Saturday, May 01, 2004

Abu Ghraib

I have nothing particular to add about the atrocities at Abu Ghraib prison. I agree with what Josh Marshall wrote:

I'm not inclined to believe that these sorts of things are widespread. Put tens of thousands of young men and women in a hostile situation, give them near absolute control over people they learn to both fear and hate in equal measure, and awful things are bound to happen.

But looking at even the facts now on the table this doesn't sound like something entirely isolated. Nor does it seem like these folks felt they had a lot to fear from oversight from superiors. The fact that the Brits are now being accused of something similar points me further toward such suspicion.

Whatever the truth, these revelations deal the US a staggering blow to its credibity or, really, its authority. There are so many folks in the region inclined to believe the worst about our actions and intentions. And this challenges the assumptions of those inclined to believe the best.

There is a tendency to believe that people are by nature either heroes or villains, that heroic deeds, such as those of the firefighters who died trying to rescue people from the World Trade Center (and their actions were indeed heroic) indicate an intrinsic goodness that's basic and unchangeable, and that evil deeds, such as those of the ordinary soldiers who participated in the horrific doings at Abu Ghraib prison, indicate that they are instrinsically bad. I've never believed that.

There are exceptions, of course, people who really are so very much better or worse than most that it's legitimate to think of them as closer to saints or devils then ordinarily human, but for the most part, people do what they do for many, many reasons: situation, training, necessity, desire, discipline and, yes, their inherent nature. Just as there's no reason to think that every hero firefighter who died on 9/11 was otherwise a saint, there's no particular reason to believe that the soldiers involved in Abu Ghraib, or any other incidents of atrocity that may come to light in Iraq, are inherently evil.

That doesn't, of course, excuse what they did, any more than it means that we shouldn't celebrate the firefighters -- what we're responding to is what they did, not who they were. Nor does it mean that they shoudn't be severely punished for their deeds, because their actions were awful from every conceivable standpoint, and they stand in opposition to both our best interests and what we hold to be our ideals, but let's at least understand that these things probably happened for many reasons, and not simply because these soldiers were bad people. That's the kind of polarized "axis of evil," "you're either with us or against us," "dead or alive" thinking that is exemplified by the Bush administration, and which got us into this unholy mess in the first place.

Update: Billmon thinks that the atrocities at Abu Ghraib may not be simple an isolated incident, "the bad acts of a few bad apples":

Is this simply an aberration, the product of a small bunch of overstressed, undertrained reservists being allowed to act out some of their kinkier psychosexual fantasies on helpless prisoners?

I don't think so. I can't prove the coalition has turned Abu Ghraib into a kinder gentler version of its old self, but there's certainly enough evidence to keep an diligent press corps and an honest congressional investigating committee busy.

Which of course is why nothing concrete is every likely to come to light.

Read his post for the details, and check also his other posts on the subject.

Update: Also take a look at Dave Neiwert's post summarizing the circumstantial evidence that seems to indicate that Abu Ghraib may not be an isolated incident, but part of a pattern observable in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay.

Juan Cole has a summary of the reaction in the Arab world.

Update: (5/6) Read Billmon on the "Ghost prisoners" at Abu Ghraib -- a strong indication that the abuse of the prison system there is systemic and not isolated.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/01/2004 03:35:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Predicting the outcome

In an entry about the unwarranted panic among some Democrats about the Kerry campaign (a thought I also expressed recently here and here), Matthew Yglesias goes on to say:

If you want a good pessimistic trend, though, note that GOP incumbents have lost in the 20th century only in the following cases:

1. GOP fractures into two parties (1912, 1992).

2. GOP is discredited by monstrous scandal (1976).

3. GOP is discredited by total economic collapse (1932).

So Kerry's doing a lot better than that pattern would suggest.

I don't quite get how he arrives at his conclusion from his data, but let that pass. Instead I'd like to point you to another analysis of presidential elections, this one by Larry Sabato of the Center for Politics of the University of Virgina, which includes some of Matthew's observations but systematizes them in the process, and goes farther as well. Sabato claims that there are three "keys" to the presidency, three predictive factors which can help project who the winner of a presidential election will be.

The factors are The Economy, Peace and Scandal, and they are summarized in a chart that I, being a cheapskate user of the free (non-graphical) Blogger service, cannot post here, so I'll describe it:

For each of these factors, pluses and minuses are awarded the administration in power. For the Economy, 2 pluses are given for an excellent economy, 1 for a good one, 1 minus for a fair or poor economy, and 4 minuses for a very poor one. (The idea is that "voters punish incumbents harshly for bad times, while rewarding incumbents for good times less emphatically. This represents the intersection of American history with human nature.") In the Peace category, a minus is given for a unpopular war, and a plus for either peace or a popular war. Under Scandal, the administration gets 2 minuses for a big scandal, 1 minus for a small one, and a single plus for no scandal.

The administration's pluses and minuses are added up, and the claim is that:

The incumbent party won all 13 of the contests where it had amassed three to four net pluses, with 8 of these 13 elections producing landslide victories.

In addition, there were four elections in the 26 total where the incumbent president or his party had one or two net "pluses", and the incumbent party won three of these four. (Yes, Al Gore is the only exception, a fact that explains why just about every senior Democratic official sighed with relief when Gore bowed out of the 2004 race on December 15, 2002.) That leaves 9 elections where the incumbent president or his party's nominee ran with one to four net "minuses"; the incumbent party lost all nine of these contests. In four of these cases, the incumbent party accumulated four net minuses, and in all four cases, the challenger party won in a landslide.

So, assuming for a moment the accuracy of Sabato's judgment calls in awarding the points, and the predictive power of the model, what does this tell us about the upcoming election?

Well, it rather depends.

What, for instance, is the state of the economy? My own opinion is that the economy continues to be bad, despite the supposed signs of an upturn, because the jobs situation is still bleak, but there are those who argue that it's getting better. Certainly the very best possible rating Bush can be given on that predictor is a single plus for a "good" economy, and two minuses, meaning a fair to poor economy would, I think, be more accurate.

Then, what about the popularity of the war? Well, it's falling, and continues to decline, but not yet so much as to rate being definitively called "unpopular". I think it's most likely that it can, and will, fall far enough to warrant that rating, if only because the Bush administration has demonstrated over and over that they really don't know what they're doing there, and that given two choices of action, they will invariably choose the worst one. (Fallujah being perhaps an exception.)

Finally, there's the "scandal" predictor, and once again I'm somewhat flummoxed about how to rate the situation. Certainly the malfeasance and misdeeds of the Bush administration should rate a "big scandal" double minus, but there's no indication that the media is planning on picking up on any of these stories. (When is a scandal not a scandal? When the press doesn't report on it.) We can be heartened, though, by the fact that there are something like a dozen major investigations underway at this moment, a small number of which have the potential to blossom into a real, solid scandal. Still, it looks as if Bush has the advantage here.

So, if everything breaks right for us, Bush would have 2 minuses for the economy, 1 minus for the war, and two minuses for a big scandal, for a total of 4 minuses and, by this prediction scheme, a certain Kerry presidency.

More likely, though, Bush's results will be a plus for the economy, a minus on the war issue, and a plus for no scandal, making a total of 1 plus. By this scheme, as described by Sabato, this is an ambiguous case. Sabato lumps together the results for one plus and two pluses, but gives no real reason for doing so. I rather think that the data support the idea that at least two pluses are needed for an incumbent to be viable winner, and an incumbent who can only provide a measly one plus's worth of reasons to keep him in office is going down for the count. (This comports well with the historical surveys of approval ratings as predictors -- there's a grey area where the result is uncertain -- 45%-51% -- but an approval rating of under 45% in mid-June is the kiss of death for an incumbent.)

So my take is that the scoring system should really require at least 2 pluses, and preferably more, for the incumbent to win, so with only a single plus on hand, Bush will either have to improve the economy dramatically (unlikely, since to do so he'd have to rollback some of his sacred tax cuts), or make the war in Iraq popular (or, rather, reverse the current direction of opinion of stop it from becoming definitely unpopular, as it is now headed).

Regardless of one's political persuasion, those sound like very tough tasks to pull off, which means, at least by this particular crystal ball, that Kerry has a real chance of winning. That jibes with my own perception, which is that Kerry's positives are basically irrelevant to the end result, since the election will basically be a referendum on Bush. As long as Bush's numbers continue to go south, Kerry doesn't really need to define himself very specifically, or present strong plans for what he will do as President. To some extent, he's better off being undefined and amorphous (all things to all people) as long as he can avoid having his public persona created out of whole cloth by Bush's smear attacks -- so Kerry's efforts should be limited to preventing that. In other words, just the kind of positive defense posture that Kerry is in right now.

Note that in Sabato's predictive system, the public status of the challenger is not factored in at all, reinforcement for the notion that presidential elections are essentially about the incumbent (or the party of the incumbent) and not really at all about the challenger. To get more points to shore up his chances of a win, Bush has to fix the economy or fix the war, and no amount of driving down Kerry's approval rating with negative advertisement or smears from the right-wing attack machine is going to change that. If Bush can't hack it, he'll be out, says this crystal ball, and the only man who can then be in is John F. Kerry.

Update: Link to Sabato's site corrected.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/01/2004 02:34:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Spring Cleaning

It's my apartment that really needs it, but daunted by the size of that task (I'll probably get to it in June, the way my schedule looks right now), I'm doing a little sprucing up aroung here in dribs and drabs. Just now, I've gone through the links in the "Iraq" section, removing non-working ones and those for sites that appear to me now to be fairly brain-dead in their orientation, and adding some new ones gleaned from other sites, especially from Juan Cole's Informed Comment, which is usually my first stop for intelligent views on what's going on in Iraq.

Ed Fitzgerald | 5/01/2004 01:42:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Friday, April 30, 2004

Scoops from sources

Maxomai has somehow come up with the prototype schedule for the GOP convention to take place here in NYC in September:

The Republican National Convention Schedule

6:00pm- Opening flag ceremony. (Note: use of honor guard of Vietnam vets has been scrapped to avoid embarrassment to the President.)

6:05pm- Opening speech by Zell Miller.

6:10pm- Have security guards remove protesters from buliding.

6:15pm- Annual Clinton-bashing ceremony.

6:30pm- Pro-war rally number 1, sponsored by Clear Channel.

6:50pm- Have police beat back massive protests outside.

7:00pm- Speech from Karen Hughes, translated from the original German.

7:10pm- Collect offerings for James Kopp defense fund.

7:15pm- Speech from Pat Robertson, with eight-second delay for insane pronouncements.

7:45pm- Pro-war rally number 2, sponsored by Sinclair Broadcasting.

7:50pm- Have police beat back massive protests outside.

8:00pm- Rush Limbaugh speech, with eight-second delay in case he's using again.

8:30pm- Comedy skit: Perle and Wolfowitz explain neoconservative agenda.

8:45pm- Deficit Reduction seminar, sponsored by Arthur Anderson.

8:55pm- Declare martial law in New York to shut down protests outside.

9:00pm- Book burning and Constitution shredding ceremony.

9:30pm- * Intermission * (Mandatory prayer led by John Ashcroft)

10:00pm- Re-enactment of Bush's fake carrier flight.

10:04pm- Deploy national guard, US army to shut down "insurrection" outside.

10:15pm- Ann Coulter speech in revealing dress, sound muted to prevent nationwide outrage and disbelief.

10:30pm- Karl Rove on how to steal an election (Note: make sure John McCain is out of the room and unarmed)

11:00pm- Get Out The Vote rally, sponsored by Diebold.

11:15pm- Maximizing Corporate Welfare workshop, sponsored by Halliburton.

11:25pm- Call Mike Powell, ensure FCC is banning broadcasts of Tienanmen Square style protest massacre outside.

11:30pm- Bush speeks while Cheney drinks a glass of water.

12:00am- Bush nominated by popular proclamation (Note: have armed guards, dogs standing by for "internal security.")

And by equally unorthodox methods, Jeff Alworth has acquired transcripts of the Bush/Cheney joint appearance before the 9/11 Commission (bound to be referred to by future historians as the Sock Puppet Interview):

KERREY: Mr. President, there's some question as to the frequency and quality of contact between yourself and George Tenet in the weeks leading up to 9/11--

COUNSEL GONZALES: What are you asking?

KERREY: I'm asking the President about his recollections from that time.

CHENEY: The President received daily briefings from George Tenet.

KERREY: What about the month vacation you took in August, sir?


CHENEY: According to our records, we met Tenet twice.

KERREY: You were there in Crawford?

CHENEY: I meant he. He met Tenet.

KERREY: Mr. President, we've heard testimony from Richard Clarke and George Tenet that they were "running around with their hair on fire." All I'm trying to do is understand whether you were similarly alarmed.




KERREY: You were not alarmed.

BUSH: I was tired of swatting flies.

GONZALES: You've heard enough.

CHENEY: Let's move on.

Read the rest here, and don't forget Billmon's transcript as well.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2004 11:16:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Break it up! Break it up!

Mark Schmitt, in The Decembrist, writing about a tax deal in Virginia which has the potential to split the Republican party in half:

I think [Kerry] has no choice but to try to split the Republican party in the same way. If I were Kerry, I would devote every breakfast, lunch and dinner to meeting with every Republican who's willing to break bread with him, from the true moderates like Lincoln Chafee and Olympia Snowe through the old-timers like John Warner and Pete Domenici and the mavericks McCain and Hagel, and asking every one of them, "We don't have to agree, but are we here to govern this country, or wage ideological warfare?" And slowly, as they all understand the long-term fiscal crisis and the consequences of the Bush mania, just enough of them will decide they're here to govern and begin to work with Kerry. The solutions won't be to everyone's liking. They won't float Max Sawicky's or Jamie Galbraith's boat. It will feel a lot more like the first Bush Administration, with endless, unsatisfying budget summits at Andrews Air Force base. But they just might ward off disaster and make it possible to do something more constructive with government in the future.

And, possibly, just as in Virginia, they just might destroy the Republican Party. That's the choice these Republicans will face as they decide whether to align with the Republican Party or the anti-tax Republican Party. (Or, as I would call them, the Conservative Party or the Nihilist Party.) If they join the effort to find a compromise, they will find the Club for Growth, slowly prying their fingers away from the brink of their own party, as it almost did to Specter and will now do to some Virginia legislators. But if they join the Nihilist Party, what will they have to show for it?

[via Pandagon]

I was idly wondering the other day if things might not get so bad for moderates and outliers in the Republican Party, that they might actually consider splitting off to start another party. I really can't understand why the true moderates, Chafee and Snow, for instance, remain in the party, when it's obvious that the people who run the place have no respect for them and no interest in accomodating them, but I understand the inertia and social pressure which keeps them from becoming Democrats. Why not, then, go the third way and caucus with Jim Jeffords as the first step to breaking away?

If I remember correctly, the Republican Party was founded after internal dissension caused the disintegration of the Whigs -- perhaps we might be seeing the beginnings of another such change.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2004 03:15:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



This was news to me:

The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project's mission is to honor and memorialize the historic achievements of President Ronald Reagan. It aims to do so by naming at least one notable public landmark in each state and all 3067 counties after the 40th president.

I wonder how they're doing?

Well, according to their site, they got National Airport in Washington re-named for Reagan. (Although somehow "Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport" doesn't really give one the sense that the re-naming was done with much commitment, or else why not go all the way to "Ronald Reagan Airport"? -- after all, in New York we have "John F. Kennedy Airport" not "John F. Kennedy Idewild Airport.") They also managed to get Florida to rename a road "Ronald Reagan Turnpike," but their What's New section is somewhat lacking in, well, anything new. (Thirty-two of the states have no listing for anything named after Reagan -- and many others have only minor items, like Ronald Reagan Blvd. in Warwick, NY, the only listing for my state. I wonder if it's possible that the ordinary citizens of the U.S. don't hold Reagan in as high regard as the right-wing does, and are not prepared to canonize him?)

On, Jesse Taylor of Pandagon notes one roadblock they've hit, Democratic governor Jim Doyle of Wisconsin:

Doyle has taken a stand against naming U.S. 14 after Ronald Reagan, citing precedent that normally has highways and bridges named after Wisconsin natives. He’s not going to like the next bill Republicans in the statehouse propose, which would rename the state Reagonia.

Incidentally, the RRLP is a project of Grover Norquist's Americans for Tax Reform, "tax reform" here being a highly esoteric term-of-art in the world of right-wing politics meaning "less taxes for the rich and powerful."

(I'm incensed that ATR has a quote from H.L. Mencken on its home page. This is just as egregious as Republicans -- like Reagan -- going around citing FDR with approval, when it's their avowed goal to dismantle the New Deal that was Roosevelt's legacy to the country.)

Myself, I'm looking forward with great eagerness to the formation, in February 2005, of "The Dubya Legacy Project," which will have as its goal the naming of thousands of remedial education centers across the country after the most intellectually challenged occupant of the Oval Office in recent memory.

Sadly, history will have another, darker and bleaker, view of the legacy of George W. Bush.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2004 02:47:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Two leave, big mistake

In my limited experience with them, politicians are always late, they never show up on time, and it's not unusual to have one of them cancel at the last possible minute, or even after. They have an excuse, of course, their lives are frequently over-scheduled with too many events, all of which are terribly important to someone, and get shoe-horned into the schedule in a vain attempt to keep everybody happy. Then harsh reality intrudes and triage takes over.

Which is why it's inexplicable that Bob Kerrey and Lee Hamilton should leave the Bush and Cheney session with the 9/11 Commission early to go to previously scheduled appointments.

Again, they have an excuse: the White House said the session would be over at 11:30, and, given that Bush had appointments that his staff said he attended to keep (but refused to say what and when they were), and that Bush had orginally insisted on a one hour limit, they had every reason to believe that they could get to their afternoon appointments -- but they should have covered the possibility that things would go long, and once the session did extend past the supposed stop time, they should have cancelled and stuck around.

Are these guys tone-deaf or what? Do they really not know that leaving the session early, however they might justify it, was going to be spun by the right-wing as dissing the president, and give the attack machine an excuse to take the weight off Bush and Cheney and shift it to the Democrats on the commission? They're politicians, for crying out loud, their stock in trade is supposed to be knowing how things like this play to the public, or can be made to play.

The should have known that the New York Post, for instance, would come up with a slanted report like this one.


Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2004 10:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


No, Virginia, Kerry really doesn't have to have a plan for Iraq

In response to a post by Kevin Drum, promoting the idea that Kerry must come up with a plan for Iraq that's a viable alternative for Bush's, Political Animal commenter jimBOB summarizes well some of the reasons I think this is not as imperative as Kevin seems to feel it is:

1. Campaigns are poison for serious proposals. If the past few years have shown anything, it's that serious policy consideration just doesn't happen during campaigns. Even if there were a good idea, would it poll well? Would the average swing voter have the basis for making a judgement about a serious proposal? There's a reason the republicans have made cutting taxes their perennial favorite proposal: it's so dead simple an idea that even the most brain-dead voter gets what it's supposed to mean. Breaking through with anything more complex than "Stay the course" or "withdraw" is going to be dicey.

2. Bush has worked his usual magic, and so there aren't any good alternatives. All three of Kevin's policy either have obvious downsides (partition will bring civil war, the other two take too long to have any effect on our current crisis). Count on the Bushies, along with their servants in the corporate media, to hammer at these downsides while playing up some mythical alternative (let the "bad guys" know who's boss by "staying the course" and showing perseverance blah blah blah). Any serious proposal will be making the least disastrous choice among bad alternatives. Hardly the thing to rally a campaign around.

3. It's probably not necessary. If the triumph of the Gropenator shows us anything, it's that you don't need a serious policy proposal in place to win a campaign. Kerry can make noises about working with our allies and putting the Iraqis back in charge and stop wasting money on corruption and it'll resonate just as strongly as a genuine thought-through policy.

4. In any case anything specific proposed now will be rendered moot by January. Best to keep it vague and deal with the disaster then rather than now. Whatever needs to be done will be pretty unpopular; let's win the election first and worry afterwards about spending political capital on pachyderm janitorial services.

I wonder if what Kerry needs to concentrate on isn't convincing people that he's got some magic wand he can wave in the air and solve the problem of Iraq -- the equivalent of Nixon's "Secret Plan" to end the war in Vietnam -- but convincing them that under a Kerry administration, there will be no more Iraqs, and without damaging our security at home.

People can see, or will at some point be able to be convinced, that the problem Bush has created with his half-assed plan for and incompetent execution of the occupation and stabilization of Iraq may be so deep that it has no real solution, and if they reach that point, they won't hold Kerry responsible for it in the same way they will Bush. Even if Kerry is only offering them an outline of a plan of action not dissimilar from Bush's (because the range of options open to us has been so severely constricted by the position Bush has put us in), they have an interest in going to Kerry if he can convince them they under his stewardship, there won't be any other egregious mistakes made similar to the Iraq invasion.

Bush, of course, can't offer that option, because he can't -- and won't -- admit that Iraq was a mistake, and because he is still committed to the policies which got us into the quicksand in the first place.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2004 03:52:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


A summation

I finally got around to sending an e-mail to everyone in my address book, letting them know that I had started a blog, and suggesting that they take a look. One response from a friend sums up well, I think, the situation we find ourselves in right now:

"The gang in the White House is a bunch of misguided, larcenous, fascistic-minded bastards who've already done things to this country -- and the world -- from which neither ever will fully recover".

Amen, brother!

As he told me later: "The words are mine of the moment, but I'm sure a few million others have said essentially the same thing in the past couple of years."

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2004 03:01:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


The Great Writ

Frank Dunham, attorney for Yaser Hamdi, in oral arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court yesterday:

[Deputy Solicitor General] Clement is a worthy advocate, and he can stand up here and make the unreasonable sound reasonable. But when you take his argument at core, it is: "Trust us." And who's saying, "trust us"? The executive branch. And why do we have the great writ?

We have the great writ because we didn't trust the executive branch when we founded this government. That's why the government saying "trust us" is no excuse for taking away and driving a truck through the right of habeas corpus and the Fifth Amendment that "no man shall be deprived of liberty except upon due process of law." We have a small problem here. One citizen -- we're not talking about thousands -- one citizen caught up in a problem in Afghanistan. Is it better to give him rights, or is it better to start a new dawn of saying there are circumstances where you can't file a writ of habeas corpus, and there are circumstances where you can't get due process? I think not.

I would urge the court not to go down that road. I would urge the court to find that citizens can only be detained by law. And here there is no law. If there is any law at all, it is the executive's own secret definition of whatever "enemy combatant" is. And don't fool yourselves into thinking that that means somebody coming off a battlefield, because they've used it in Chicago, they've used it in New York, and they've used it in Indiana.

The Bible, on trusting those in power:

Put not your trust in princes ... for there is no help in them.
Psalms 146:3

John Adams, on trusting those in power:

There is danger from all men. The only maxim of a free government ought to be to trust no man living with power to endanger the public liberty.
Notes for an Oration at Braintree, Massachusetts (1772)

Oliver Wendell Holmes on habeas corpus:

Habeas corpus cuts through all forms and goes to the very tissue of the structure. It comes in from the outside, not in subordination to the proceedings ... Whatever disagreement there may be as to the scope of the phrase "due process fo law," there can be no doubt that it embraces the fundamental conception of a fair trial, with opportunity to be heard.
Frank v. Mangum, 237 U.S. 309, 346, 350 (1915) (dissenting)

John Locke on arbitrary government:

Freedom of men under government is to have a standing rule to live by, common to every one of that society, and made by the legislative power vested in it; a liberty to follow my own will in all things, when the rule prescribes not, and not to be subject to the inconstant, unknown, arbitrary will of another man.
Second Treatise of Civil Government (1690)

Woodrow Wilson on the source of liberty:

Liberty has never comes from government. Liberty has always come from the subjects of government. The history of liberty is the history of resistance. The history of liberty is the history of the limitation of government power, not the increase of it.
Speech to the New York Press Club (9/9/1912)

Finlay Peter Dunne on trust:

Trust everybody, but cut the cards.
Mr. Dooley's Philosophy (1900)

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2004 02:49:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Don't buy into their arguments on their terms!

Digby has advice:

If there is one single positive step all Democrats could take today to ensure a fighting chance in this election I submit it would be a promise to never, EVER use the same words to describe each other as the professional GOP smear machine uses to attack us. That simple pledge could go a long way toward keeping us straight on what this fight is really all about.

DLC, take note!

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/30/2004 01:35:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Claims vs. Facts Database

The Center for American Progress has compiled together all the examples of right-wing mendacity it could find, along with the truth about their smears and misrepresentations, in the form of a handy Claims vs. Fact Database. I've added a link to it on the right.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/29/2004 05:37:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


One person, one (weighted) vote

Kevin Drum points out the plain honest fact:

Everything you see for the next six months from George Bush and John Kerry — every ad, every dollar, every speech, every prerecorded telephone call — is aimed at trying to convert about 4% of the total voting age population. The other 96% of us are basically spectators — either we're not going to vote, we live in states that are foregone conclusions, or we've already made up our minds.

The 4% is derived by multiplying the percentage of eligible citizen who will actually vote (50%) by the percentage that live in the contested states (30%) by the percentage that's undecided in those states (25%).

The contingencies of the 2000 election made it clear, in a way that it hardly ever is, that a very small number of voters can essentially determine who will be one of the most powerful men in the world. It's one of the paradoxes of democracy that one's vote can be almost meaningless or carry extreme weight, despite the fact that theoretically every vote is worth the same as every other. (Of course, the Florida debacle was an artifact of the Electoral College system we use, and not necessarily of democratic systems in general, and the same is true for Kevin's observation.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/29/2004 04:58:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Media non-event

I'm eagerly looking forward to not watching the non-coverage of Bush & Cheney's joint appearance before the 9/11 Commission. My feeling is why should the sitting resident of the Oval Office have to explain to the American public how and why the Federal government failed to protect this country's citizens from attack by a unfriendly power, at the cost of 3000 lives, billions of dollars of damages and still enduring long-term consequences? It seems to me all of that is really nobody's business but the guys in power, and we should trust them to do the right things and make the necessary changes to insure it doesn't happen again.

I do have one burning question, though, that perhaps the commissioners might see fit to put to our Dynamic Duo: Is Bush allowed to go potty by himself, or does he need Cheney (and a lawyer!) to hold his hand to do that as well?

Update: Make that three lawyers.

Update: I heard a soundbite of Bush commenting on the meeting after the event, it was something on the order of "It was ... important ... to have this get together because they're doing ...uh ... important work and they might be able to give us ... um ... ah ... important ... ideas about what to do in the future, and that's really important."

OK, what he actually said was:

"I'm glad I took the time. This is an important commission, and it's important that they ask the questions they ask so that they can help make recommendations necessary to better protect our homeland."

But my quote gives a much better sense of the hesitancy and lack of cogency that Bush presents when he speaks extemporaneously.

And what's this about "I'm glad I took the time"? That's the kind of thing you say when your wife finally convinces you to take in that museum exhibit everyone's been talking about, not when the guy who supposed to be president of the United States speaks to an official commission delegated with the task of determining not only what the hell went wrong to allow the worst intelligence and national security failure of the last 50+ years, but also to figure out how we might help prevent it from happening again. That shouldn't be the kind of thing that any man worthy of being president "takes the time" to do, it's the kind of thing that Bush should have had on the very top of his agenda from 9/12/2001 on:


Unfortunately, Bush and his cohorts apparently had only one major item on their agenda, bumped up to the top of the list from where it lingered due to the impossibility of carrying it out without a massive trauma of some sort to confuse and delude the American people:


It's hardly an original thought, but what a real putz this man is.

Update: Come to think of it, there's a campaign strategy that might work for Kerry --- part one: provide the evidence that Bush is a putz; part two: show that Kerry is a mensch; part three: mazel tov, Kerry!

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/29/2004 12:19:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

A humble analogy

In our apartment here in Manhattan, we have a dishwasher provided by the landlord as one of the appliances that come with the place. It's not the worst dishwasher in the world, I suppose, but it's not all that good at times either. In particular, it doesn't do well cleaning off food that's stuck on dishes, like sauces and such. My wife often tells me that I have to pre-wash those kinds of dishes before I load them in the washer, but sometimes I'm unwilling (from either laziness or stubborness) to do so. My position is that the dishwasher is a machine that's supposed to wash dishes, and I shouldn't be required to do any damn pre-washing.

Of course, the reality is that the dishwasher performs as it performs regardless of the principled stance that I take about what it should do, and if I don't pre-wash dishes with stuck-on food, they come out dirty and have to be re-washed by hand.

The neo-cons are a little like that.

I don't believe that they are intrinsically bad or evil, although I think that some of their goals are misconceived. I'm willing to give them (most of them) the benefit of the doubt, that they really did want for Iraq to have the benefits of being a stable, prosperous, modern liberal democratic state -- and I agree with them that the benefits of living in a country like that are indeed substantial and worth fighting for.

Where they go wrong is in insisting that reality must conform to their theories instead of adjusting their theories to conform with reality. No matter how many dirty dishes come out of the dishwasher, they continue to insist that the dishwasher must behave the way they expect it to behave, because, to them, theory is everything, dogma that takes precedence over either observation or independent analysis.

When I get my back up and ignore the real nature of my dishwasher, nothing too terrible happens in my household: someone has to clean the dishes again. The consequences of the neo-con's dogmatic stubborness are much more devastating, and you and I will be cleaning up their dirty messes for decades to come.

The neo-cons may not be evil, but evil things flow from their willfull failure to see reality for what it is.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/28/2004 09:02:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Inside Bush's head

My friend, a mental health professional, thought a bit about Dave Pell's notion that Bush exhibits signs of harboring some Oedipal conflict, and came up with this response:

OK, I've been pondering this and have come to the conclusion that I am less sure of Bush's 'overwhelming evidence of an Oedipal Complex' [then Pell is].

Narcissus and Oedipus both play a significant role in early psychoanalytic thought but they are not necessarily connected.

Although, admittedly, an unresolved Oedipal Conflict is, according to psychoanalytic thought, considered to be a precursor for neurosis, and/or a 'depressive position.' In as such ... a depressive position may precipitate the formation of a neurotic disorder, e.g. Narcissism (or a number of others).

So what does that mean in the case of GW?

It must be presupposed that GW sometime between 3 and 6 [years old] was lusting after his mother and perceived his father as an arch rival in this quest.

According to psychoanalytic thought, each human must enter and resolve this Oedipal Phase successfully. So we must speculate that GW somehow failed to resolve this phase and was doomed to eternal rivalry with his father and all representative of him.

This is where I clearly differ in my perceptions from those of [Pell]. He, in my opinion, actually contradicts the basic position of the Oedipal Conflict by stating Bush is motivated to identify with other father figures ... which in itself would suggest that Bush did resolve the Oedipal conflict ... and, as such, would not suffer from an Oedipus Complex.

Later, she extended her thoughts, after I pointed out some indications that there is a serious rivalry between the George Bushes:

I personally would prefer to omit the Oedipal conflict out of what seems to be going on there between father and son ... simply because it's just a tad too 'Freudian' and as such a little too esoteric for my own post-analytic way of clinical reasoning. Let it suffice to say that, in my opinion, GW's apparent ease in relating to very powerful men that may be perceived in a Paternal surrogate way contradicts the premise of an Oedipal conflict per se.

But this is not an automatic elimination of other sources of conflict and/or rivalry between father and son. We are only taking the typical Oedipal triangulation ... involving the lust for mother ... out of the equation.

In my opinion, Bush's problems may very well have a genetic etiology that predisposes him toward addictions and ensuing habituated behavioral patterns. Add to this his less than optimal cognitive ability that predispose him toward concrete perceptions and reasoning.

Now consider this unfortunate combination of 'raw material' being born into a family of power and privilege whose social status is a highly valued commodity. It may be assumed that GW's inherent lack of potential to enhance this status in any meaningful way was readily evident at a rather young age. It may be anticipated that he had little occasion to measure up to his parent's expectations of the 'first born' and/or to elicit their pride and approval.

His, most likely, chronic inability to 'measure up' may have lead to early onset of rebellion and subsequent acting out. His parent's status consciousness may have prevented them from taking firm and decisive actions lest the 'flaw' in their family would be exposed. In fact, they may have tried to cover up all the initial indiscretions and bail him out, time and time again, even long after the indiscretions turned into more serious issues. This would have given GW the early and increasingly reinforced impression that he is impervious to the standard of accountability others are generally held to.

So what do we have so far? An inadequate pampered brat who has little potential or value on his own but is allowed to perceive himself above the rest based on his family's status and ensuing approach to him. In short ... we have here the basic ingredients for the formation of Narcissism. The Narcissist, in stark contrast to his presentation of 'superiority' is actually a highly inadequate and insecure lump of misery under the carefully constructed social veneer. He fears more than anything to be exposed for what he really is and will react with tremendous rage at any perceived or real criticism. And he will be inherently motivated to surround himself with those who will make him look good, praise him, extoll his virtues, and allow him to maintain his charade.

Now who more than Daddy Bush would know more about the 'true self' of his little pup? The Dad who covered up his sins and bailed him out but for whom GW was never good enough ... could never measure up to. The Dad who probably stood for whatever GW knew he could never achieve for himself and the Dad who knew what a screw up he really IS.

This Dad would have to be the absolute nemesis of the Narcissist ... a constant reminder and threat of exposure of the dreaded 'real self.' From a strictly dynamic point of view ... it might be assumed that if GW could ... he would love nothing more than to destroy and obliterate his nemesis. But in absence of being able to obliterate ... he will have to resort to his passive-aggressive digs and acting out that we have witnessed. And that is mild as far as the manifestations of 'narcissistic rage' go ... but I think that it serves as an adequate enough explanation of the evidenced conflict between father and son. The more the GW comes under pressure and the more he is beginning to be 'exposed' ... the more we may expect him to unravel. The 'big guy' could potentially crack before our very eyes.

My friend is not the first to suggest that Bush's personality seems to comport with Narcissistic Personality Disorder -- see this and this.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/28/2004 05:35:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Gep out of here

Matthew Yglesias dislikes Dick Gephardt, but thinks nonetheless that Gephardt may fill the bill politically as Kerry's running mate.

I disagree, for any number of reasons, such as that he's pretty much as boring and under-energized as Kerry himself. As one of Matthew's commenters put it, a Kerry/Gephardt campaign might require one to slit one's wrists.

The Bush administration is astoundingly incompetent at making and carrying out policy, and the shine is certainly off the reputations of Rove and Bush as astute political operators, so there's no knowing how badly they'll screw things up in the next 6 months (considering how badly they've messed up in the past), but if Kerry picks Gephardt, I can't help but think they'll lose the election, big time, despite the failures and shortcomings of the Bushies.

That wouldn't be the case, in my opinion, if Kerry tapped Edwards, or maybe Clark, or at least someone with a pulse.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/28/2004 05:12:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Stop whining, be happy!

Liberal Oasis says that Inside-the-Beltway Democrats should stop their whining about the perceived weaknesses of the Kerry campaign. I think that's right.

I'm confounded by calls by otherwise intelligent people, inside the media and out, and in the liberal blogosphere, for Kerry to come out with guns blazing, as if going on the offensive is the one and only way to win this election. Yes, it's certainly nice to see Kerry lashing out at Bush when the administration's surrogates have the affrontery (and gall!) to cast aspersions on Kerry's military service, but an "attack" like that on Kerry's part is really a defensive response, and as such will be perceived by most people as being reasonable, and not really an attack at all. Similarly, policy-based criticisms of the administration, even sharply worded ones, are also considered fair game -- but this would not be the case, I think, if Kerry were to go after Bush in the same manner that Bush is going after Kerry.

It may be unfair, and it's certainly inconvenient for Kerry, but many people put a lot of faith and trust in whoever is currently occupying the Oval Office, and one has to be careful about the manner in which one criticizes him in order not to alienate those people, who see the president as in some way personifying the country. We may be a modern democracy, but I'm fairly sure that we're to some extent hard-wired to show deference and respect to our leaders, however they came to their position, which means that Kerry has to be smart about when and where (and, especially, how) he mounts the attack on Bush.

If Kerry could win the election merely by appealing to Democrats, progressives and liberals, this wouldn't be a concern, since he could simply feed his base red meat with rabble-rousing speeches reiterating what most of us already know is wrong with Bush and his administration, getting us all riled up to go out and vote -- but that's obviously not the case. Instead, Kerry needs to carefully pry away those in the middle from Bush's orbit, and he's not going to do it by going after Bush with a sledgehammer. It's got to be a more gradual process, a steady erosion of people's trust in Bush leading to a lessening of their commitment to him. How that is done depends largely on what's going on in the world at the time. In the past month or so, Kerry hasn't really needed to do anything dramatic, as events in the real world (the 9/11 commission, the war in Iraq) and the missteps of the Bush campaign and the administration chipped away at the aura of invulnerability that they used to enjoy. Kerry merely had to respond appropriately, which to a large extent he did.

When real-world events stop being an erosive agent, then Kerry will have to step things up and decide how to go after Bush in such a way as to not annoy or offend those who are vulnerable to withdrawing their support. But even then I would doubt that personal attacks would be very effective, no matter how much better they might make us feel.

(Once again, we have to remember the purpose of the campaign, which is not to validate our political philosophy and provide us with egoboo, but to remove Bush from office and start on the road to restoring this country to some semblence of sanity, fairness and stability.)

When we get to the endgame, things will be different, the rules of engagement will be altered by the new circumstances, and we may then see some fireworks which will warm the cockles of our hearts (I'm told by a friend who lives in Massachusetts that Kerry's campaigns always close very well), but until then we'll have to make do with providing our own comfort, because we shouldn't expect Kerry to run the sort of campaign which will appeal to us, not when it's absolutely vital that it appeals to those who can actually win the election for him.

This circumspect behavior, the delicate process of weaning support away from Bush, will be perceived by the media, and many in the liberal world, as Kerry "running to the right," but that's really entirely the wrong way to look at it. It's much more about the mechanics of how to achieve one's goals then it is about the definition of one's policies and positions.

The other complaint I keep reading about is that Kerry has yet to adequately define himself to the public, that he's still largely unknown, which leaves the door open for Bush to define Kerry with his negative ads and smear campaigns. Again, this is, in my opinion, the wrong way to think about it.

Yes, I agree that Kerry must at some point define himself, but that time has not yet come. Right now, no one's really paying all that much attention to the campaign, except for political junkies and other over-involved members of the public. Most people, the conventional wisdom goes, don't really seriously get into the campaign until after the summer. I think that's true, which means that that is the time by which Kerry must have established his public persona and be prepared to let people know, in as strong a way as possible, who he is and what he stands for, just in time to catch those who begin to see the problems with Bush & Company.

Until then, he can afford to be something of a cipher, as long as he maintains a certain amount of visibility and doesn't disappear altogether. He needs to have enough defensive capability to fend off Bush, but more than that would be overkill at this point.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/28/2004 04:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Another side of the mess

In Slate, Phil Carter of Intel Dump summarizes the military logistical state of play in Iraq, and it's not good:

With a festering insurgency claiming the lives of more than 120 soldiers just this month, the Pentagon is set to request up to 30,000 more troops for the occupation. Senior Army leaders also said this week they will ask Congress for more money to make ends meet in Iraq and rebuild their drained force. Asking for these things is one thing; getting them is another; deploying them still another. Even if the order were cut right now, fresh divisions of troops would take months to get to overseas, meaning today's stretched force will have to put down the Iraqi revolt, restore security, and conduct the June 30 power handover without reinforcements. The U.S. military remains the most lethal fighting force ever fielded, but one year in Iraq has chewed it up, creating global shortages of manpower, equipment, and spare parts that are not easily relieved.

To a civilian, it may not make sense that a war involving 130,000 troops could strain the 1.4 million-strong U.S. military to its breaking point. Military officers often say that "amateurs study tactic -- professionals study logistics." The reason for this axiom is that even the simplest military task -- like moving a unit from point A to point B -- requires a Herculean logistical effort. ...


A December 2003 study by the Army War College concluded that the war in Iraq had stretched the force to near its "breaking point." The cumulative effect of logistical problems, spare parts shortages, and unprepared reserves is that the Army will be significantly less ready to fight for the next several years. Should another threat appear on the horizon, these issues will make it exceedingly difficult for the Army to respond with anything close to the force it mustered to invade Iraq last year.

There is some irony in this. Heading into the 2000 election, then-candidate George W. Bush blasted the Clinton administration's 1990s deployments to places like Bosnia and Kosovo, saying they depleted our military's readiness. "Our military is low on parts, pay and morale. If called on by the commander in chief today, two entire divisions of the Army would have to report, 'Not ready for duty, sir,' " said then-Gov. Bush, referring to the readiness of the 10th Mountain and 3rd Infantry divisions after their respective deployments to the Balkans. Today, the same criticism is being leveled at the Bush administration, except that Iraq is having a much worse effect on military readiness than the Balkans deployments ever did.

Remember, the military told the Bush administration that they required many more troops to invade, occupy, pacify and stabilize Iraq, but that was rejected by Rumsfeld, haboring fantasies about reduced need for military manpower, and the neo-cons, whose fantasies were apparently based on films about World War II, where American forces are welcomed as liberators with flowers and pretty girls. (Maybe they should have paid more attention to the reactions of the German people, as opposed to the French and the Dutch?)

We're clearly in a serious bind here, and the most Bush and Rove are going to do is to try and string things along, keeping the political damage as minimal as possible, until after the election. Then it'll either be Kerry's problem and out of their hands, or (in the horrific event that Bush retains his office), they'll use the situation in Iraq to make drastic systemic societal changes on the pretext of solving that problem, but the "solutions" will, no surprise, be tremendously beneficial to the people who put Bush in office in the first place.

Or am I being a tad too paranoid?

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/27/2004 10:05:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Orwell +20

Take a look at a new political cartoon series: 1,984 Reasons Orwell Was Only 20 Years Off.

[via Rittenhouse Review]

P.S. The newest Get Your War On is good, too.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/27/2004 09:04:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE



Go play with the Washington Post's Veep-O-Matic feature. It's nifty.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/27/2004 06:01:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Do they really mean what they say?

Kos thinks:

[I]t's time for [Bush friend and former aide Karen] Hughes to put up or shut up. If she's going to be "troubled" by Kerry's war and anti-war heroics while rationalizing away Bush's AWOL pool volleyball adventures, then she needs to show that she -- indeed -- supports Bush's war and his handling of it. And there's no better way to do so than having her 17-year-old son enroll in the Army or Marines when he graduates from High School.

Her son doesn't graduate until Spring 2005, but he can enroll up to a year before his entry date. I did when I enlisted in the Army. And not only should he enlist, but he should do so for a combat arms slot. Not some wussy pencil-pushing gig, but a job that could see combat. Infantry, armor, engineer, airborne, artillery, special forces (like Pat Tillman), or pilot.

So how about it, Karen? Ready to put your son where your mouth is? And if not, why should other Americans put their sons and daughters through the meat grinder on behalf of your boss' botched war?

It'll never happen, of course, nor will anyone in the media take note that Hughes might be able to talk to talk but is unwilling to walk the walk.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/27/2004 04:39:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Being and Seeming

It is all too easy to make fun of presidents, particularly since they have come to be judged by the standards by which we judge fictional characters who appear on our TV screens. It's ridiculous and it's unfair. TV characters appear in a show that lasts twenty-two minutes, once a week, twenty-six or thirty-nine times a year. The TV character gets retakes and his mistakes become outtakes. Jerry Ford bumps his head and his defined as a bumbler for the rest of his life. Richard Nixon tries, and fails, to pry the cap off the aspirin bottle with his teeth one night and it becomes a character-revealing trait, implying an unimaginable depth of dysfunction. Jimmy Carter has a run-in with a rabbit and is forever after labeled boob and wimp.

Then there's the sex business. For example, there are persistent rumors that [George H.W.] Bush has girlfriends. Remember that "power is the ultimate aphrodisiac," look at Barbara, and there are three possibilities: George is a normal male attracted to younger women and he cheats. George chooses to have sex exclusively with a woman who looks like a Hallmark greeting card grandmother; George is a eunuch. Think about it -- which George would you want running our country?

The only guy who could handle being "on-camera" every public minute and come out of it looking good was the guy who spent his life "on-camera," Ronald Reagan.

If the experiment with Bill Clinton is no more satisfactory than those with Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Bush, then perhaps Reagan will turn out to be the harbinger of things to come and the practice of having someone "act" as president will be institutionalized.
Larry Beinhart
American Hero (1993)

Beinhart's point is a valid one, but now we have a situation where the guy in the White House can't do either thing with any success. Bush obviously is incapable of being the president, but he's also pretty damn bad at appearing to be the president.

Couldn't the powers-that-be in the Republican party who were behind the sudden ascendance of George W. Bush into a viable candidate for the presidency have found someone just a little better at, at the very least, faking being presidential? Or was it that Bush's malleability and inability to do anything on his own (due to lack of the necessity of doing so throughout his life) made him the perfect candidate to be manipulated by Cheney as the power behind the throne, and those factors overwhelmed Bush's curious lack of ability to present a presidential persona on anything but a severely limited basis under the very best (and most constrictingly controlled) of circumstances. Hell, I could hold a casting call here in New York, and I'm sure I could find a couple of dozen actors who could look and act like a president for the short amounts of time that Bush is called upon to do that duty -- and most of them would be better at ad libbing their way through a press conference as well.

(American Hero, incidentally, is the book that the film Wag The Dog was loosely based on.)

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/27/2004 03:26:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ruling the book roost

And since we're talking about the arts, a glance at the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best-Seller List shows in the top 15:

  • 1. Against All Enemies - Richard A. Clarke

  • 4. Worse Than Watergate - John Dean

  • 13. House of Bush, House of Saud - Craig Unger

  • 14. Ghost Wars - Steven Coll

  • 15. American Dynasty - Kevin Phillips

  • 15. Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them) - Al Franken

Of course, the other guys have books on the list as well (Karen Hughes at #5 and Sean Hannity at #6, with a non-political book by Cokie Roberts at #7).

I assume Woodward's new book will be on the list shortly.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/27/2004 02:27:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Just-in-time film marketing

According to a report in Daily Variety [subscription required], a documentary film based on Douglas Brinkley's book Tour of Duty, about John Kerry's experiences in Vietnam and with the peace movement afterwards, is planned to be completed by Labor Day and in theatres by September.

Kerry is cooperating with the making of the film by his friend George Butler, a former Kerry press secretary and collaborator with him on the controversial 1971 book The New Soldier, which is currently out-of-print and very difficult to find. (There's a copy currently available on eBay, the bid for which is at this moment $305.)

"John Kerry has had the most interesting life of anyone in the presidential arena since Theodore Roosevelt," Butler told Daily Variety. "His history as a politician is that he's been underestimated, and that he has enormous willpower, not unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger."

Butler describes "Tour of Duty" as a cross between the cinema verite style of "Pumping Iron" and the historical material of "Endurance."

In other film news as reported by Daily Variety, Michael Moore's anti-Bush documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 will probably premiere at Cannes and be released here in the early fall, and The Hunting of the President, based on the book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons about the attempted Republican putsch during the second Clinton term, is also expected to be released before the election. Also, a non-documentary film by John Sayles, Silver City, which "shoots satiric arrows at the present state of American democracy and features Chris Cooper as the less-than-erudite scion of a conservative political dynasty fumbling his way to office in a Colorado gubernatorial race" is due in September as well.

It looks like there could well be a significant number of liberal-oriented political films around just as the vast majority of the population finally turns its full attention to the upcoming electing, and that can hardly be considered a bad thing -- or any kind of coincidence. (Certainly these films will primarily be preaching to the choir, but I also expect that they will provoke a fair amount of media coverage, and that will be seen by many more people, including some who may already, because of events int he real world, be considering withdrawing their support from Bush.)

Perhaps we're lucky that the whole Mel Gibson/"Passion of the Christ" thing has already happened and is over with.

Update: Also according to Daily Variety, another documentary film maker, Steve Rosenbaum, will follow Kerry behind the scenes during the campaign. "Inside The Bubble" is due to be released in mid-September.

The feature began shooting earlier this month and will continue filming through the Democratic convention in July. Rosenbaum will examine Kerry via his interaction with the immediate sphere that surrounds him, including his personal assistant, trip director, press secretaries and strategic advisers, all of whom will be key characters in the movie.

"We want to give people a chance to form opinions that are not based purely on stump speeches," Rosenbaum said. "Cameras are usually on John Kerry when he's giving a speech or a press conference or in a photo opportunity.

"We realized that in none of these moments do you get to see him in anything but performance mode," he added. "The idea of our film is to show all the moments in between." ...

"There's no intention to make a film that's either controversial or a political endorsement," Rosenbaum said. "This cannot be a political commercial or we lose. This has to be honest, revealing, questioning, fun and entertaining. It has to show the ride of the campaign experience with all the peaks and valleys."

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/27/2004 02:04:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Monday, April 26, 2004

What's under the hood?

Dave Pell sees signs of Bush suffering from an Oedipus Complex:

[T]ake a look at this excerpt from a speech that the President delivered earlier this week.

"The Iraqi people are looking at America and saying are we going to cut and run again? That's what they're thinking as well. And we're not going to cut and run if I'm in the Oval Office. We will do our job."

Anyone remember who was in the Oval Office when the Iraqi people accused America of cutting and running?

I think the most under-covered aspect of the President's personality make-up is his likely reaction to the way the media portrayed the impact that "The Wimp Factor" had on his father's elections. W is out to prove he is not a wimp. He is testosterone man. He will not play baseball, he will own baseball. He will not fight a war, he will win a war. And he will not cut and run. Think he's going to ask Daddy for advice? Not with these symptoms.

And the natural symptomatic extension of this all-powerful Oedipus complex is to look for other father figures, more powerful than your own. Hence, Cheney. And hence, W's constant references to looking for strength from a higher father.

I think that I've most often seen Bush's psychological disorder diagnosed as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I wonder if an Oedipus Complex would be consistent with that?

If you believe in psychoanalysis, that is.

In another post, Pell sees other aspects of Bush's psychopathology:

On the most basic level, Bush holds those in contempt who qualify as members of the intellectual elite. So who are these evil-doers who hold qualities such as common sense and intellectual firepower in such high regard? Who are these inquisitive buzzkillers (let's call them un-patriots) who, from their ivory towers of intellect and reason, place deep thought above deep sleep? Geniuses perhaps (yuck, we hate them)? Academics dedicated to analysis, reading and teaching? (Please, you know the old saying. Only those who can't flick towels, chug beers or order the world's most powerful military in action, teach.) Weeklong champions on the gameshow Jeopardy? Librarians? Writers? Those damn kids in junior high who always turn in extra credit assignments.

Actually the category is whole lot broader than you might think (which of course is no no). Let's put it this way. If you are reasonably sure that Chicken of the Sea is not chicken, then I've got bad news for you. You are elite.

Update: On the question of whether Narcissistic Personality Disorder is consistent with an Oedipus Complex, a mental health professional of my acquaintaince says not necessarily in all cases, but she promises to put some thought into it and get back to me.

Update: In a Knight-Ridder article today, Bush is quoted as saying that Dick Cheney is "the greatest vice president the country has ever had," which I would take as a telling remark, considering that Bush's father was vice president for 8 years.

In any case, isn't it usually the job of the vice president to extoll the virtues of the president, and not vice versa?

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/26/2004 11:05:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Richard Clarke at work

In the Rules of Work post I cited in the previous entry, Gilliard cites Richard Clarke as an example of someone who protected himself (by not blowing the whistle until he had left the organization), which opens the door for this description of Clarke I ran across recently, from Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon's The Age of Sacred Terror:

On June 21, 1995, Clinton signed PDD-39, among the most important of his presidency ... It was the first major step toward centralizing control over federal counterterrorism policy in the White House. The issue had never required such high-level focus before.

The concentration of authority was recognized by everyone in the "interagency" to be the handiwork of Richard A. Clarke. with the support of the NSC leadership, Clarke used his position as chairman of the ... [Counterterrorism and Security Group] to bring together high-level representatives of the Departments of State, Defense, and Justice, the CIA and the FBI, and others as needed to drive the administration's efforts. The CSG was one of the oldest interagency groups in the government, its roots stretching back into the early 1980s. Its original function, however, was to handle crises, not to be a policy forum; counterterrorism policy discussions were handled by another group, chaired by the State Department. Early in Clinton's first term, Clarke, characteristically, threw a bureaucratic elbow at the State Department by announcing that he would not attend their meetings; from now on, they would be attending his. PDD-39 formally enshrined that shift of power.

By the mid-1990s, Dick Clarke had become one of the rare career civil servants in Washington to rise to the uppermost regions of the policy-making world. He had become an indispensible, if sometimes uncontrollable, figure in the nation's security apparatus. Clarke was something like a Whitehall mandarin, one of the demigods of the British civil service who, in a system with only a handful of political appointees, exercise considerably more influence than any American bureaucrat can aspire to. But in Clarke there was nothing of the hyperrefined snob that the term conjures.

Raised by a divorce nurse, Clarke grew up in working-class Boston; he attended the Boston Latin School, the University of Pennsylvania, and MIT, where he earned a management degree. Clarke had little patience for the fine manners and gentlemanly play of the well-to-do who fill many of the senior ranks of government. In fact, he had little patience at all. He began he career as a Cold War defense analyst counting nuclear warheads, and then became a State Department specialist in intelligence and political-military affairs, the clutch of issues that include arms control, regional security, and technological transfers. Clarke became the second youngest assistant secretary of state ever. Only Richard Holbrooke climbed faster, and he, unlike Clarke, was a well-connected political appointee. Along the way, Clarke acquired a reputation for bright ideas and bullying tactics. A rarity in government, he produced a stable of loyal proteges to whom he gave considerable responsibility, and a horde of antagonistic peers and superiors. In 1992, he ran afoul of Secretary of State James Baker, who fired him for appearing to condine Israel's illicit transfer of U.S. technology to China. Brent Scowcroft gave Clarke asylum on his White House staff, where he became a senior director handling portfolios that included counterterrorism, counternarcotics programs, peacekeeping operations, humanitarian interventions, and U.S. relations with the UN.

In the Clinton administration, Clarke was one of only two senior directors kept on from the old regime. He struck up a friendship with Tony Lake, whose respect for him grew early on because of the job Clarke did as chairman of the committee coordinating the military and political operations involved with the U.S. presence in Haiti. He infuriated other NSC senior directors by refusing to attend the twice-weekly staff meetings and by sending, in bold, red-type, e-mail messages that ranged from the merely snide to the blatantly insulting. Clarke knew everyone, and, to the chagrin of the Joint Chiefs, delighted in working out of channels to call the commanders-in-chief at the Central, Southern, or Special Forces Command when he wanted something done. One assistant secretary of defense put it cogently when he said, "Dick drove the Chiefs batshit." It is no exaggeration to say that one person or another at the cabinet or subcabinet level or in the top NSC staff urged the national security advisor to fire Clarke almost every month. Among the half-dozen executive assisants who served Tony Lake and Sandy Berger during the two Clinton administrations, few sentences were uttered with the same frequency as "This time Dick has gone too far."

For all the irritation he caused, three qualities distinguished Clarke. First, he understood as well as anyone in Washington all the levers and pulleys of foreign policy, from the particular images a specific satellite could provide, to what hardware could be transferred to a friendly country without congressional approval, to the mechanics of imposing economic sanctions. No one had a better mastery of the repetoire. Second, he was relentless. Of the top officials who worked with him and recognized his talents, many shook their heads as he overplayed his hand in bureaucratic battles and needlessly alienated people who might have helped him. But even if his abrasiveness did not always lead to the desired results, he delivered considerably more than most. Third, Clarke had a preternatural gift for spotting emerging issues. Whether it was terrorism, money laundering, or protecting the computer-driven infrastructure that kept everything from airports to stock exchanges running, he quickly identified the problem, devised a set of policy options, and took charge. This skill helped Clarke acquire a small bureaucratic empire, and it served the interests of his supervisors, who were eager to stay ahead of the curve of global change. His proficiency in this regard, as well as the growing danger of terrorist attack, would be recognized again three years later in another Presidential Decision Directive, this one numbered 62, which made him America's first coordinator for counterterrorism. The position provided less power than Clarke wanted but still placed more authority on counterterrorism issues in one set of hands than ever before. The directive also gave the national coordinator a seat at the table when the foreign policy cabinet discussed terrorism. It was the first time an NSC staff member had been so elevated. That created a voice at the top for counterterrorism concerns -- an advance over the past practice by which discrete responsibilities were scattered among the agencies that historically viewed the issue as a secondary concern.

[Any typos are mine -- Ed]

I don't post this to in any way denigrate Clarke, or in an attempt to deflect his criticisms of the Bush administration's policies and actions before and after 9/11 (which were, as we know, not entirely new with Clarke at all, but had great force in being stated by him in such a cogent and powerful manner), but I do think that this capsule evaluation of Clarke, by two people who knew him well, were actively sympathetic to his aims, and were (at least partly) in his orbit, serves to reinforce the impression I got about him from watching his testimony before the 9/11 Commission and from reading his book, which was that Clarke was probably a difficult and annoying person to work with, but was exactly the kind of person one would want in a position like that.

It also serves to underline another point that I've made before, which is that the current liberal infatuation with Clarke is primarily a function of his value as a tool to take down the Bush administration. I seriously doubt that many who extolled Clarke's whistleblowing are really on the same page with him at all, and that many would have found his opinions about how the country should be fighting terrorism to be almost diametrically opposed to their own. A prime example is Clarke's push, prior to 9/11, to fight the Taliban and al Qaida militarily with rolling air attacks similar to those going on in Iraq at the time, as a response to the al Quaida attacks on our East African embassies and on the U.S.S. Cole. My feeling is that a large percentage of those who patted Clarke on the back last month would have been calling for his neck in a noose in 2001 if he had gotten his way back then. He may well have been right, we'll never know, but we certainly know that liberals would not have been supportive of yet another military operation at that moment.

And that goes for myself as well, I think. In the post-9/11 world, it's exceedingly hard for me to recreate my thought patterns before the attacks, but I assume that, if I had known about it, I would have seen Clarke's plan as an overreaction.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/26/2004 03:19:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Gilliard's "Rules of Work"

Steve Gilliard has an interesting post on The Rules of Work, which he gives as:

  • look the part
  • be loyal
  • fit in with the company culture
  • protect yourself
  • keep your social life and your work life separate

Gillard writes:

Being right is less important than being smart. People are right about a lot of things, few people are listened to. The person who fits in, establishes themselves as ethical and responsible, is the person who can say no and mean it. Credibility is everything at work and few people bother to establish it.

The whole post is worth reading.

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/26/2004 02:55:00 PM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Don't worry, be happy!

I have a piece of unsolicited advice for those who are concerned about the Kerry campaign, that it's not handling things right, and for those who have grave concerns about Kerry as a candidate -- stop worrying about it. Tune out for six months or so, and then go to the polls and vote for Kerry in November.

Boiled down to essentials, there are two and only two probable scenarios for the next 4 years. In one, George W. Bush continues in the White House, and in the other, John Kerry is the President. We don't really know how good a President Kerry will be, and we can't really be sure, even by close examination of his policy releases and statements and consideration of his personality, what he'll do, but we certainly do know what four more years of Bush will be like, based on reasonable projection from the 3+ years we've had to endure of him already. Clearly, what we have here is what General "Buck" Turgidsen might well call "two distinguishable post-election environments."

Given this, the choice is crystal clear. Kerry would have to be phenomenally stupid and hopelessly incompetent to do worse than Bush has, and nothing I see indicates that this is the case. Therefore, there's no particular reason to micromanage Kerry's campaign from a distance and get all upset about his inevitable missteps or the necessary tacking to and fro which are part and parcel of a campaign to get millions of Americans of all beliefs and persuasions to pull a particular lever on Election Day.

The choice will be precisely the same in November as it is now, so why bust a gut over it?

(Unless, like most bloggers, you enjoy second-guessing the whole process from start to finish. In which case, have a good time, but do keep the real-world perspective in mind and recall every now and then that it's truly a classic either/or situation. We can't always get what we want, but in November, we may well get what we need.)

So, give it a rest, let Kerry do what he has to do in order to be elected, and cut him some slack, please, to occasionally do or say something you might disagree with. (Mark Schmitt made much the same point recently in The Decembrist, and thanks to MyFriendRoger for pointing me to the item while I was on self-imposed hiatus from unfutz.)

(To those who think there is an alternative path other than Bush and Kerry, who are tempted to vote for Nader or some other third party candidate, obviously your view of reality and mine are seriously out of sync. Go ahead and play your little games and enjoy your self-induced political fantasy, I live in the real world where 4 more years of Bush in the White House might well so totally warp this country that it would be unrecognizable to us in the end.)

Now, if you absolutely insist on worrying about something, turn your attention to Iraq, which deserve every ounce of worry we can put into it.

Update: Publius is still worrying about the Bush/Kerry thing, but it's OK, because he makes an excellent point:

The belief that a presidential election is a choice between two individuals is probably the biggest fallacy in American politics. What you are actually voting for is an entire Executive branch of government, along with the judges or Justices it appoints. Unfortunately, too many people conceptualize the presidential election as a one-on-one contest between individuals, rather than between two potential Executive branches. ... People need to realize that this race is about two massive entities -- GOP Inc., and Democrats, Inc. -- and not two individuals. And what's really at stake in this election is which of these two entities will get to place its people throughout the entire Executive branch.

And incidentally, he makes a interesting point:

When you think about it, reducing everything to an individual level is actually a common cognitive error in American thought. For example, terrorism is not a systematic phenomenon, but something caused by Osama (and which can be fixed by killing Osama) -- which is the wrong way to think about it. Or, people think that capturing al-Sadr will end the uprising, which is an equally wrong way to understand the situation.

As he says, it's a cognitive error, which is the most difficult kind to guard against, since errors of cognition and perception are so intrinsically linked to our mental hard-wiring. They're what we fall back on because they come so easily and naturally to us, and they presumably had evolutionary value or they wouldn't exist (unless, of course, they are mere by-products of some other process necessary for survival). But whether they had value at one time or not doesn't mean that they're necessarily valuable to us now, in a world that is in many ways different from that one, more complex, less personal, and fundamentally warped by our own amazing ability to re-shape the landscape through cooperative efforts. Its hidden pitfalls and trapdoors have serious consequences, many of them along the lines that Publius writes about.

(Not so incidentally, Legal Fiction is among the best blogs going, and well worth keeping up with.)

Update: Alan Blevin sums up some people's Kerry dilemma well with the title of his website: JohnKerryIsADoucheBagButI'mVotingForHimAnyway.

Right, there really isn't any choice about the matter, it's either Kerry, whatever one thinks about him, or Bush, and we damn well know what we think about him. Blevins provides evidence in these essays:

  • Instances of Doucheitude and Why it Doesn't Matter

  • How Fucked We are Right Now

  • How Fucked We will be With 4 More Years of George W. Bush

  • Why This is Not the Time or the Place to Vote for a 3rd Party Candidate

  • Why Every Conservative Should Seriously Consider Voting Democrat this Fall

[via Wonkette]

Ed Fitzgerald | 4/25/2004 01:14:00 AM | | | | GO: TOP OF HOME PAGE


Ed Fitzgerald

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Alfred W. Crosby - America's Forgotten Pandemic (1989)
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