?

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Osama and John, Desperate for Attention 

Yesterday, John Kerry, playing to the uber rich, uber cool, uber elite Davos crowd, said he was going to try to stir up a filibuster against the confirmation of Judge Alito. I instantly thought of Osama's tape from last week, coming out of the cave to threaten the US and sue for peace at the same time. Both political outbursts struck me as desperate and not a little pathetic. Even ridiculous.

A Kerry-led filibuster against Alito will provide Karl Rove an amazing tool to further the fortunes of Republicans for the November 2006 interim elections, and fail to prevent Alito's eventual ascension to the Supreme Court. How do we know this? Robert Byrd is voting for Alito. He's up for reelection in November. He's an idiot, but he ain't no dummy. All the Red State Democratic Senators are voting for Alito.

So what on earth is Kerry doing? Fundraising, recruiting the flaky left of the Democratic Party, begging for attention. All of that. Just like Osama, really. But it's a loser. He's a loser. They're both losers. To quote a brilliant friend of mine, the "Churl" strikes again.

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Need some dough? Kidnap a German. 

The jihadis of the world have learned that if they need more money to buy weapons and explosives, there is one country that will them a ransom every time: Germany. Recently, it seems to have ransomed Susanne Osthoff. The Osthoff payment was part of a pattern that included paying al Qaeda (or one of its affiliates) ransom to recover some Germans and other Europeans kidnapped while vacationing in Algeria. That case was moral hazard in three dimensions: it encouraged more kidnapping, it armed our enemy with money to buy weapons that would kill Americans (and, we now know, the citizens of other countries) and, finally, it indemnified a bunch of Europeans for their idiotic decision to holiday in jihadiland.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Germans appear to have become the Western hostage of choice in Iraq. The enemy kidnapped two more this week, and al Jazeera is helpfully broadcasting their victory dance. More tellingly, the kidnappers aren't even bothering to denounce imperialism, call for Germany to withdraw its support for Iraq (such as it is), or demand the release of hostages. Their sole request:
The German hostages were seen speaking but Al-Jazeera did not broadcast any audio and the station did not report any demands beyond the hostages calling for German government intervention to secure their release.

My translation: "Let's cut to the chase. We're running out of weapons and IED supplies. How much can we get for these engineers?"

Germany, for its part, is more than willing to deal:
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described the video images as "distressing" and that his ministry's crisis unit was evaluating the recording.

Steinmeier said the German government would do everything it can to secure their release, telling reporters: "We will proceed with care. I promise that on behalf of the government."

I'm sure the crisis unit has al Jazz on its speed dial, eager to hear where they should send the bags of money.

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Thursday, January 26, 2006

Separated at birth?????? 

Check out George Clooney and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

Hmmmm. I guess it would explain things like this.

UPDATE: "Syriana" George looks like he should run Hamas.

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NSA surveillance humor 

The Big Pharoah makes a funny. Pretty good, actually.


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Europeans are shocked, shocked, to find terrorists running Palestine 

World leaders, uneasy at the prospect of a Hamas-led Palestinian government, immediately exerted pressure on the Islamic militants Thursday to recognize Israel and renounce violence as a precondition for ties.

France noted that the European Union lists Hamas as a terrorist organization, as does the United States. Italy said the militant group's resounding — and surprising — victory in legislative elections Wednesday could indefinitely postpone any chance of Israeli-Palestinian peace and make the creation of a Palestinian state more difficult.

"It is a very, very, very bad result," Italian news agencies quoted Premier Silvio Berlusconi as saying.

Concern crossed political divides, with traditional supporters of the Palestinian cause — such as Italy's center-left opposition — among those expressing concern.

They act as though this represents some radical change in direction for the Palestinians. Maybe now Europe will stop financing suicide bombers, but I am skeptical.

Echoing Cardinalpark's comment, Emanuele Ottolenghi has a column in National Review Online that makes the case that the Hamas election is in fact a positive thing.

What victory does to Hamas is to put the movement into an impossible position. As preliminary reports emerge, Hamas has already asked Fatah to form a coalition and got a negative response. Prime Minister Abu Ala has resigned with his cabinet, and president Abu Mazen will now appoint Hamas to form the next government. From the shadows of ambiguity, where Hamas could afford — thanks to the moral and intellectual hypocrisy of those in the Western world who dismissed its incendiary rhetoric as tactics — to have the cake and eat it too. Now, no more. Had they won 30-35 percent of the seats, they could have stayed out of power but put enormous limits on the Palestinian Authority’s room to maneuver. By winning, they have to govern, which means they have to tell the world, very soon, a number of things.

They will have to show their true face now: No more masks, no more veils, no more double-speak. If the cooptation theory — favored by the International Crisis Group and by the former British MI-6 turned talking head, Alistair Crooke — were true, this is the time for Hamas to show what hides behind its veil.

As the government of the Palestinian Authority, now they will have to say whether they accept the roadmap.

They will have to take control over security and decide whether they use it to uphold the roadmap or to wage war.

There will be no excuses or ambiguities when Hamas fires rockets on Israel and launches suicide attacks against civilian targets.

One thing seems sure: between this election and the incapacitation of Sharon, things are changing fast in this conflict. Watch for many long held assumptions to be challenged, and with them, the medias portrayal of this conflict.

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Cindy Sheehan gives away the game 

For those of you who still think that it is useful for leading Democrats to associate themselves with Cindy Sheehan, read this interview. The rest of you, don't waste your time.

There is one bit worth pointing out, though. Glenn Reynolds linked to this via Alarming News yesterday on the basis of this particular gem from Sheehan:
And about Bill Clinton . . . . You know, I really think he should have been impeached, but not for a blow job. His policies are responsible for killing more Iraqis that [sic] George Bush. I don't understand why to rise to the level of being president of my country one has to be a monster. I used to say that George Bush was defiling the Oval Office, but it's been held by a long line of monsters. We don't have to support our administrations to love our country. True patriots of my country dissent when our country's doing something so wrong.

Since Sheehan almost magically attracts the interest of the press, may I suggest that the next honest American reporter with the opportunity should ask her who, precisely, she thinks was our last non-monster president. If she says "Jimmy Carter," then get back to me and I will remind you that he encouraged the Shah of Iran to take any and all steps necessary to put down Khomeini's revolution (which the dying Shah, concerned perhaps for his future in another place, did not do).

The bold language, though, is particularly interesting. Sheehan here alludes to the left's claims about the effects of the post-Gulf War sanctions regime that contained Saddam's Iraq. Those policies included the Northern and Southern Watch no-fly zones, and the economic embargo that morphed in to the "oil for food" program under pressure from naive humanitarians and European businessmen. Iraq, which constantly struggled against those sanctions, argued that hundreds of thousands of people were dying as the result of them. This was never plausibly true, but it caught hold among the anti-American crowd and was the main source of the political pressure to lift all containment of Saddam.

Sheehan, therefore, has done us the useful service of reminding the world that the left can't keep its story straight. Before the war, leftists in fact did argue that the sanctions were immoral (a basis to impeach Bill Clinton, apparently). Since Sheehan's taste for radical politics is quite recent, she must have learned this at the knee of one of her new friends.

Since the war, post mass graves and all, the left has decided that the best argument is not that sanctions should have been lifted -- that, after all, would not stand up to scrutiny even at CNN -- but that we did not need to invade Iran Iraq
because Saddam was "contained" by, er, sanctions! Whoever taught Sheehan failed to explain the nuance that the story has changed with the post-war publicity of the full depth of Saddam's crimes.

The cynicism of those who believe the best course was to have left Saddam Hussein in power is astonishing. That they should claim that this is American "patriotism" is absurd.

UPDATE: Welcome Instapundit readers. If you liked this post, you will also probably like this exquisite case of "separated at birth."

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The financial burden of the war in Iraq 

As I have written many times, the United States could bear the expense of the Iraq war indefinitely. John Hawkins has an interesting table that puts the financial cost of the war in perspective.

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McCain in oughty-eight? 

John Hinderaker thinks John McCain might be the GOP's best bet the next time around:
Yesterday, I heard John McCain on Michael Medved's radio show. It was a reminder of how good McCain can be. And how conservative: the first caller said that McCain is regarded as a moderate Republican, and asked, what is the difference between a moderate Republican and a moderate Democrat? McCain responded, "Well, first of all, I'm a conservative. I have a lifetime rating of 82% from the American Conservative Union, and the only reason it isn't higher is because a lot of conservatives disagree with me on campaign finance reform. So, I'm a proud conservative."...

McCain's age is an issue, but not an insurmountable one if he comes across as mentally and physically vigorous in three years, as I'm pretty sure he will. We and other conservatives have parted company with McCain on several important issues, most notably taxes and regulation of political speech. But he will be a powerhouse Presidential candidate, and it may not take too much to win over conservative Republicans like me. Especially if the choice comes down to McCain or a Democrat like Hillary Clinton, whom I'm pretty sure McCain would trounce.

I dunno. I like McCain, but one gets the sense that enough high-powered snark can morph the candor schtick into unhinged freakin' rage. He's a sharp guy, but you have to worry that Hillary will peck away at him until he flies off the handle. Americans hate it when their presidential candidates lose their cool, even when it is understandable (remember Edmund Muskie's lasting contribution to campaign wisdom?). Hillary, though, having survived her own ordeal by fire, will be almost impossible rattle. In a Clinton-McCain faceoff, HRC will stand a better chance than McCain of scoring a knock-out in the debates.

The good news for Republicans is that they have a deep bench. McCain, Rudy Giuliani, Condoleezza Rice, and Sam Brownback all strike me as plausibly strong candidates, and definitely stronger than most Democrats. All are more appealing personalities than John Kerry, the favorite of Democrats the last time around. Heck, even Bill Frist and Jeb Bush are more appealing than John Kerry.

But the Democrats won't put up Kerry again -- there's too much resentment over 2004. From thirty months away, you have to think that Hillary is in the driver's seat with the establishment, notwithstanding her purported negatives in the general election, and the Gorebot and maybe Russ Feingold are going to battle it out for the activist wing of the party (Gorebot will win that fight because he will have the better organization). Kerry is a loser, Clark is a weirdo, and Lieberman would be unacceptable to the party's left even if Iraq were a prospering Jeffersonian democracy.

There will be a lot of water under the bridge between now and then, but right now it looks as though the Republicans have better presidential candidates, even if they do not otherwise have the better political hand.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

What we don't know about climate change 

Well, here's a baffling headline: "Baffled Scientists Say Less Sunlight Reaching Earth". The article is even more confusing:
After dropping for about 15 years, the amount of sunlight Earth reflects back into space, called albedo, has increased since 2000, a new study concludes.

That means less energy is reaching the surface. Yet global temperatures have not cooled during the period.

Increasing cloud cover seems to be the reason, but there must also be some other change in the clouds that's not yet understood.

"The data also reveal that from 2000 to now the clouds have changed so that the Earth may continue warming, even with declining sunlight," said study leader Philip R. Goode of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. "These large and peculiar variabilities of the clouds, coupled with a resulting increasing albedo, presents a fundamental, unmet challenge for all scientists who wish to understand and predict the Earth's climate."

If we don't understand the relationship between the amount of sunlight reaching the earth, cloud cover, and temperature, how is it that we know that an increase or decrease in carbon dioxide is responsible for changes in temperature?

Now, I appalled many of my conservative readers by suggesting a few weeks back that the precautionary principle should motivate us to prepare for global climate change. I accept the idea that the climate may be changing rapidly and in ways that are incompatible with the established patterns of human settlement and agriculture. We don't have to agree on why climate is changing to contend with the change. I therefore believe that we should invest heavily in crops that can thrive in climates that are hotter, colder, wetter or drier than those that prevail today. We need plans to resettle human populations that live in low-lying areas, such as on atolls and certain coastlines, in case the sea levels rise. We need to learn how to generate prodigious amounts of energy at reasonable cost, in case we need to spend a lot more money heating Europe or cooling Texas, Mexico or Vietnam.

But, however prudent it may be to plan for the consequences of climate change, I do not understand how it makes sense to try to avert climate change when we do not (apparently) understand the basic relationship between sunlight, cloud cover and temperature. How do we know that steps we take won't make it worse?

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Should Bloggers Police Their Own Ranks? 

Anyone who has been reading me for any length of time knows I often criticize the mainstream media for failing to adhere to professional standards of reporting. I cannot understand how any group of people can demand to be taken seriously unless they have a well thought out code of ethics and enforce it evenhandedly.

What you may not know is that I have also called on several occasions for bloggers to be more vigilant in policing their own ranks. My readers can attest that I have often objected to the incivility we show, not only to the media, but to each other. It does little good to object to toffee-nosed putdowns from the likes of Jonathan Klein when we routinely condone rude, crude, and uncivilized behavior within our own community.

The recent orchestrated attacks on Kate O'Beirne's Amazon review site and the WaPo's Deborah Howell illustrate what's wrong with the idea that anything goes in the blogosphere. I thought a lot about this last night, and I truly believe this is an area where the Left and Right sides of the blogosphere should present a united front. Surely we are better than this?

Sadly, since the particular sites involved in these incidents were left-leaning, any criticism of their behavior is certain to be interpreted as partisan in nature. But I ask liberal readers and bloggers to search their hearts and answer this question: is this kind of orchestrated attack what the online community wants to become known for? Do we really want to be nothing more than a faceless mob that drags down anyone who disagrees with us and buries them in an avalanche of filth?

Or do we want to be the marketplace of ideas? What, I wonder, is the reason we are here?

Am I the only one who thinks this is wrong?

You don't win the war of ideas by calling your opponent a mean-spirited poopy-head, or by snatching his book off the shelves or sabotaging his Amazon review page. You win it, if your ideas can stand the light of serious scrutiny, by putting forth a logical, coherent, and bullet-proof argument that is irrefutable and enhances your standing in the eyes of the intellectual community.

Not by flinging mud at your opponent and delighting in the damage you have caused to her reputation or her pocketbook. I can only repeat, we are supposed to be better than this.

As people. As women. As writers. Irrespective of our political beliefs.

Aren't we? If not, why are we here?

Think about it. Take it back to your readers.

And reflect for a moment the next time you have the urge to orchestrate a blogswarm.

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The War and the Troops 

Joel Stein has written a piece in today's LA Times which has gotten a fairly strong response from Instapundit and Hugh Hewitt, among others. While I agree with them that Stein's patriotism should be questioned, I have to agree with Stein on the thrust of his article. He is calling out the antiwar crowd for trying to carve out a facile and, I think, lame political position - "I am against the war but support the troops." Stein is against the war and admits he is against the troops. He equates the two, I think correctly.

So I don't like Stein, but I think he makes a nice, honest criticism of the antiwar pc troop-empathy fakers.

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Economic Optimism 

in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a poll commissioned by the BBC. Not the source I would typically expect to report on this, given their antiwar bias. Good for them. H/T to Instapundit.

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Botox fatwa! 

Malaysian clerical authorities are apparently struggling with the permissibility of Botox:
The National Fatwa Council is yet to determine whether substances used in Botox injections, commonly used for cosmetic treatment, are halal, or acceptable for use by Muslims, the Bernama news agency reported.

The council's chairman, Shukor Husin, said the organisation was still awaiting a report on Botulinum toxin type A, commercially known as Botox. He said the techniques used to inject Botox into the body also needed to be scrutinised to see whether they constituted plastic surgery, which is generally prohibited in Islam.

"We understand that the substance is used for medical purposes and based on that, as of today, we stand by the principle that since it was for medical use, it is okay to use it," Dr Shukor said. "What needs to be looked into is the scope of its use that has expanded from medical to cosmetic purposes."

The fatwa council is struggling with the same question that has long bothered American regulators: under our regulatory regime, at least, once a drug or device is approved for one use, there is nothing to stop a doctor from prescribing it for other, unapproved uses. In the United States, Botox was originally approved for eye muscle disorders and cervical distonia (a neurological disorder that causes neck and shoulder muscles to contract). The product, which is the toxin secreted by the bug that causes botulism, relaxes muscles. Unrelaxed muscles cause wrinkles, so plastic surgeons started using it "off label" to make their patients look younger. Eventually, the FDA cleared the drug for the single cosmetic purpose of improving the appearance of the frown lines between the eyebrows. With that one narrow cosmetic indication Allergan was free to pitch the drug to plastic surgeons, who have used it to smooth wrinkles in all sort of places.

Next up: Botox seems to have a huge impact on migraine headaches. Rumor has it that the drug is on track for approval for that indication within the next couple of years. Some plastic surgeons will inject it for that "off-label" purpose now, but the indication will vastly increase the market because the manufacturer will be able to advertise it for that purpose and will have a reason to call on physicians who more typically treat patients with migraines.

Of course, the next question for the fatwa council is this: if a woman who suffers from migraines gets Botox injections that also happen to smooth her wrinkles, does that cosmetic byproduct vitiate the original medical purpose of the procedure?

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Uh Oh - Oil Traders Beware... 

The New York Times has slipped an oil market prediction, albeit a weak one, into an editorial critical of Detroit's auto manufacturers. Far be it from me to defend the business practices of GM and Ford. They've made too many mistakes to count over the last 50 years. But the Times definitely misses the point of what ails the US auto manufacturers, while it tries to score political points on fuel economy.

What has broken Detroit is much the same problem that has crushed the airline industry. High labor costs, excessive financial leverage and unsustainable defined benefit pension obligations have made the US automakers insolvent. They simply cannot be a low cost manufacturer of high volume, low cost cars (which tend to be fuel efficient). Their embedded cost structure is a historical artifact that can only be rectified by bankruptcy. They need to void their union contracts, reduce their debt obligations and reconfigure their pension liability. Once they've completed that awesome task, maybe they will be able to rationalize their production capacity sufficiently to compete with Asian and European manufacturers.

The irony of the NYT backing up the UAW's criticism that Detroit should "design better cars" is pretty laughable. NYT editors may not like them, but between 15 and 16mm cars are sold each year that they make. So somebody likes them. To say the UAW has an axe to grind here is so absurdly obvious, it is remarkably obtuse of the NYT editors not to acknowledge their bias. So much for introspection and balance (not to mention business acumen).

As the Times went to press, oil prices were around $68 spot (US WTI). It's down $1.10 today. TH, it may be time to sell your oil company investments...

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Explosions in Iran 

Stratfor reports this morning that there have been more bombings in southwestern Iran, which is the part of the country with the highest concentration of Arabs.
Two blasts rocked the southwestern Iranian city of Ahvaz at the same time Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was scheduled to visit Jan. 24, though Ahmadinejad reportedly cancelled the visit a day earlier due to bad weather. State television said one explosive device detonated in front of a private bank, killing six people and injuring 15, while the second explosion, in front of a government natural resources office, injured nine.

Are these guys blowing stuff up entirely on their own, or is somebody helping them?

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The arrogance of Donald Trump 

The Donald is unhappy with TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, which he says contains defamatory statements. Rather than leave well-enough alone, though, Trump has sued both the publisher and the author for $5 billion.

I can't imagine a better way to lift a book from total obscurity (yesterday's Amazon sales rank: 151,889, which is pretty lame for a book published less than three months ago, notwithstanding a solid "5 stars" on the customer reviews) to instant prominence. I know that I wasn't even slightly interested in TrumpNation until I learned that it has apparently inflicted $5 billion worth of damage on Donald Trump. Now I'm actually interested in finding out what set him off.

Trump is a public figure, by the way, who has repeatedly sought the benefits of exposure in the press. That is going to make this a tough case for Trump to win. The governing standard is New York Times v. Sullivan. To win, he will have to show not only that they statements were false and damaging, but that the publisher and the author made them with "actual malice." That's state-of-mind mumbo jumbo that means that "the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false."

The Donald is going to lose, but he's going to sell a lot of the defendants' book in the process.

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At LAX, waiting for the redeye 

Every couple of years I take the "redeye" back from the West Coast, and then swear an oath that I will never do it again. Then the memory of the agony fades, and -- being a glutton for punishment -- I decide "that wasn't so bad" and I do it again. Sitting here waiting for my 9:55 flight, which will land in Newark at 5:50 Tuesday morning, Allah willing, I can't quite extinguish the idea that I'm too old for this shit. To make matters worse, I am coming down with a fairly severe cold, which will probably get in the way of any sleep.

Of course, I have a strategy: a flagon of India pale ale followed by a couple of Nyquil LiquiCaps. If you hear tomorrow that there's a dead guy in seat 12D, Continental flight 1803, somebody tell Glenn Reynolds. And my family.

On the bright side, it seems as if the average traveler is a lot more civil at this hour. People happily share their table at the crowded airport bar, and everybody is very courteous and deferential. Perhaps, like soldiers the night before a big battle, redeye passengers do not want to leave this world with a serious karma deficit. Or maybe we're simply too tired not to be courteous.

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Kerry posts on Kos 

Link. Apparently Theresa "reads blogs passionately."

As Power Line observes, "[k]eep that in mind next time someone tells you that the Kos Kidz are just a bunch of unemployed teenagers, and not the heart and soul of the Democratic Party."

Kerry's piece is basically a rehash of his old campaign argument, valid to a point, that we messed up the capture of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan in 2001. I thought in 2004 and still believe that it is politically dumb to keep bringing this up. First, it didn't work the first time. Second, what does he say when we do capture OBL? That it should have happened years ago? That would only reinforce the widespread perceptions that Democrats cannot rejoice in victory and that John Kerry is a churl.

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Hamas triangulates 

In the midst of an election campaign, Hamas declares that negotiation with Israel is "not taboo." Don't believe it as anything more than an attempt to hive off what amounts to "centrist" Palestinian voters, by which I mean people who deny Israel's right to exist, but think that it would be foolish not to hear them out. Through an intermediary.

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Creating enemies of al Qaeda 

About a month ago I considered victory conditions in the wider war beyond Iraq. That post summarized my take on America's strategy, and focused particularly on the need to create enemies of al Qaeda within Islam. Contrary to the widespread attitude of the Vietnam generation, it is far more important to create enemies of al Qaeda than it is to create "friends" of the United States. Yes, this war is about "hearts and minds," but it is less about "winning" hearts and minds than it is about turning them darkly against our enemy.

With that background, therefore, you will appreciate that I think this report from Bill Roggio is evidence of important progress.

Similar good news here.

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The perception gulf 

Every now and then one runs across a passage that reveals how wide the gulf is between those of us who believe we face an implacable, unappeasable, widely-dispersed and deeply infiltrated enemy, and those who, er, don't. Bob Herbert's column in this morning's New York Times (sorry, no link) contains just such a passage:
The ostensible aim of the president's surveillance program, conducted by the supersecret [It doesn't seem that "supersecret" to me. - ed.] National Security Agency, is to home in on communications into and out of the United States that involve individuals or organizations suspected of some sort of terror connection. But, as The Times reported last week, F.B.I. officials have repeatedly complained that the N.S.A. has bombarded them with thousands upon thousands of unsubstantiated tips -- names, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and so forth -- that have led nowhere, or to completely innocent individuals.

Whatever its stated goals, the N.S.A. seems to be operating the greatest fishing expedition in the history of the world.

Well, yeah. Recognizing that one might quibble over the connotation of the term, I don't think anybody would say that it isn't a "fishing expedition." I'll say it: when it comes to the jihadis, I want the government to be fishing like wild, and not just with poles. I want them using nets. It appears that I am more than willing to subscribe to Herbert's characterization and still support the NSA's program.

Of course, in citing the complaints of F.B.I. officials, it might be that Herbert was implicitly calling for a vast increase in the number of agents tasked to tracking down the N.S.A.'s "tips," but I doubt it. Still, we cannot let it pass that Herbert's evidence is the whining of an agency that is always in the hunt for bigger appropriations.

Now, Herbert begins and ends his column with an exposition of our alleged darkest fears:
Have you ever talked sexy to your wife or your girlfriend -- or your husband or your boyfriend [In case we thought he was only writing to the males in his audience. - ed.] -- on the telephone? Would you keep talking if you thought that one of Dick Cheney's operatives was listing in?

Since the NSA is only monitoring around 500 calls at a time, you must be, frankly, a raving paranoid if you think the NSA is wasting its time on your sex talk. And even if it were, so what? If you've ever lived in a city, you know that cordless phones transmit all over the damned place. Your neighbors have heard plenty of your phone calls, just as you have heard theirs. Which is your biggest concern -- the one in 60 million chance that the N.S.A. is listening to you (assuming equal distribution of the risk), or that the guy across the hall who you see every day just heard your girlfriend confess that she isn't wearing underwear?

Herbert ends with a quotation from Laurence Tribe:
The background assumptions of privacy will be gradually eroded to the point where we'll wake up one day, or our children will, and it will seem quaint that people at one time, long ago, thought that they could speak in candor.

Has there really been a decline in aggregate candor since we learned that the NSA was monitoring a vanishingly tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions of calls made every day?

I have news for you, Professor Tribe: our politically-correct legal culture, in which mere speech can result in huge liability for your employer and the end of your own career, has done vastly more to end "candor" in our society than the mechanistic surveillance of phone calls in or out of countries with high concentrations of jihadis. If we were free to be candid, the authors of this blog would not need pseudonyms. If candor were not under siege already, the president of your own university wouldn't have had to debase himself for having expressed an honest opinion.

In any case, Herbert undermines his own nightmare scenarios with the evidence he presents: If the F.B.I. is charged with mediating the N.S.A.'s tips, and if those "thousands upon thousands" of tips "have either led nowhere, or to completely innocent individuals," what, pray tell, are we worrying about? Nothing, because the F.B.I. isn't going to waste its time interrogating people who said "my date last night was a real bomb." Unless, perhaps, your date lives in Kandahar.

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