Friday, June 30, 2006

Too Funny 

Blog of the Day.

Via NB.

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The Road From Hamden 

Shhhhh!!!! Hopefully TigerHawk and family are sleeping in. Thanks for tolerating my overwrought blather all week. To keep you occupied until he returns in his usual fine fettle, I offer a fairly detailed analysis of the Hamden decision, part of which I know will please Screwy immensely.

- Cass

No matter what you think of Hamden, the GWOT, or the road to Guantanamo, the question in everyone's mind right now is, "Where do we go from here?". Predictably, the decision is being characterized in the media as an unqualified defeat for the administration. I'm not sure that conclusion is entirely justified. But while most observers focus on what the Court did say, the issues unresolved by Hamden are likely to have a subtle but far more long-lasting impact on the conduct of the war. Lyle Denniston elaborates:

Somewhat curiously, the three branches of government are not likely to be troubled, as they move forward, by the failure of the Court to answer two principal questions (left undecided again as in 2004), even though those two are the most important questions to arise in the war-on-terrorism. One is whether the country is, indeed, at "war" in some constitutional sense, giving the Court reason to look more favorably on claims of expanded presidential power. And the second one is whether the President has authority, acting all alone, to decide what measures are needed to respond to the continuing terrorism threat. The Court in Hamdan makes an assumption about the former, and leaves the latter without any answer.

The controlling opinion (in most if not all respects) by Justice John Paul Stevens says that the Court assumes that Congress' passage of the 9/11 Resolution soon after the 2001 terrorist attacks "activated the President's war powers" and that those powers "include the authority" to set up tribunals to try terrorist detainees "in appropriate circumstances." Stevens also says that the Court does not question "the government's position that the war commenced with the events of September 11, 2001." Because not questioning it is not the same as endorsing it, that is as close as the Court comes to considering whether war now exists to such a degree that some added presidential authority may be thought to exist.

This part of the majority opinion, a textbook example of judicial hairsplitting, seems to me far more significant than it would appear on its face. A major tenet of the anti-war movement has been that Congress' 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force did not authorize the President to act unilaterally. Implicit in this argument is the notion that every Executive action for which the President's rationale is "we're at war" is somehow a reckless arrogation of power, in addition to being illegal and unsanctioned by Congress. This stance neatly conflates the wartime powers associated with keeping us safe from terrorism on the homefront with those associated with conducting the GWOT abroad. Since there is considerably less popular sympathy for the war than for keeping us safe on the domestic front, the tactic provides a convenient excuse for those wishing to curb the exercise of Presidential power.

While declining to explicitly say America is at war, Hamden does say that AUMF activated the President's war powers whatever those might be. Those of a skeptical bent may well be wondering why a nation that isn't at war needs a President with wartime powers, but the Court does not trouble itself with such mundane matters. At any rate, this qualified endorsement effectively legitimizes the President's war standing before Congress while leaving the Court's hands free, should it feel the need to rebuke the Executive branch in future.

Later on, of course, this face-saving gesture is accompanied by a shot across the White House lawn;

...the question of whether the president "may constitutionally convene military commisions 'without the sanction of Congress' in cases of 'controlling necessity' is a question this Court has not answered definitively, and need not answer today." Footnote 23 adds to that the notion that, "whether or not the President has independent power, absent congressional authorization, to convene military commissions," he cannot disregard limits Congress has previously put on his powers.

Continue reading at your peril...

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Bin Laden on Zarqawi: Having cake, eating too 

We have long argued that the United States is not the only power to suffer from "blowback" in its foreign policy. Al Qaeda does too, to its great disadvantage.

Osama Bin Laden knows this. After having embraced Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, he cannot deny his links to al Qaeda, but he can spin them. There are hints that he may be doing this in some of the press accounts of Bin Laden's latest audio recording, released late Thursday.

If there was a split between al Qaeda central command and the Zarkman, it turned on the desireability of slaughtering Arabs, particularly Shiites. According to the BBC's bio of Zarqawi, last updated in November 2005,

According to BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera, Zarqawi's increasingly bloody attacks on the Shias are alienating many in the insurgency, including some Sunni Muslims who are its strongest backers.

A letter released by US forces in 2005 - allegedly authored by Bin Laden's deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and addressed to Zarqawi - appears to support this.

In the letter, whose authenticity remains in doubt, Zawahiri purportedly cautions Zarqawi that indiscriminate attacks on the Shia are eroding support for al-Qaeda.

Zawahiri's warning came before the bombing of the Golden Mosque, the match that exploded the sectarian violence in Iraq and probably led indirectly to the deal that betrayed Zarqawi. (Coincidentally, it appears that we have just captured the Golden Mosque bombers, who were linked to Zarqawi, but perhaps not under his direct command.) Much as al Qaeda central wished he would cool it, Zarqawi loved to slaughter innocent Arabs, especially if they were Shia.

In yesterday's tape, Bin Laden wants to have it both ways. He calls Zarqawi a "lion" of Islam, and claims to be "deeply saddened" by the passing of the barberous creature. At the same time, he knows that Zarqawi's atrocities hurt al Qaeda's rep with the "street." Bin Laden says, in effect, that Zarqawi left the reservation:
In an apparent reference to a campaign against Iraq's Shias by Zarqawi, Bin Laden addressed "those who accuse Abu Musab of killing certain sectors of the Iraqi people".

"Abu Musab had clear instructions to focus his fight on the occupiers," he went on, "particularly the Americans and to leave aside anyone who remains neutral."

In other words, when he was killing Americans he was al Qaeda, but when he killed innocent Arabs he was gone rogue. It would be interesting to see whether the average Iraqi Shiite is silly enough to fall for that argument. I doubt it.

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Iran: Will the militarization of the oil soften the Revolutionary Guards? 

Stratfor reports that Iran's Revolutionary Guards are reaching further into the oil and gas economy:
Islamic Revolutionary Guards are set to enter the oil and gas sectors in a move that would increase their stake in the Islamic republic's economy, Gen. Abdolreza Abed, head of the Guards' economic operations, told Qatar's Shargh newspaper in a story reported June 27. Abed said the Revolutionary Guards had obtained the contract to develop phases 15 and 16 of the South Pars gas field. He added that the contract was worth $2.09 billion dollars. Several weeks ago, the Guards were awarded a $1.3 billion contract to construct a 570-mile pipeline between South Pars and southeastern Iran. Both South Pars projects were awarded after the usual tendering process was abandoned.
The last sentence is particularly interesting, I should think, to more experienced observers of Iran than I.  The abandonment of "the usual tendering process" suggests a power play by the Revolutionary Guards to grab a larger proportion of that country's resources.
The militarization of essential natural resources is never a good sign for the long-term health of a nation.  It was not good for Iran under the Shah, and it will not work for the Islamic Republic.  The possible good news, however, is that it usually softens the military.   Speculation Alert: If Iran's leading generals are concerning themselves with the making of money and the siphoning of their country's wealth for their personal benefit -- this is what the People's Liberation Army in China has come to, for example -- it will be tough to motivate them into an unnecessary war.  Generals who hope to feather their own nests with profits from natural gas will not want to invite the American Air Force and Navy to bomb the production facilities into oblivion. The Revolutionary Guards might well develop a vested interest in opposing a foreign policy that could jeopardize their own creature comforts.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Iran: A deal coming soon? 

I'm coming home. Herewith, some Iran reading in my absence.

Glenn Reynolds put up a bunch o' Iran links earlier today, all of which are worth reading. Iran, being in one sense a bureaucratic creature, remains a puzzle to the West, and part of that puzzle involves figuring out who really calls the shots. This Strategypage post touches on that question.

Stratfor digested all of this into a single analysis yesterday, and it was so good I pass it along in substantial part (hoping, as always, that Stratfor will accept my recommendation to subscribe in lieu of a license):

Supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Tuesday that Iran does not need to talk with the United States about its nuclear program because there is nothing to be gained from the negotiations. State television quoted Khamenei as saying, "We do not negotiate with anybody on achieving and exploiting nuclear technology ... But if they recognize our nuclear rights, we are ready to negotiate about controls, supervisions and international guarantees."

Western media jumped on Khamenei's remark and began flooding the airwaves with reports that Iran had categorically rejected talks with the United States, feeding the popular perception that the world is headed toward a major crisis on the Iranian nuclear issue. But the reality is the opposite. Khamenei's remarks are to be expected: Iran has intensified its preparations on the home front as well as on the international level to move toward public dialogue with the United States.

One of the most glaring examples of such developments is the report from the Iranian news agency Fars that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will soon make a trip to Baghdad. This would not be happening if Iran was not close to consolidating its geopolitical interests in Iraq. What's more, the U.S. State Department gave a cautious nod of approval to this visit.

Meanwhile, Iraqi Shiite leaders have been traveling to Iran, as did Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul over the weekend. Syrian President Bashar al Assad, in an interview published June 26 in the Arabic-language daily Al Hayat, said that Syrian interests would be best served through an understanding between the United States and Iran, and that he finds Arab fears over Iran's growing role in the region irrational.

The Iranians have also been engaged in some significant changes internally, trying to get all the factions of the clerical-led conservative establishment on the same page in order to move toward a dialogue with the Bush administration. The most important event in this regard is the creation of a new body that will be shaping Iranian foreign policy: the Strategic Council for Foreign Affairs (SCFA), meant to serve as an advisory group to improve the country's capabilities in making major foreign policy decisions. It is not an executive body and is not supposed to interfere with the function of the Foreign Ministry or the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). The creation of the SCFA is part of Khamenei's effort to have greater oversight over the foreign-policymaking process in the hawkish Ahmedinejad administration.

It should be noted that this move follows several similar initiatives by the supreme leader. What Khamenei has done is retain key pragmatic conservatives from the previous government in positions that allow him to exercise greater control over the ultraconservatives who emerged with the election of Ahmadinejad. Senior officials of the three branches of the Iranian government called June 25 for the need to show greater solidarity and cooperation in order to achieve the aspirations of the Islamic Revolution and the supreme leader.

Signs of progress are also visible inside Iraq. Deputy Prime Minister Salam Zikam Ali al-Zubaie held meetings over the weekend with several tribal leaders from Anbar province, where the insurgency has been strong, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki unveiled a 24-point national reconciliation plan early this week. It is quite possible the seven groups that responded favorably to the government's amnesty offer came forward as a result of these meetings. Under the amnesty plan, several hundred Sunni prisoners were released on Tuesday. As a result of all this, there was a noticeable drop in violence.

All of these developments indicate that Tehran and Washington are moving to finalize their deal on Iraq. What remains to be seen is how this will filter into Tehran's role in Lebanon and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- and, of course, the nuclear issue.


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The Cost Of Freedom 

Lunchtime. My morning reading list is still stacked in the taskbar of my new computer. Different topics lie jumbled together with no rhyme or reason to sort them out, much like my thoughts at 4 am after a long night with no sleep. Some days the egregious asshattery is too much to absorb.

Presidential signing statements are more than just executive branch lunacy. Do I even want to go there again? No. Been there, done that. Don't need the stinkin' t-shirt.

NPR compares the media's coverage of the terrorist plot in Florida and the SWIFT banking furor.

Ted Olson wants a shield law? What the...? *sigh*

This could be interesting. The first part is unintentionally amusing:

The strength of "Whose Freedom?" is that it attributes the left's current foundering not just to a failure of strategy but to a failure of self-knowledge. Progressives, he argues, don't really understand what they believe or, just as important, how they believe it.

Sometimes I wonder if these people are reading my posts. But then I realize how ludicrous that is. Even I don't want to read my posts. Still, you have to love the progressive struggle to deal with their uniquely existential crisis: they really don't have a coherent ideology. Or rather, to hear some of them tell it they do - it's just that no one can articulate it because it's so incredibly complex. But when in doubt, take ownership of the problem:

"Freedom and liberty are progressive ideas -- our ideas," he writes. "It is time for progressives to fully integrate them into our everyday thinking and into our language."

In other words, we may not be able to tell you exactly what we believe, but damnitall, we're fully integrated. And whatever the heck it is, it's as American as apple pie. Yessir:

Furthermore, the progressive notion of freedom is identical to "traditional American freedom," which "still reigns in the American mind." Progressives really are in tune with what many average Americans believe, Lakoff insists, but conservatives are so good at hijacking the language to peddle their own radical redefinition of "freedom" that the other side can't get its message across.

Way to go there, perfessor. Witness for Tolerance by demonizing the Other. This is all beginning to sound nauseatingly familiar. It's at this point that I generally start to hear that little Valley Girl in my head saying, "What-everrrrrrrrrr". Hold this thought: we're not losing because we can't articulate what we think. We're losing because those wily conservative bastards stole the words right out of our mouths.

It gets worse, later on. Predictably, they try to figure out what they think about freedom. That never ends well, but when you're trying to avoid an unpleasant thought it always helps to distract yourself with psychobabble. And actually, I'm being a bit unfair. Lakoff's theories are actually quite insightful, so far as they go. But then they hit that dark, soulless place that progressives instinctively shy away from, their hands held out in furious denial:

A soldier was dead, and it was time for him to go home.

The doors to the little morgue swung open, and six soldiers stepped outside carrying a long black bag zippered at the top.

About 60 soldiers were waiting to say goodbye. They had gathered in the sand outside this morgue at Camp Ramadi, an Army base in Anbar Province, now the most lethal of Iraqi places.

Inside the bag was Sgt. Terry Michael Lisk, 26, of Zion, Ill., killed a few hours before.

In the darkness, the bag was barely visible. A line of blue chemical lights marked the way to the landing strip not far away.

Everyone saluted, even the wounded man on a stretcher. No one said a word.

The pallbearers lifted Sergeant Lisk into the back of an ambulance, a truck marked by a large red cross, and fell in with the others walking silently behind it as it crept through the sand toward the landing zone. The blue lights showed the way.

From a distance came the sound of a helicopter.

This is it. This is the subject of those quotes from the Founding Fathers; the ones progressives never seem to misquote when they're losing an argument.

This is the cost of freedom.

Because whether progressives like to admit it or not, someone always pays. In blood, sweat, toil, endless nights staring at an empty space where someone's head used to lie. A lump in the throat that never goes away.

What Lakoff's 'nurturant parent' model doesn't quite take into account is that there really are monsters under the bed, sometimes, and 'discussion and explanation' aren't much use when you're faced with people in exploding vests who haven't read your article in Salon:

Progressives, by contrast, subscribe to the "nurturant parent" model. This concept seems somewhat foggier, "authoritative without being authoritarian," based on mutual respect and the idea that discussion and explanation, rather than simple decree and force, are the best way to set rules. Adhering to key principles like fairness or kindness according to the situation is more important than following the letter of the law in every circumstance. The reward for behaving well is affection, togetherness and help when you need it. It holds that the "citizens care about their community and each other and act responsibly toward their community and each other." The nurturant-parent model puts its emphasis on the carrot, while the strict-father model is all about the stick.

Sergeant Lisk didn't have to be in al-Anbar. Very likely he didn't want to be, much of the time. Perhaps not at all. But he was there on the day death found him:

In the minutes after the mortar shell exploded, everyone hoped that Sergeant Lisk would live. Although he was not breathing, the medics got to him right away, and the hospital was not far.

"What's his name?" asked Col. Sean MacFarland, the commander of the 4,000-soldier First Brigade.

"Lisk, sir," someone replied.

"If he can be saved, they'll save him," said Colonel MacFarland, who had been only a few yards away in an armored personnel carrier when the mortar shell landed.

About 10 minutes later, the word came.

"He's dead," Colonel MacFarland said.

Whenever a soldier dies, in Iraq or anywhere else, a wave of uneasiness — fear, revulsion, guilt, sadness — ripples through the survivors. It could be felt on Monday, even when the fighting was still going on.

"He was my best friend," Specialist Allan Sammons said, his lower lip shaking. "That's all I can say. I'm kind of shaken up."

Another soldier asked, "You want to take a break?"

Specialist Sammons said, "I'll be fine," his lip still shaking.

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever be able to read one of these stories without spending the rest of the day (and often waking during the night) in tears? I hope so. Then again, I hope not. I hate the too-quick tears I can no longer control, the swift rush of anger, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that never quite seems to go away. I hate the way I see his face, the first one who died. For me, he will always be the face of this war.

His name was John. A good name. A strong name.

And it was with the same conflicting emotions that I read Col. McFarland's remarks to his men. "What in the hell was he thinking?", I thought at first. And then, "You have no right... no right." Am I talking about him, or myself?

And a few seconds later, "I wonder if any of them - the media - really understand how it feels? That most of us hate war, question it, doubt it? I wonder if they know that we question the cost, all the time?"

But questioning the cost is not the same as denying that there is a cost associated with our freedoms. It's hard to grasp, when the gap between cause and effect is this abstract. It makes being resolute much harder.

Ideas like Lakoff's give me hope that the two halves of our divided nation may some day be reconciled, may someday try to understand each other's positions. History tells me, though, that this won't happen until the pain is a distant memory. The war half a world away reverberates beneath our feet here at home, causing the ground to crack underneath us when we least expect it; causing bitter quarrels even among friends.

This is the cost of our continued freedom from fear, and refusing to acknowledge that cost doesn't make it go away. Some say war never solves anything.

Rubbish. Open a history book. War solves a great number of things, quite finally in some cases. It has finished entire civilizations. But merely engaging in warfare does not make us all morally equivalent. It matters - very much - what we're fighting for. And how we fight. It will always matter.

Colonel McFarland is right. In one sense, nothing is worth losing men like Sergeant Lisk. They are the ones who show up, who risk it all for the fine-sounding words we like to drag out on Independence Day. But in another sense, they give shape and meaning to our ideals. Without the willingness to sacrifice, those bold words would be as dry as dust. Men like Sergeant Fisk are the living embodiment of freedom: they are not victims, but free men who voluntarily gave their best to protect what we - and they - hold dear.

And in that sense, does it really make sense to cheapen their sacrifice by saying "nothing is worth this"?

They thought it was worth it. They were willing to pay the cost of freedom. And one day people not yet born, on both sides of this planet, may yet come to call their names blessed when they reflect on the freedoms purchased with their blood.

CWCID: Thanks to NB for the Thomas Paine link.

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Miscellaneous pictures of our last day in China 

Click on any picture to enlarge.

Today (Thursday) was our last day in China -- we leave Beijing tomorrow on a 7:50 am flight for Hong Kong, which is entirely the wrong direction, and fly from there to JFK. If all goes home, it will still be Friday, just barely, when we arrive home. Anyway, behold a few highlights from the last day...

The Hall of the Deputies from Tiananmen Square:

Images of the Forbidden City, the imperial residence for 492 years. There are more than 9,000 rooms in the complex, and only about a third of it is open to the public.

Weird rocks schlepped from southern China, just because the emperor liked them:

This last photo is of the Temple of Heaven, near the Forbidden City but outside it. My grandmother photographed this temple on a visit to China in the early 1920s, and we still have the picture in faded black and white. I took a color slide of the building in 1984. Today, we are only digital:

Bed time, now.

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Creepy Chinese souvenir of the week 

The Chinese hawk little glass globes that have been painted on the inside. Many of them are kind of attractive, at least to the extent that any $15 widely-produced souvenir can be. This design, however, gives me the creeps:

Click on it and examine it closely if you cannot already see that it is the World Trade Center in flames.

The good news is that I only saw one of this design, so they obviously aren't big sellers. The bad news is that today's Chinese never make anything for which they do not perceive a ready market.

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Speaking of 1989 

Today is the last of our Long March through China, the agenda including Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven. Pictures to follow in a few hours.

We were reminded today that China is an uncompromising police state. Our guide, who is a local, asked us not to ask him about the protests of 1989 while we toured the square. Apparently as recently as last year, a Chinese guide candidly answered a question from a Western tourist about the protests of 1989. A police officer heard the guide and arrested him on the spot. He is believed to be in prison today.

The local guides are no longer required to "report" on the activities of Western tourists - that delightful custom ended in 1990. They are, however, extremely guarded in their explanations, particularly in public where they might be heard. Why does Chinese cable television carry only Chinese channels, even though the international channels are available in the hotels? "Politics."


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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Decent news from Iraq: Getting more out of the oil revenue 

There's been a lot of good news coming out of Iraq recently. Without addressing this morning's news that a big chunk of the Sunni insurgency may be willing to come in from the cold -- I don't yet know what to make of that -- at least some other important indicators are looking up. For example, oil production is at a post-invasion high. Did this make the evening news back in the States?

The article itself reveals, as usual, the mindset of the reporters who write on Iraq. Consider this bit:

But oil production has plummeted since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003 as the system faced repeated insurgent sabotage, attacks on maintenance crews, alleged corruption, theft and mismanagement. The nation was producing an average of just 2 million barrels a day in April.

Production is down because of insurgent attacks and sabotage, for sure, and there has undoubtedly been corruption, theft and mismanagement. But is production down because of corruption, theft and mismanagement? Compared to that which prevailed under the Hussein family? The quantity of oil produced under Hussein was virtually irrelevant, because all the proceeds were stolen for the benefit of Ba'athist power. It would be very interesting to see whether in fact a larger proportion of Iraqi oil revenues inure to the benefit of ordinary Iraqis today, compared to 2002. I'd be amazed if they do not. The press legitimizes the kleptocratic Husseins when it contrasts episodic corruption today with the presumption that there was no corruption under the ancien regime. It was totally corrupt in the sense that all oil revenues were deployed to the benefit of the Ba'ath Party, and Westerners need to remember that.

Finally, read this article (bizarrely, originally from The New York Times!) about soaring enrollment in Iraqi schools.
Enrollment in Iraqi schools has risen every year since the U.S.-led invasion, according to Iraqi government figures, reversing more than a decade of declines and offering evidence of increased prosperity for some Iraqis.

Despite the violence that has plagued Iraq since the U.S.-led occupation began three years ago, schools have been quietly filling. The number of children enrolled nationwide rose by 7.4 percent from 2002 to 2005, and in middle schools and high schools by 27 percent in that time, according to figures from the Ministry of Education.

The increase, which has greatly outpaced modest population growth during the same period, is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy landscape of bombs and killings that have shattered community life in parts of Iraq. And it is seen as an important indicator in a country that used to pride itself on its education system but that saw enrollment and literacy fall during the later years of Saddam Hussein's rule.

All is not sweetness and light, but this is great news by any measure. What is driving this? The oil revenue now actually benefits the Iraqi people:
Economics is driving much of the rise, officials say. Public sector employees, who make up almost half the work force in Iraq, according to the Ministry of Planning, used to collect the equivalent of several dollars every month under Saddam. Now, Iraq's oil revenue has been earmarked for salaries instead of wars, and millions of Iraqis - doctors, engineers, teachers, soldiers - began to earn several hundred dollars a month.

Income from oil covers more than 90 percent of the government's spending, officials say. American money finances investment and reconstruction projects, but no current costs, like salaries.

There is more than one way to tell a story, and this time the NYT did a better job than the Associated Press.

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Buzzing Bashar 

One thing about the Israelis, they have a sense of humor. According to Stratfor, the Israeli air force is up to its old tricks:

Israeli warplanes fly over the home of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, according to Israeli officials. The last time Israeli planes came near al Assad was when F-16s buzzed his summer residence in Latakia, Syria, on Aug. 18, 2003.

In other words, "we know where you live, and your air defenses are powerless to do anything about it."

Al-Jazz quotes the Syrians, who not surprisingly have a somewhat different take:
Syria said its air defences opened fire on Israeli warplanes that overflew the country, forcing them to flee.

I'll bet.

To Al-Jazz's credit, the are equally skeptical of Syria's claims:
State-run Syrian television said two Israeli planes flew near Syria's Mediterranean coast but did not mention Israel's claim that the planes swooped low over the president's summer residence.

It would have been tough to square with the image of fleeing Israelis.

The exercise, of course, had a point: Syria might wish to reconsider its support for the murder of civilians in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

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Response to Glenn Greenwald 

Note: This is crossposted from VC in case the opening doesn't quite scan over here. Also please note this is a bit of a work in progress as I was short on time today.

Screwy Hoolie, a liberal reader of TigerHawk's with whom I occasionally enjoy sparring, invited me to read a post arguing the other side of the NYT classified information brouhaha. While a point-by-point refutation of Glenn's lengthy post would take longer than I arguably have left to live, I'd like to respond to a few of Glenn's assertions:

1. "...one of the most significant dangers our country faces is the all-out war now being waged on our nation's media -- and thereby on the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press -- by the Bush administration and its supporters..."

GLENN: Any doubts about whether the Bush administration intends to imprison unfriendly journalists (defined as "journalists who fail to obey the Bush administration's orders about what to publish") were completely dispelled this weekend. As I have noted many times before, one of the most significant dangers our country faces is the all-out war now being waged on our nation's media -- and thereby on the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press -- by the Bush administration and its supporters, who are furious that the media continues to expose controversial government policies and thereby subject them to democratic debate. After the unlimited outpouring of venomous attacks on the Times this weekend, I believe these attacks on our free press have become the country's most pressing political issue.

First to the specifics of Glenn's argument:

a) Any doubt Bush intends to throw 'unfriendly journalists' in jail was completely dispelled? By what? Has the Justice Department filed charges? Have Times employees been carted off to airless cells in Gitmo to face the horror of genital mocking? Has the administration announced an intent to prosecute?

No. Bush did express an opinion, which you may read here. Jail is not mentioned. Neither is prosecution, but Bush did term the disclosure 'disgraceful'. Apparently in Glenn's bizarre world, this constitutes intent to prosecute.

Glenn's accusation is just plain dishonest. He provides no factual evidence to support his charge (at least that I'm aware of). Moreover, he doesn't bother to link to Bush's actual statements so we can evaluate them for ourselves. But hey - who needs facts? Just trust him.

By clever sleight of hand, he then places the words of Rep. King into the President's mouth. Ostensibly, Republicans are rather like the Borg - a mindless collective whose individual units cannot operate independently of the Great Hive Mind, formerly known as The Shrub. But this is misleading and unfair. There is a critical element in "Speaking Truth to Power"; it helps an awful lot if what you say is, in fact, true. One paragraph into his post, Greenwald has already seriously damaged his own credibility. This is hardly calculated to engender trust in his subsequent statements.

b) Unwarranted assertions aside, there are a few problems with his main thesis too. What Glenn conveniently glosses over (hoping you won't notice the omission amid the hyperbole and arm-waving) is that, if the Right's allegations are true, the NY Times' publication of classified information constitutes a violation of laws passed by our elected representatives. Therefore, his dishonest characterization of Keller's actions as merely "exposing controversial government policies and thereby subject[ing] them to democratic debate" is flawed. It assumes two legal rights the Times does not, according to our elected representatives and SCOTUS, possess: the right to expose classified information and journalistic privilege (a special protected status that allows them to avoid the same duties ordinary citizens have to cooperate with investigations).

If you want to argue (as he does later) that the Times didn't actually expose any secrets, that is a separate question which may be settled by examining the facts. And where do we examine facts when a crime has been alleged? In a court of law. To imply the Executive Branch has no right to enforce the law or classify information, as Glenn has, is a stunning assertion he doesn't trouble to support.

One can argue this information shouldn't be classified at all. But that is really a moot point, because it is. Neither the general public nor the media possess statutory authority to selectively declassify information. Period.

Continue reading...

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Where are the George Washington t-shirts? 

All over the world, there are t-shirts with Che Guevera. They look like this:

If you hang in college towns, you have definitely seen them, most frequently on unattractive white people.

Not surprisingly, Che-shirts are all over the souvenir stands in China, along with Mao shirts and the occasional Osama bin Laden. This is not because the Chinese are anti-American -- the souvenir hawkers will sell anything that Westerners will buy, including American flag logo Chinese silk scarves. They would sell t-shirts of Ronald Reagan or (perhaps especially) Richard Nixon, if there were demand from Western tourists.

As previously reported, the Mao-chic goes well beyond the usual market for Che-shirts. Middle class teenagers traveling with their parents in China buy Mao shirts. There are so many, there must be huge demand for them among tourists, including especially Westerners who would never be caught dead in Hitler or Stalin logo attire.

All of this led my son to ask a couple of sharp questions over dinner. Why do people -- Westerners, he meant in this case -- wear Mao t-shirts, but not Hitler or Stalin t-shirts? Frankly, I can think of but one answer that stands up to the test of history: Mao murdered millions of Asians, but Hitler and Stalin slaughtered Europeans. Westerners, particularly the paternalistic left, do not value Asian lives according to the same standard, so they are willing to forgive the murder of tens of millions of Chinese. Anybody want to try their hand at a different explanation?

This is why so many on the left were willing to let Iraqis continue to suffer under Saddam Hussein, and believe that "stability" in the Arab world is more important than popular sovereignty. Arabs aren't capable of democracy, you know. It also explains why the interventions in Bosnia, Servia and Kosovo were justified for their humanitarian purposes (according to the left), but the invasion of Iraq was not.

Then my son asked, why don't people wear t-shirts with George Washington's picture? Even in the United States, there must be a hundred or a thousand t-shirts with Che Guevera for every George Washington, or any of the fathers of our own extraordinary revolution. If one were inclined to wear t-shirts with depictions of revolutionary guerrillas, I would think that anybody other than an unreconstructed commie would prefer to honor a man who built a great nation wisely and humanely, rather than brutal anti-democrats who left little more than misery and pain in their wake.

I could give no answer to my son that made any sense at all.

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The original "power line": visiting the Great Wall 

Today we visited the Great Wall at a long section far out of Beijing advertised as "less touristy" than the more famous bit just past the Ming Tombs. We rode a bus a couple of hours, climbed a steep hill lined with very aggressive vendors, and rode a cable car to the wall itself. There we got a tai-chi lesson from a "master," and then spent about 45 minutes hiking the length of the restored area. Since everybody in China humps brands at every opportunity, I thought I would promote a brand that has been very good to this blog, and tweak the Commies all at once:

Photo by Mrs. TigerHawk

Caption: Power Line stands atop the original, literal power line, the ultimate expression of Chinese imperial military power.

Actually, the Great Wall -- like the Maginot Line and other famous attempts at static defense -- did not keep out invaders. It did, however, keep out illegal aliens, who would stream south into China to avoid the bitter winters of the north, burdening the local economy and disrupting the social order. It also turned out to be an excellent means for moving Chinese armies laterally, the top of the wall serving as sort of an elevated road.

If we do end up building a fence along the southern border, we should spend the bucks to make it just this cool. In fact, I think we need battlements, lookout towers, and ports through which to shoot arrows.

Here's another shot unburdened by any blog promotion.

I last visited the Great Wall in 1984. Then, there was only one state-owned souvenir shop, in which there were disinterested clerks and cheap, but nevertheless overpriced, merchandise. I bought a red T-shirt that said "I climbed the Great Wall."

This time (at a more remote location), there was a long gauntlet of extremely aggressive vendors who sold all manner of souvenirs, including the identical T-shirt pattern I had purchased 22 years ago. In particular, today there is much more Mao paraphernalia than I remember in 1984 -- perhaps enough time has elapsed since the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution for Westerners to snap up Mao "logo" attire. Mao is just another cool brand.

A couple of the teenagers on the trip, sons of a conservative Detroit businessman, bought Mao t-shirts and received compliments all around for their excellent taste. Somehow Western elites do not condemn Mao as they reject Hitler and Stalin, perhaps because the Chairman did not murder millions of white people.

The other big difference, of course, was in the terms of trade. I bought a non-Mao t-shirt for my son. The opening price was a laughable Rmb. 185, equal to about US$22. We worked her down to Rmb. 30, but only with the help of our Chinese guide, at whom the vendor screamed for helping the Americans at the expense of her fellow Chinese. I'm sure, though, that I still paid more than Wal-Mart.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Final Firewall news 

Regular readers know that I have not been able to see Blogspot blogs, including this one, since I left the Ritz-Carlton in Shanghai. We have now travelled in a great clockwise arc and arrived in Beijing and will spend the next three nights at the Grand Hyatt. Once again I can see Blogspot blogs. I can even see Wikipedia's "Tiananmen Square protests of 1989", which was not available in Shanghai. Screencap:

My anecdotal investigations of the past week suggest that the Great Firewall operates inconsistently. In particular, it seems that the Chinese have allowed the expensive international business hotels to get around at least some of the blocks.

Anyway, we arrived in Beijing in time for a late dinner, after which Mrs. TigerHawk repaired to the room. The Son and I took an evening constitutional to Tiananmen Square, about ten minutes walk from our hotel. The coppers were just shooing people away so we could not set foot directly on that hallowed ground, but we did manage to get a few pictures across the street at the entrance to the Forbidden City. Here's another sweaty picture of me, this time with Chairman Mao:

Beijing has changed unbelievably in the 22 years since I was last here. One of the differences is that people have a much more nuanced view of Chairman Mao than they once did. This is true of the English-speaking Chinese one meets, including the tour guides, who will occasionally and politely suggest that Mao made a few mistakes. It is also true, though, of the Western tourists. In 1984 a huge percentage of the tourists were ignorant Sinophiles, and considered China in absurdly romantic terms. I remember standing in line at Mao's tomb, waiting to see the great leader under glass -- he is the best example of Chinese taxidermy I have ever seen, and that is damning with faint praise -- chatting away with my friends. A scruffy American "traveller" in front of us turned around and hissed "show some respect." Not "will you please be quiet" or "shut the frack up so I can hear the orders from the PLA soldiers," but "show some respect." One of us, and I honestly cannot remember whether it was me or one of my friends, retorted: "We should respect Mao because he slaughtered 50 million people?" If looks could kill...

Tomorrow, the actual, as opposed to virtual, Great Wall.

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NYTimesWatch: The Public's Selective Right To Know 

The half-vast editorial staff awoke this morning in a deeply existential funk, the words of NYT Executive Editor Bill Keller thrashing about our pretty little noggin like a minority party in search of a raison d'etre:

"The question we start with as journalists is not "why publish?" but "why would we withhold information of significance?" We have sometimes done so, holding stories or editing out details that could serve those hostile to the U.S. But we need a compelling reason to do so."

This rationale: it is tres juste, n'est pas? Framed in this manner, what reasonable person could question the Times' decision to helpfully show the terrorists how to defeat Marine body armor. There simply was no compelling reason not to!

Mr. Moss highlighted and discussed the actual areas of potential vulnerability in the armor, which we specifically asked him not to do, and he did it anyway," Catto says. "You having been a Marine can understand why we would ask him not to do that. But he did."

The story did not simply specify that there were unprotected areas of the body perceptively protected by existing body armor, but it highlighted those areas in both content and a color graphic, which illustrated in red exactly where bullets and shrapnel had previously struck and killed Marines.

But as Monsieur Keller has so often reassured us, the Times does nothing without reason. In the judgment of the Times' reporter, who no doubt is possessed of a vast and unerring expertise in military affairs, terrorists never aim their weapons. They just fire randomly. Additionally, the Times was swayed by the cri de coeur of the military's own medical examiner:

The military's medical examiner, Dr. Craig T. Mallak, told a military panel in 2003 that the information ‘screams to be published.’ But it would take nearly two years."

Naturellement, in the Times' expert judgment the public did not need to know that Mallak's comment referenced a completely unrelated issue: the use of Ephedra by US troops. No doubt in retrospect, the Times regrets misleading the public. But as Monsieur Keller is quick to tell us, those who have not served on the front lines should not presume to sit in judgment. After all, the Founding Fathers intended us to have a vigorous and free press. Furthermore, deciding what we do (or do not) have a right to know is not an easy task. Such life and death decisions are made only after careful deliberation.

So it was with great anticipation that the HVES pulled up the home page of the NY Times at zero dark thirty this morning. Having learned that the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades (a group closely allied with Fatah) has claimed to have WMD they will not hesitate to use on Israel, we could hardly wait to read more about this two day old story from America's leading newspaper. After all, since their 'default position' was to inform the public (absent some compelling reason not to) surely the Times would err on the side of full disclosure?

Continue reading...

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Monday, June 26, 2006

John Snow calls Bill Keller a liar 

Secretary of the Treasury John Snow has apparently just released a letter he has written to the New York Times over its exposure of our transactions surveillance program. Correct me if I'm wrong, but it appears that Snow called Bill Keller a liar:

Mr. Bill Keller, Managing Editor
The New York Times
229 West 43rd Street
New York, NY 10036

Dear Mr. Keller:

The New York Times' decision to disclose the Terrorist Finance Tracking Program, a robust and classified effort to map terrorist networks through the use of financial data, was irresponsible and harmful to the security of Americans and freedom-loving people worldwide. In choosing to expose this program, despite repeated pleas from high-level officials on both sides of the aisle, including myself, the Times undermined a highly successful counter-terrorism program and alerted terrorists to the methods and sources used to track their money trails.

Your charge that our efforts to convince The New York Times not to publish were "half-hearted" is incorrect and offensive. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Over the past two months, Treasury has engaged in a vigorous dialogue with the Times - from the reporters writing the story to the D.C. Bureau Chief and all the way up to you. It should also be noted that the co-chairmen of the bipartisan 9-11 Commission, Governor Tom Kean and Congressman Lee Hamilton, met in person or placed calls to the very highest levels of the Times urging the paper not to publish the story. Members of Congress, senior U.S. Government officials and well-respected legal authorities from both sides of the aisle also asked the paper not to publish or supported the legality and validity of the program.

Indeed, I invited you to my office for the explicit purpose of talking you out of publishing this story. And there was nothing "half-hearted" about that effort. I told you about the true value of the program in defeating terrorism and sought to impress upon you the harm that would occur from its disclosure. I stressed that the program is grounded on solid legal footing, had many built-in safeguards, and has been extremely valuable in the war against terror.

Additionally, Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey met with the reporters and your senior editors to answer countless questions, laying out the legal framework and diligently outlining the multiple safeguards and protections that are in place.

You have defended your decision to compromise this program by asserting that "terror financiers know" our methods for tracking their funds and have already moved to other methods to send money. The fact that your editors believe themselves to be qualified to assess how terrorists are moving money betrays a breathtaking arrogance and a deep misunderstanding of this program and how it works. While terrorists are relying more heavily than before on cumbersome methods to move money, such as cash couriers, we have continued to see them using the formal financial system, which has made this particular program incredibly valuable.

Lastly, justifying this disclosure by citing the "public interest" in knowing information about this program means the paper has given itself free license to expose any covert activity that it happens to learn of - even those that are legally grounded, responsibly administered, independently overseen, and highly effective. Indeed, you have done so here.

What you've seemed to overlook is that it is also a matter of public interest that we use all means available - lawfully and responsibly - to help protect the American people from the deadly threats of terrorists. I am deeply disappointed in the New York Times.



John W. Snow, Secretary
U.S. Department of the Treasury

Well, one of them is definitely lying. It will be interesting to see whether Keller accuses Snow in reverse. This could will get uglier, I think.

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Iraq Withdrawal Date? 

Screwy asked an interesting question on another thread. He links to this:

If this Newsweek story is correct, the war is over. Iraqi PM Nouri Al Maliki will present a reconciliation plan tomorrow that essentially uses anti-occupation sentiment to unite the country, which means offering the Sunni insurgents amnesty for anti-U.S. attacks and demands a timetable for U.S. withdrawal. President Bush will be put in the position of either endorsing precisely what he has for over a year defined as defeat or defying what he insists is a sovereign government on the most important aspect of sovereignty there is.

Screwy asks, "Any word on whether THIS is true? If so, then the Iraqi government is now for "retreat and defeat", asking the United States to "cut and run", and aligning themselves with the Democratic Party on how the U.S. ought to conduct troop withdrawals"

Well not exactly. If you recall, the adminstration has been saying we will withdraw as soon as conditions permit safe withdrawal. Democrats like Murtha and Kerry, on the otter heiny, want a date certain. Moderate Democrats have refused to support the Murtha/Kerry initiative so far, which in my mind just confirms their good sense. At any rate, I saw a similar post this morning at 4 am which said something to the effect of, "Remember when Bush said we wouldn't leave until the Iraqis asked us to? Well, they're asking".

Of course the link was to an article speculating about what *might* be in Maliki's plan, not actual proof that the Iraqis had asked us to withdraw. And, in an even more amusing development, the post itself has been "disappeared".

So what does the news say? The Post coverage contains nothing about a timetable, but can't wait to tell us their eponymous Abdul-on-the-street "doubts" the Plan.

Check. The second WaPo article is more informative:

The reconciliation plan, which also called for strengthening Iraqi armed forces in preparation for the departure of U.S. troops, received hearty applause and expressions of support from parliament members representing disparate factions in Iraqi politics.

But the initiative as presented Sunday provided few details about how the reconciliation process would unfold or who, specifically, would be pardoned. Maliki said the "reconciliation will be neither with the terrorists nor the Saddamists," referring to supporters of former president Saddam Hussein.

The plan called for pardoning detainees "who were not involved in crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity" and for forming committees to secure the release of innocent prisoners as quickly as possible.

"The launch of this national reconciliation and dialogue initiative should not be read as rewarding the killers and criminals or accepting their actions," he said. "There can be no agreement with them unless they are punished with justice.

Later on, the fears of some in Congress appear to be unfounded:

The reconciliation plan has gone through several revisions. Earlier proposals suggested offering pardons for those who attacked Americans, but Maliki's plan offered Sunday did not make a distinction between crimes against U.S. troops and crimes against Iraqis.

Al-Reuters reports Observers greet PM's reconciliation plan with cautious optimism. At least one of their experts, however, believes the violence won't end until Coalition forces leave Iraq:

A national reconciliation plan proposed on Sunday by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki represents a positive step towards ending sectarian violence, according to experts.

"The reconciliation plan is an important step towards promoting peace in the country," said Ayar Muhammad, professor of political science at Baghdad University, "especially if it opens the door for negotiations with armed groups, which have been looking for a way to be heard." Excluding certain groups from the political process in the past, he added, has only served to promote the insurgency.

Al-Maliki's 24-point plan aims to promote dialogue between the country's various armed factions by way of a national reconciliation committee, set to include representatives of the three main branches of government, spokesmen for armed militias, civil society officials and tribal and religious leaders. The plan does not, however, call for dialogue with groups such as al-Qaeda, allegedly responsible for numerous civilian casualties.

MSNBC has a draft of the Plan:

The plan also calls for a withdrawal timetable for coalition forces from Iraq, but it doesn't specify an actual date—one of the Sunnis' key demands. It calls for "the necessity of agreeing on a timetable under conditions that take into account the formation of Iraqi armed forces so as to guarantee Iraq's security," and asks that a U.N. Security Council decree confirm the timetable. Mahmoud Othman, a National Assembly member who is close to President Talabani, said that no one disagrees with the concept of a broad, conditions-based timetable. The problem is specifying a date, which the United States has rejected as playing into the insurgents' hands. But Othman didn't rule out that reconciliation negotiations called for in the plan might well lead to setting a date. "That will be a problem between the Iraqi government and the other side [the insurgents], and we will see how it goes. It's not very clear yet."

Pardon the heck out of me, but from where I'm sitting, a conditions-based timetable is not substantively different than what President has been advocating all along: "as they stand up, we'll stand down".

The Times Online mentions the timeline but omits any reference to it being conditions-based or lacking a concrete date. It also crows that amnesty is being offered to the insurgents:

The draft marks the first time the Iraqi Government has endorsed a fixed timeline for the withdrawal of coalition forces from Iraq, a key demand of the Sunni insurgency.

“We must agree on a timed schedule to pull out the troops from Iraq, while at the same time building up the Iraqi forces that will guarantee Iraqi security and this must be supported by a United Nations Security Council decision,” the document reads.

One insurgent group involved in the discussions told The Times that the timetable for withdrawing foreign troops was key. “We are not against the formation of the new Iraqi goverment, but with certain conditions, which are to put a timetable for the pullout of US Troops," Abu Fatma, from the Islamic National Front for Liberation of Iraq, said.

Interestingly, the Times includes this quote, which would seem to contradict the WaPo's contention that the amnesty draws no distinction between crimes against Iraqis and those committed against coalition troops:

“There will be a general amnesty to release all the prisoners who were not involved in the shedding of innocent Iraqis’ blood.”

So it would appear that both sides of our national war debate can declare victory.

If you believe that the Iraqis' entirely natural desire to see Coalition troops leave their country as soon as the IA and IP can handle the insurgency amounts to hatred of us and all we stand for, have a beer on me.

If, on the other hand, you infer from the refusal to set a date certain or to draw the line between crimes committed against US troops and Iraqis, have a beer on me. :)

Either way, I'm going to have a beer. No one wants us to stay in Iraq one moment longer than necessary. The only question is whether setting an arbitrary date is wise. For now, the Iraqis and the administration appear to be on the same sheet of music.

UPDATE: in relating all this to my long-suffering spouse this evening, I remarked that the Iraqis, at every turn, have shown an amazing ability to compromise between a multitude of factions (both foreign and domestic) with seemingly irreconcilable differences. And these folks aren't "ready for democracy"?

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Notes on the Great Firewall 

The BBC's World News home page is blocked from Xian. I hadn't checked it previously on this trip through China, so perhaps it is blocked everywhere.

Technorati is also blocked here, as it was in Shanghai. It was available in Guilin and Chengdu.

As it has been since I left Shanghai, I have not been able to see blogs hosted on Blogspot except on my Blackberry. I was able to see them in Shanghai, though, at least at the Ritz-Carlton.

The Blackberry service has been extremely patchy since I was in Guilin. The cell phone service is persistent, but the Blackberry data connection is extremely unreliable. Roughly half the "dads" on this family tour are carrying Blackberrys with Cingular service, and they have had the same experience.

I'm sure you find all of this detail fascinating. Hey, it's reporting on the ground.

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Reinforcing Defeat 

Much has been written about the recent "outing" of two classified anti-terrorism programs. For those who support the spread of democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, the irony is almost palpable. The Left literally sputtered with outrage when a single CIA operative was allegedly "outed" by unnamed (and after two years of independent counsel investigation, apparently unindictable) White House officials. "What about our national security?" they screamed. "The law has been broken!".

But that was then.

This is now. Neither the sanctity of law nor national security appear to matter in the slightest to defenders of the New York Times, which has now "outed", not a single minor CIA functionary, but two entire classified anti-terror programs. So much for fine sounding principles.

We are given to understand the Times' actions are different. In this case, you see, the public interest outweighed both the rule of law and national security. To hear the press tell it, the public's right to know trumps all other considerations.

What the public doesn't have a right to know, apparently, is that Joe Wilson's version of events was a tissue of lies. The New York Times certainly isn't reporting the good news. Neither is the Washington Post, which inxplicably allowed one of the reporters Wilson lied to to continue writing about L'Affaire Plame.

The important thing to remember is that in the eyes of the press, the end always justifies the means. Law, national security, transparency, even literal truth are all negotiable commodities:

The one great similarity between Vietnam and Iraq is that our enemies, despairing of victory on the battlefield, sought to win with a propaganda campaign.

In Vietnam, this strategy succeeded. If it fails in Iraq, it will be chiefly because of the emergence of the new media.

The turning point in Vietnam was the Tet Offensive of February, 1968. It was a crushing defeat for the Viet Cong.

"Our losses were staggering and a complete surprise," said North Vietnamese Army Col. Bui Tin in a 1995 interview. "Our forces in the South were nearly wiped out. It took until 1971 to re-establish our presence."

"The Tet Offensive proved catastrophic to our plans," said Truong Nhu Tang, minister of justice in the Viet Cong's provisional government, in a 1982 interview. "Our losses were so immense we were unable to replace them with new recruits."

The news media reported this overwhelming American victory as a catastrophic defeat.

"Donning helmet, Mr. Cronkite declared the war lost," recounted UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave. "It was this now famous television news piece that persuaded President Lyndon Johnson...not to run for re-election."

Shaken by Tet, he planned to seek terms for a conditional surrender, the North Vietnamese commander, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, wrote in his memoirs. But our news media's complete misrepresentation of what had actually happened "convinced him America's resolve was weakening and complete victory was within Hanoi's grasp," Mr. de Borchgrave said.

Success is self-reinforcing. Today's coverage of the Iraq war in many ways resembles that long-ago coverage:

Earlier this month, the Army sponsored a conference for retired general officers at Fort Carson, Colorado. They were addressed by recent returnees from Iraq, including Col. H.R. McMaster, commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment.

"All returnees agreed we are clearly winning the fight against the insurgents but are losing the public relations battle," said a retired admiral in an email to friends.

A disturbing anecdote from Col. McMaster illustrates why. His 3rd ACR broke the insurgents' hold of the city of Tal Afar last September in an operation which generated these effusive words of praise from the town's mayor:

"To the lion hearts who liberated our city from the grasp of terrorists who were beheading men, women and children in the streets...(you are) not only courageous men and women, but avenging angels sent by The God Himself to fight the evil of terrorism."

Time magazine had a reporter and a photographer embedded with the 3rd ACR. When the battle was over, they filed a lengthy story and nearly 100 photographs.

"When the issue came out, the guts had been edited out of the reporter's story and none of the photographs he submitted were used," said the admiral, quoting Col. McMaster. "When the reporter questioned why his story was eviscerated, his editors...responded that the story and pictures were 'too heroic.'"

Too heroic? The media keep telling us they can't find any good news to report in Iraq and AFghanistan. What's closer to the truth is that the good news is systematically edited out of wartime coverage.

The power of positive reinforcement to change human behavior is well established. There have been studies showing that more coverage of terrorism leads to more terrorist acts, but we hardly need scientists to tell us that the goal of terrorism is to cause terror. If these acts were performed in secret, they would have no power to frighten or discourage. Terrorists want publicity, the media gives it to them for free, and because the tactic works it is employed over and over again. But there is a fascinating flip side to the positive reinforcement angle and it is this: what do you suppose would happen if the press started reporting good news?

What if the press hyped acts of kindness, bravery, and compassion the way they hyped the photos from Abu Ghuraib? What if they gave the words of the Mayor of Tal Afar the same prominence as Jack Murtha's defeatist rhetoric? What if the public, in addition to the bad news, were told stories of how we're making a difference in the lives of ordinary Iraqis? What if we heard more about strategies that work and less about dying donkeys? Grim tells a story that confirms what we already suspect intuitively: just as a constant diet of bad news breeds hopelessness and despair and criminal acts encourage more crime, decent acts inspire others to perform more decent acts. Success inspires others to try harder. Stories like Tal Afar give us hope.

The media will tell you that they relentlessly hype even unproven allegations of abuse so that they will "never happen again". Any psychologist could tell them that though negative reinforcement has its uses, positive feedback is a far more powerful force in shaping human behavior. Oddly enough, however, the media still see no reason to report good news about the war. Perhaps that is not surprising, for they do not wish to see us succeed in Iraq. Though they are notoriously wary of being manipulated by the administration, this caution is nowhere in evidence when it comes to being manipulated by terrorist. The media's positive feedback is reserved for the enemy rather than their own side.

In the final analysis, what is increasingly evident is that the media do not wish to inspire decency, bravery, and hope but despair and a sense of impending defeat. Judging from history as well as recent poll results, they may well get their wish. America may again abandon a contest they were winning on the battlefield but had long ago lost in the eyes of the American public.

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The Anti-War Press Against the Military 

Others have written brilliantly about the recent offenses committed by the New York and LA Times in their articles disclosing a government financial transactions tracking program. For the record, I am hopeful that the leakers will be identified, apprehended, charged and put on trial, in front of a jury. We need a clear, black and white case put before a judge and jury on this subject so we can dispose of this issue already. Other than this opinion, I don't have much to add to the debate.

Except perhaps to add a question. It strikes me as far too obvious to say that the liberal media has it "in for" the Bush Administration. I tend to think they have it "in for" authority in general, and seek to weaken it wherever possible, regardless of party. The same MSM weakened Clinton when he contemplated or utilized military action in Somalia, Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan. This wasn't partisan, simply anti-war and anti-authority.

During World War II, members of the press were available to be drafted. They certainly knew or were often close to members of the military. They undoubtedly respected the challenges the military confronted. This was equally true during the Korean War. However, with the advent of professional draft avoidance during Vietnam, and the subsequent elimination of the draft, the US military has ceased to be connected in a personal way with the press. The current editors of the major liberal media organs have no personal connection to today's military. They act with a blatant disregard for the safety of American military members (or, for that matter, American civilians, but that's a separate matter). To reveal the various classified, clandestine programs the liberal press has revealed endangers the lives of real people. There is now no doubt about this claim. It is easy to make. Any banking system dollar now that converts to weaponry used against our soldiers can legitimately be argued to have been at least in part a consequence of the disclosure of this program. Money is fungible.

Not long ago, an LA Times reporter foolishly, but honestly, said he "hated the troops." He felt it was intellectually dishonest to say he was anti-war, but supported the troops. Eason Jordan, the former head of CNN's News Division, accused the US military of "targetting journalists." He lost his job over it. I think the flap this weekend over the financial transactions tracking program is evidence of the same latent (or overt?) hostility to the military.

Here's the botton line. The liberal press detests authority, save for its own. It views its mission as eroding authority. Press freedom erodes authority, except that of the press of course. Well, to the press, what has more authority that the Executive Branch of the United States Government, and the US military? Taking on these forces of authority drives knuckleheads like Dan Rather, for instance, who blathers on about "courage" and "speaking truth to power." It's all the silliest, most arrogant crapola I can imagine. It's like some of the stupidity you deal with when you have children. Small children.

One almost thinks the liberal press would delight in the next act of terror on US soil almost as much as they seem to relish body counts of our military.

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German bears extinct once more 

Back in May, TH blogged about the bear in Germany, the first "wild" bear in that country since 1835. There have been periodic follow up stories over the past six weeks as the bear was tracked meandering about the country and into Austria and back.

Today's Herald Tribune reports that this most endangered of animals has been shot dead.

"The shooting has happened, the bear is dead," said Manfred Wölfl, a Bavarian government bear specialist. He gave no further details before a news conference.

The bear - a fugitive from Italy named JJ1, but dubbed Bruno by the German media - rambled into Germany last month, becoming the first wild bear seen in the country since 1835. He was part of a program in northern Italy to reintroduce the animals in the Alps.

The 100-kilogram, or 220-pound, bear had not harmed any humans, but had killed sheep and rabbits and looted beehives of honey. Officials said he was a hazard because he came near homes and appeared to have lost his fear of people.

My first reaction in reading this is that it is a shame that Germany is again free of wild bears but I understand the frictions between fearless bears and the suburbs, and presumably someone, perhaps the specialist quoted above, determined the bear to be a threat.

Which leads to my second reaction, which is why, in a country that hasn't had a wild bear in 170 years, does Bavaria need its own bear "specialist?" It kind of makes one wonder what other kind of specialists are on the Bavarian payroll. Sounds like your classic European bureaucratic ministry job to me, no doubt with 35 hour work week and 8 weeks of vacation.

Can you imagine the pandemonium in Herr Wolfl's office when he got that phone call back in May? I suspect he's quite pleased to have that file off his once again pristine desk.

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Family vacation notes: Report from Xian 

Monday morning we flew from Chengdu to the ancient imperial capital of Xian, home of the most startling archeological discoveries of the last thirty years. Xian is most famous for its excavated "terracotta army" of soldiers buried to defend the Emperor Qin in the afterlife. Two thousand of an estimated 6000 warriors have been unearthed and painstakingly reassembled, having been smashed by a peasant uprising the year after Qin's death in 210 B.C.E.

The Chinese are intensely proud of this discovery, and have obviously devoted enormous resources to the site. They are proceeding with all deliberate speed; having decided that the technology does not exist today for the adequate preservation of the emperor's actual tomb, they do not expect to excavate that core area for generations. They have also deliberately slowed the recovery of the infantrymen, archers, officers, and chariotmen until they can perfect a compound to preserve the original colors (which fade quickly to brown when exposed to the air). Nevertheless, the terracotta army at Xian is one of China's "must see" destinations. Pictures from the vast "Pit 1" follow:

The terracotta soldiers had real weapons, but most of them were looted by the revolting peasants who trashed the tomb. The result is that the soldiers are strangely posed as if bearing arms -- sort of like boys who play "air ninja" in the living room. The picture below is of an archer, sans crossbow:

Twenty years ago, the Chinese could not be bothered with tourism. You could barely get the unreconstructed Commies of that era to rent you a hotel room. Today, they have embraced every technique for separating a fool from his money that P.T. Barnum might have imagined, and then some. Before the visit to the archeological site, for example, the tours take you through a factory where they make souvenir terracotta soldiers of all sizes, from teensy-weensy pocket-sized versions all the way up to full-sized replicas that you can order shipped to straight to your backyard in New Jersey. All-in price of a big one: less than $1500, including the shipping, tax and insurance. It occurred to me that a wealthy practical jokester would ship these unbidden to his friends around the United States -- imagine answering the door to find a huge crate with a terracotta charioteer on your front stoop.

Anyway, the souvenir terracotta factory includes a goofy cut-out for photographs in the front...

...and then the bastards trap you by inviting your kids to "make a terracotta soldier."

Naturally, we now own a couple of small, desk-sized terracotta soldiers, plus a couple of carved dragons, some colorful tiles and a couple of silk thingys.

On to Beijing tomorrow.

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Sunday, June 25, 2006

The alleged social isolation of Americans 

Yahoo's front page headlines a story about the "social isolation" of Americans. Supposedly, Americans today say they have fewer close friends than they did twenty years ago. Fine. That seems plausible to me, although it is not my experience. I still have the close friends I had then, plus a few more. Perhaps the idea isn't longitudinal -- old people with lots of close friends may have died to be replaced by younger people who are so itinerant or jacked in to their iPod (or laptop) that they do not make "close friends" easily, so the average goes down.

Either way, I am prepared to believe the data. People have separated work from their immediate community, they spit out instant messages instead of writing long letters, and entertainment has become less interactive. Fewer people sit around playing Parcheesi or bridge with their friends, I suppose. I do not, however, believe the social commentary offered by the people who did the study.

People were not asked why they had fewer intimate ties, but Smith-Lovin said that part of the cause could be that Americans are working more, marrying later, having fewer children, and commuting longer distances.

Square this reasonably plausible guess with the social commentary:
The data also show the social isolation trend mirrors other class divides: Non-whites and people with less education tend to have smaller social networks than white Americans and the highly educated.

That means that in daily life, personal emergencies and national disasters like Hurricane Katrina, those with the fewest resources also have the fewest personal friends to call for advice and assistance.

"It's one thing to know someone and exchange e-mails with them. It's another thing to say, 'Will you give me a ride out of town with all of my possessions and pets? And can I stay with you for a couple or three months?" Smith-Lovin said.

I would have thought that the people who are "working more, marrying later, having fewer children, and commuting longer distances" are exactly not the people who can't cope with disasters like Hurricane Katrina. I don't recall a lot of stories about DINK couples with long commutes and long working hours being stranded in the New Orleans Convention Center, frustrated that they can't get back to their exciting professional lives.

If, in fact, it is the poorest people who are more socially isolated today than in times past, it seems to me highly unlikely that the changing workplace is the reason for this isolation. Perhaps it is because the old ethnic ghettos have broken up with the greater integration of American society. The more successful people leave to live in the increasingly integrated suburbs. Perhaps the well-documented fragmentation of the American family, particularly poor American families, has also weakened the bonds between families. Either way, if this is a particularly severe problem for the poor, it seems that the recommended "flexible work schedules" to "allow Americans to tend both personal and professional lives" is hardly the answers. Sure, flexible work schedules are great if you can get them, but I find it hard to believe that the lack of them had anything to do with the inability or unwillingness (as the case may be) of New Orleans' poorest people to obey the evacuation order.

This study, or at least the press coverage and the related bleatings of the study's authors, is a classic example of social science gone wrong. A couple of academics detect a phenomenon, "speculate" about the reasons without suggesting the most obvious likely causes (both of which run counter to their likely political beliefs), and then suggest a solution (in this case "flexible work schedules," which I'm sure is their favorite thing about working at a university). In the end, we have nothing other than another criticism of America's culture and a proposal to become more like Europe. Why do we keep funding such stupid stuff?

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The suckage of soccer 

It's World Cup time, which means it is time to argue about why Americans do not like watching soccer, even if we all want our children to play it because they are less likely to break their neck and be paralyzed for life than on the gridiron.

The most entertaining discussion of this topic happens in the foreign press, where pundits who would normally decry the projection of American culture around the world seem miffed that we have not invaded their "football." They should be thankful, because if we did we would insist on changing the rules to make it interesting. If you want our 300 million rich people in your audience demographic, you will change the rules to make your sport interesting. This process alone, requiring as it would the agreement of all sorts of other countries, would drive Americans insane. We'd rather have a few rich men sit down to hammer out the precise contours of the Instant Reply Challenge than to discuss with Brazil the repeal of the offsides rule.

But that still brings us to the primary question, why don't Americans watch soccer on television, pack stadiums, and dance wildly in the street when our team both scores a single goal and wins a match. I think it is because the sport is boring. Steven Warshafsky put it rather well, I think:

Goals are indeed a rare commodity in soccer, so much so that soccer is, essentially, a zero sum game. The “pie” of goals not only is meager, it never grows. So it is fought over with an intensity that is almost never found in American sports. This isn’t boring, but it is deeply unsatisfying to Americans.

My theory is that Americans have neither the belief system nor the temperment for such a sisyphean sport as soccer. We are a society of doers, achievers, and builders. Our country is dynamic, constantly growing, and becoming ever bigger, richer, and stronger. We do not subscribe to a “zero sum” mentality. We do not labor for the sake of laboring. And we like our sports teams to score. Scoring is a tangible accomplishment that can be identified, quantified, tabulated, compared, analyzed, and, above all else, increased. This is the American way.

That soccer may be “the most popular sport in the world” speaks volumes—but not about America’s lack of sporting knowledge or sophistication, as soccer aficionados like to argue. Rather, I think it reflects the static, crimped, and defeatest attitudes held by so many of the other peoples on earth.

The day that soccer becomes one of the most popular sports in the United States is the day that American exceptionalism diminishes in our souls.

That's right. Americans and the world should both be glad that we do not watch soccer, and cannot begin to understand it.

(9) Comments

Malicious Scapegoating Alert 

This really gets my goat...

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The Presumption Of Innocence 

Jerrilyn Merritt of Talk Left opines:

The message the public should learn from the investigation of Karl Rove is that innocent people fall prey to grueling and debilitating criminal investigations, that when the federal government decides to bring its awesome powers to bear down upon you, it wreaks havoc with your life and jeopardizes not only your freedom but your job, your reputation and your faith in justice. The grand jury should serve as both a sword and a shield. The truth is, it is too often a tool of the prosecution.

But that won't be the message because guilt sells in America and innocence remains relegated to the back pages.

Related thoughts here.

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80% Of Iraqis Want Us Gone... 

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari discusses the withdrawal of US troops:
What about the war debate here in the U.S., I ask him. Are Iraqis worried that U.S. troops will leave too soon? Does the Iraqi press pay attention when people like Congressman Jack Murtha call for troop withdrawal?

"It does. Yes, it does. This is one of things actually. The freest media in the world I think is in Iraq. Honestly. There is no censorship or restrictions or restraint whatsoever. Now you have about 15 or 16 satellite channels run by Iraqis and I don't know how many hundreds of newspapers." So "people have become more politically conscious and aware. . . . Nobody is for a withdrawal, even a timetable, for the troops."

But aren't US troops, as Jack Murtha daily reminds us, feeding the insurgency?

Mr. Zebari's primary mission in New York, in fact, was to review the U.N. mandate of coalition forces. He tells me about a fascinating discussion among Iraqi political leaders shortly before he left for New York. He told them, he says, that the new government was perfectly within its rights to ask for the departure of foreign troops. But he says he found no takers. In fact, the loudest objection to the idea came from Adnan al-Dulaimi, who represents a Sunni community generally thought to be most hostile to the "occupiers." They know only too well that coalition troops are their best protection against shadowy Baathist thugs who would like to lay claim to the Sunni leadership mantle. "Before the Sunnis were raising the flag for a withdrawal of all occupying forces immediately, that they are the sources of all the ills. Now they are the ones asking that they should stay," Mr. Zebari says.

Intimidation "is a problem," he continues. "That is, an intimidation campaign carried out primarily by the Baathists." He also says he believes the Baathists are behind the majority of terrorist attacks: "Identifying the enemy is very important. I personally believe the incubator of this so-called 'insurgency' is the Baath Party, is the remnant of Saddam's regime. Even with Zarqawi and al Qaeda, who are very lethal. But without them [the Baathists] providing the infrastructure, the support, the intelligence, the hideouts--then the attacks would not happen."

As we part ways, he offers a message for those in the international community and in the U.S. who would give up on the mission while there's still everything to play for: "There is too much at stake. Failure in Iraq means reversal of all democratic reforms throughout the region. Failure in Iraq means the power of the United States and the coalition cannot be used elsewhere in the same manner. Failure for democracy here would suggest that really these people are not used to this so its better to have one-man, one-party rule, a strong man to control this bunch of Kurds and Shia and militias and so on. Failure is a reversal of everything we've built."

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