The World Trade Organization authorized the European Union and seven other leading U.S. trading partners Tuesday to impose more than $150 million worth of sanctions against the United States for failing to repeal anti-dumping rules deemed illegal by the WTO. The ruling by the Geneva-based organization allows the complainants to fine the United States up to 72 percent of money collected from foreign exporters under the so-called Byrd Amendment. That legislation, dating from 2000, empowers Washington to hand over to U.S. companies the duties imposed on foreign firms judged to be unfairly dumping cheap goods on the U.S. market. A statement from the eight complainants estimated that money totaled about $240 million last year. ``It is clear that the Byrd Amendment is a WTO-incompatible response to dumping ... and must therefore go,'' said EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy. However, the EU and the other complainants -- Japan, Brazil, Canada, Chile, India, South Korea and Mexico -- indicated they would hold off from imposing sanctions. Instead they are likely to use the threat of retaliation to press the U.S Congress for an early repeal of the legislation. A joint-statement from all eight said they could ``exercise their retaliatory rights, at any time deemed appropriate.'' Named for its sponsor, West Virginia Senator Robert Byrd, the three-year-old amendment primarily benefited American steel manufacturers. Other recipients include makers of pasta and candles.Not a lot of money, clearly, but a symbolic gesture of tolerance they are extending.
It's posts like this one that make it very difficult for me to take Andrew Sullivan seriously. He has some interesting things to say from time to time, but he never lets accuracy get in the way of taking a cheap shot. Sullivan writes:
"Paris never wanted to be involved, but the notion that even a chief appeaser of Islamist terror can escape its fury is getting less and less persuasive. French journalists have been kidnapped in Iraq in protest of France's admirable secularism in its education system. France refuses to give up its head-scarf ban in schools. More innocents are likely to be murdered. One can only hope that Paris gets the message. There is no escaping this fight. It is civilization or Jihadism. We can and should debate tactics; but the sides are clear enough."
This commentary suffers from two basic problems. 1) Sullivan is equating the invasion of Iraq with the fight against "Jihadism" when the two are entirely different things. 2) It's inaccurate (should we say a lie?) to say that France hasn't taken a tough line in fighting Islamic militants. Just the opposite has been the case. Does no one remember the 1990's when France was fighting Islamic rebels inside its own borders? A strong argument can be made that the government in Paris as been pursuring a tough and aggressive line in this fight longer than the governments in Washington and London have.
This weekend I finally put myself through the Children of Dune miniseries. Being a huge fan of Dune (the book, the miniseries, and even the Lynch movie) I had attempted to watch it before but couldn't get through it. Having watched the whole thing I still think it stinks. And there are a lot of parts of it I could criticize. But I'll hold my tongue regarding the script, Daniela Amavia's casting/acting, and most of its other sins because one thing about it was so appalling that my jaw pretty much always hit the floor when I was exposed to it. I am speaking of course of Alia's costumes. She's supposed to be an imperial regent? To me she looked more like a hard-edged villainess (say, a "gentleman's club" owner) escaped from some awful bit of B-level 1980's soft porn. I mean if you ruled the universe I suppose you could wear what you liked. But her "I must crush my enemies" diatribes to her priests did seem a tad less than convincing in her shiny halters. And then for the designer to randomly put her in some sort of ancient Egypt-inspired garb for one pivotal scene ... bizarre.
So it's Day 1 of the Republican Convention. So far I think the best (or at least the most entertaining) coverage is over on Reason's convention blog. So if you want to get the full drama of the event (or if, like me, you can never get enough of Julian Sanchez) head over there.
The wrestling coach says George Soros might be getting his money from drug cartels. He readily says he has no proof of this - but that it could be true.
Why stop there Denny? Why don't you just say he eats babies for breakfast? I mean it could be true. I hear he might eat breakfast ... and I've never seen what's on his plate.
Yet another reason we need to take the Speaker of the House and the President Pro Temp of the Senate out of the line of succession to the presidency.
You don't want to bore the readers or viewers or voters with anything too complicated. A well-rehearsed comment or two will suffice, followed by the jokes on Leno and Letterman, and then it's on to the "real world" of Paris and Kobe and whatever.and:
Serious voters who would like to hear a discussion (from the leaders of both parties) about why we are in Iraq and when and how we might get out of there will be disappointed. So will voters interested in exploring ideas about the leadership role of the United States in the post-9/11 world, which is at least as important as the role thrust upon the U.S. in the aftermath of World War II.and most relevant to the on and off discussion we've been having here, he decries the notion, put forth in the 1968 campaign:
"'Voters are basically lazy, basically uninterested in making an effort to understand what we're talking about.'"As someone who has devoted a decent amount of time to the study of mass politics, I think about this perspective, which I have heard implicity and explicitly from scholarly discussions and theories (though none really state it quite so baldly). And I have said here that I don't think that most voters really want the detailed analysis that we (and I include Morris, et al) are asking for. However I still hold back from believing that people are inherently lazy and unconcerned by nature. Perhaps I should be more pessimistic on a Monday morning.
I suspect the espionage scandal is going to be brewing for several weeks to come, but if you're looking for a bit more on it today I suggest you visit Laura Rozen's site or read Juan Cole's interpretation of the what we know so far. I expect that at least for now this is going to be drowned out by convention coverage. But depending on how these investigations proceed, it looks like this could be one of the bigger news stories of the fall.
A great article in the New York Times today. The reporter notes that both US and Iraqi government forces seem to have removed themselves physically and thus fail to control a huge province in western Iraq. The cities of Falluja and Ramadi are entirely run by insurgents. If the name "Falluja" rings a bell, this is the city where four US contractors had their bodies mutilated after they were killed. Subsequently the US Marines assaulted the place, but were pulled back in a political solution. The Iraqi government constituted an Iraqi battalion to continue the fight (this was two to three months ago). That Iraqi force has disintegrated, and neither the US nor the Iraqi government has any authority in the two cities anymore. The final quote is devastating - they note that the elections scheduled for less than six months from now will likely only take place in 15 or so cities. So much for democracy.
For you Triple Crown fans out there ... Birdstone, the horse that defeated Smarty Jones in the Belmont, won the 135th running of the Travers Stakes yesterday at Saratoga. It was Birdstone's first race since he won the third leg of the Triple Crown, but trainer Nick Zito apparently knew what he was doing in giving Birdstone an oddly long break from racing. The Zito-trained The Cliff's Edge placed, and Eddington finished third.
Fantastic. This is an issue that needs to be addressed. I can sort of understand why no one wanted to discuss it in the immediate aftermath of Indecision 2000. But it's time for this relic to go. It's anti-democratic, and it could break down into chaos (for a humorous look at this not-so humorous possibility read Jeff Greenfield's novel The People's Choice?). If there's one topic that merits amending the constitution, it's this one. This is about the basic workings of the system of government, changing them in a way that strengthens our values, and prevents a situtation that could harm our democracy.
By the way, has there been any recent polling on the number of Americans who even know this is how we elect our presidents? I presume that this number is higher in the wake of 2000, but I'd bet that a substantial number of people still presume that the winner is determined on the basis of the popular vote.
It seems one of my biggest complaints about the Bush administration has an official name in the blogsphere - the process critique. If you don't know what I'm talking about, see Dan Drezner and Matt Yglesias.
I've frequently posted on various aspects of this topic, for example on the unfortunate consequences of the administration's excessive level of insulation (see here and here) and on the poor coordinating abilities of Condi Rice.
I don't know what to make of the investigation into Larry Franklin. But as these posts by Laura Rozen , Mark Kleiman, Helena Cobban and Matt Yglesias suggest, it looks quite likely that this particular investigation is on the periphery of something much bigger.
Shorter David Brooks: Look! A Republican who is an environmentalist! And heís worked with minorities! Weíre diverse! Donít hate us all!
Ya know, this might actually mean something if you saw any diversity or arguments among actual Republicans over policy. Instead, you just get one big machine. Brooks sort of ends on a ďthe party wants Bush to start finding some answers, and if he doesnít then we wonít support himĒ note, but the past three and a half years of full-on party discipline in the GOP are not a good historical precedent for whatever Brooks is raving about. Other than McCain (and heís back in the fold now), who is pushing the Republicans to do anything the President doesnít want?
Ok, my smack at the "compassionate conservative" label below was meant to be a joke. We all occasionally word statements in ways that don't convey the sentiments we meant to convey (though you'd think a paid staffer would be more careful before submitting something to a newspaper, and I'm assuming he really doesn't hold some deep-seated aniums toward the elderly). But it's stories like this (and yeah, a plethora of others) that make one question the depth of the current ruling clique's commitment to a compassionate conservatism. There will probably always be poor, and you can't help everyone ... but should we really be deporting people back to their homeland when a volcano has already destroyed 2/3's of the island and its deadly activity shows no sign of abating?
One of the treats in our local "news"paper this week was a letter to the editor from the executive director of certain right-wing lobbying group. I could type the name, but why bother when groups of all persuasions have taken to naming themselves things like the "Protection of Motherhood Society" or the "Don't You Just Love Puppies Foundation". Anyway, this letter, was aimed at blasting our US Senators for backing a key part of the "homosexual agenda". That is more or less predictable, even though one of our senators is very far from being generally supportive of gay rights. What made the letter noteworthy is that it was so poorly written. My favorite line:
"An assault against a homosexual is no more a crime than an assault against an elderly person walking down the street."
The Christian right - as compassionate as ever. Can't you just hear 'em now? 15 points for the granny in the walker.
Now there are many questions that I wish the president would answer. And it's long struck me that the president's (any president's) ability to evade questions is one of the biggest problems with our system of government. But if someone would get President Bush to give a full answer to this question I'd be very interested to hear his answer. And if his answer doesn't reference the problems posed by the impending Medicare cost explosion he's not being serious.
If you're looking for a quick, highly readable account of the tragedy going on in Sudan's Darfur province you should take a look at Samantha Power's article in the August 30 issue of The New Yorker. It contains some horrible stories from the area (where government supported Arab militias are killing non-Arab Sudanese) and an overview of actions that have been taken (and not taken) by the UN, the Bush administration, the Congress, other countries, and a variety of other groups and prominent individuals (like Franklin Graham).
As to how it fits into some of the other debates going on at this site, it discusses how and why other Western countries are showing little interest in working with the Bush administration on this matter, and the impact of the Bush administration's opposition to the International Criminal Court. For the record, the Bush administration was actively involved in the creation of a peace deal aimed at settling the civil war in southern Sudan, but it has not taken similar steps to stop the killings in Darfur.
According to the article, the refugees from these slaughters believe that only the entry of Western troops can stop the violence. One is quoted as saying, "We will not return to our homes until the white people come and make us safe."
Well, this is just great. It was bad enough that he signed McCain-Feingold, now this. President Bush has come out against an important outlet for free speech, calling for the end of 527s.
And I would truly love it if reporters could get it through their skulls that 527s are NOT unregulated. They are regulated. It just happens that they aren't regulated in ways that various political actors wish they were, one prominent set of those actors being the mass media. I think Matt Yglesias was onto something this month when he said that there was no more obvious bias in the press than its opposition to these kinds of institutions.
In response to a couple of commenters on the "Justice for the Swift" thread below, I'll follow my own advice and propose we discuss something of actual relevance to this election: the Kerry versus Bush plan for Iraq. The official Kerry Plan lists four main ideas:
1. Persuade NATO to Make the Security of Iraq one of its Global Missions and to deploy a significant portion of the force needed to secure and win the peace in Iraq. NATO participation will in turn open the door to greater international involvement from non-NATO countries.
2. Internationalize the Non-Iraqi Reconstruction Personnel in Iraq, to share the costs and burdens, end the continuing perception of a U.S. occupation, and help coordinate reconstruction efforts, draft the constitution and organize elections.
3. Launch a Massive and Accelerated Training Effort to Build Iraqi Security Forces that can provide real security for the Iraqi people, including a major role for NATO. This is not a task for America alone; we must join as a partner with other nations.
4. Plan for Iraqís Future by working with our allies to forgive Iraqís multi-billion dollar debts and by supporting the development of a new Iraqi constitution and the political arrangements needed to protect minority rights. We will also convene a regional conference with Iraq's neighbors in order to secure a pledge of respect for Iraq's borders and non-interference in Iraqís internal affairs.
I would argue that most of these ideas are different from the present (Bush) plan that they constitute a change in policy. Certainly numbers 1 and 2 are a radical departure from our "go it alone" (don't get me started on the "coalition of the willing") approach that we have been using since the beginning. In return for getting (bluntly) money and troops from other (probably NATO) countries we will almost certainly have to give up complete control over what form the reconstruction of Iraq will take. Instead of a single country (the US) determining the direction of Iraq, we will be part of a (real) coalition, and will need to negotiate among other allies for what we want to accomplish. We will not always get what we want, because other countries view the world differently than we do, and have different priorities for their foreign policies and different national security concerns. In return, however, we get resources and troop levels that we plainly cannot put in place alone.
Is it a perfect plan? No, but it is clearly better than the one Bush is using, which, if it is succeeding at all (highly debatable), is doing so very slowly. Do I wish Kerry provided more specifics? Yes, but I'm not sure how he can. As armand noted in the Swift comments, the situation in Iraq will change between now and January, so whatever specifics he provides are likely to be irrelevant or incorrect by the time he actually has the authority to put them in place. Additionally, as I noted in the Swift comments, Kerry has no authority to negotiate anything with anybody, and a large part of the plan consists of those negotiations with allies. Given the constraints on Kerry the candidate, I do not believe he can be more specific.
But hasn't Kerry provided enough of a plan to recognize that it is a better direction for Iraq than the present administration?
OK, one last movie post by me for this week. I finally got around to seeing I Shot Andy Warhol. It's quite good on a number of fronts, but since I've only got a second I'll simply note two things that really stood out. The movie really depends on Lili Taylor since she's in every scene, and, as usual, she does a very fine job. I very much envy those who got to see her in Aunt Dan and Lemon on Broadway recently. Secondly, Stephen Dorff is truly great as Candy Darling. That was a role that was probably hard to get just right, but Dorff nails it perfectly. He's superb. It's a terrible shame (at least for the viewing public) that his film career seems to have cooled.
I have to say that Mark Tushnet's description of Mr. Justice Breyer as a "statist" "resembling Byron White" has certianly done nothing to lessen my considerable level of ambivalence for Bill Clinton's second appointee to the US Supreme Court.
How can you not love Jon Stewart?
Why do we let politicians get away with this? Senator Jim Bunning is refusing to debate his Democratic opponent in Kentucky. Why do people vote for such out-of-touch s.o.b.'s?
Ed Cone illustrates why the cable news networks and the weekend talk shows are must-avoid TV.
OK, I'm officially sick of the whole swift boat thing. I really don't think it matters one way or the other if Kerry was or was not in Cambodia (he was almost certainly close), or whether his valor medals (Bronze Star, Silver Star) are deserved or not - he was fighting in Vietnam. He volunteered. He may have been ineffective as a soldier (and there is no evidence that he actually was), but he was far more help to the war effort than George W. Bush was (who was, charitably, in Alabama working a political campaign). So, on whatever criteria you want to use, Kerry's war record beats Bush's. End of discussion. However, for those that really want to read about this:
An American Enterprise Institute scholar argues that Kerry wasn't in Cambodia and that this lie is consistent with Kerry's whole political persona.
Kaplan, over in Slate, argues that Kerry was clearly on the border, and logic indicates he went over it sometimes.
Dionne puts forth the argument that the Republicans are awful inconsistent about this service-in-the-military thing. They push it when it helps (George H.W. Bush, Dole), and bury it when it hurts them (George W. Bush and the Texas Air National Guard). Dionne makes an impassioned plea for Bush to act like a "uniter, not a divider" and end these attacks. Dionne is lefty, so will be ignored.
Finally, Richard Pyle (who covered the Vietnam War for the AP) has a nice review of what the swift boats were, why they were out there, and what influence they had on the war. Of all the articles, this one is the best, in that at least you don't have to hold your nose to read it.
I'll reiterate: this is almost entirely an irrelevant subject. I'd much rather spend time debating the mess in Najaf (as von wants) or all the really important issues in this election (as phil carter wants) rather than this irrelevancy. But it's not Christmas, and I stopped believing in Santa Claus a long time ago, so I'm screwed. Maybe we'll start debating whether Kerry really was in Vietnam, or if he just stayed in Vegas and played slots for a few years.
By the way, if you haven't checked Phil Carter's blog lately, you might want to go take a look. He's had a great week covering everything from pork in the Defense appropriations bill, to the effects of the Lawrence decision on military law, to Blackwater, to Lt. General Boykin, etc. If you're interested in military, legal and political issues, it's one of the most interesting and thoughtful sources of information out there.
If two women were simultaneously nominated to the US Supreme Court it would probably be a major news story for months. But given US disinterest in all things Canadian I figured I should alert you to a story you might well not see elsewhere - that has happened, in Canada. You can read brief analyses of these women here. If both women are confirmed, 4 of the 9 justices of Canada's highest court will be female.
Good freakin' grief. Meet Congressman Dan Lipinski, the next member of Congress from the Chicago metro area. I've already noted the shameful, anti-democratic way in which he's come to power. And now that he's finally had his first press conference, the first time his constituents have had the opportunity to hear his political views (yes, AFTER he was already handed a seat in the US House), we get to see that he looks an awful lot like a Republican. Ardently pro-life and anti-gay marriage? Disheartening in a 38 year old freshman who may have a long career in the House ahead of him, but not entirely surprising given his background. But the fact that his political hero is Ronald Reagan!?!?! And he's a Democrat? Ummm. Yeah. Sure he is. Amy Sullivan caught a lot of heat for this recent post of her's on why Democrats shouldn't back conservative Democrats. And some of that was justified. Obviously most any Democrat who can be elected in Oklahoma is going to be very conservative. But folks, we are talking in this case about a Democrat from Chicago. Chicago! I really hope someone takes out the new Lipinski in the 2006 primary. Democrats can do better than this. And all Americans can do better than this crony-riddled process of selecting a member of Congress.
This is just sick. Ghost detainees, rape, attack dogs, deaths - and there is no sign that anyone in a senior position is being held accountable. Though there are plenty of signs (in this case, even from Republican-appointed panels) that senior officials are responsible. This is the kind of thing that we should be above if we expect to have any sort of legitimacy in our fights for human rights around the world. And it is the kind of thing we should work to prevent from happening (and further undermining our position) in the future. However, our complacency on this issue conveys a lack of concern. In terms of our own behavior and self-image it shows that it's something we are not seriously concerned about, and don't really regret doing. And in terms of our image abroad, it shows that we are willing to live up to the worst things said about us by our enemies. This prisoner abuse story might have faded from public view in this country, but it is still very much in mind elsewhere in the world. And given that pictures like these are now what many people in the Middle East associate with US foreign policy it is not at all surprising that many people in the region are attacking Americans, and few have much interest in working with the Bush administration.
UPDATE: Here are some notes on a speech by Sy Hersh that deals with this topic. Hersh has been doing some of the best reporting on this scandal.
So says Helena Cobban.
For those of you who have some interest in horse racing but forget it continues to go on after the Belmont ...
Pleasantly Perfect, the reigning Breeder's Cup Classic Champion and arguably the best racehorse in the world added another victory to his illustrious career last weekend in the Pacific Classic. Funny Cide's return to racing though did not go as well. Everyone's favorite gelding in 2003 was defeated in the Saratoga Breeder's Cup Handicap by Evening Attire.
OK, upon further review I was able to find one thing I liked about Sweet Home Alabama (well, beyond it presumably furthering the career of Josh Lucas). Now it's not in the movie itself, but on the commentary track (yes, there are times when I have so much trouble sleeping that I actually watch sections of the commentary tracks of bad movies), and it lasted for only about 5 seconds, but when a movie is this bad you are really desperate for 5 good seconds. There is a shot in the movie that the director describes as his "Parker Lewis" moment. He might make pointless trash, but it's good to know he appreciates the classics.
This article praises John Kerry's role in investigating BCCI. He fought a number of prominent Democrats in doing so, and his work clearly furthered the people's interests. By highlighting Kerry's behavior in this matter the authors could be seen as highlighting particular strengths of Kerry that would make him fit to be president. But by highlighting this case they are illustrating another reason to vote for Kerry that has little to do with him personally. The Congress is likely to be in Republican hands in 2005, and we have seen during the past four years that when one party controls all branches of government that the chances of Congress carrying out its valueable oversight role are substantially diminished. One of the merits of divided government is that it offers a variety of actors control over the mechanisms of government, and in that situation particularly egregious, sometimes even dangerous, abuses are more likely to be brought to light and stopped. Now the Democrats can't really run on a slogan of "Vote for Kerry because we know you're voting Republican for Congress". But it's something worth keeping in mind.
Jack Balkin has this interesting historical review, drawn from Justice Blackmun's notes, of how Casey did, and then did not, over-rule Roe v. Wade.
I've been throwing myself in front of a wide assortment of movies over the last week. The last two I watched were horrifying, albeit in very different ways. First, Sweet Home Alabama. Now this wasn't as bad as Serendipity or The Wedding Planner , but it came very, very close. The build-up of cliche upon cliche upon cliche was almost stroke-inducing. I loathed this movie. The only saving grace was that the cast was really quite enjoyable from Reese W. and Josh Lucas down the list to Jean Smart, Mary Kay Place, and Ethan Embry. Well, aside from the characters that were such stock bores (the gay fashion designer friend, the heart-of-gold Civil War renacting father, the tough, rude politician from New York) that not even bringing Cary Grant or Ingrid Bergman back to life could have saved the part. And sadly there were too many characters like that. Still some of the actors made valiant attempts with what they had to work with. I just wish they'd been in a better movie.
The much more interesting movie was Grey Gardens, the famed 1970's documentary about Big Edie and Little Edie Beale - faded socialities living with racoons in their dilapidated mansion in the Hamptons. If you like tales of the wealthy gone to seed - this is must viewing. And generally it is a rather interesting exposition of their personal stories, while at the same time touching upon the difficulties of mother-daughter relationships and the limited choices women like this had during the first half of the 20th century. And of course the fact that Little Edie borders on being unhinged has added to this film's standing as a camp/cult classic.
While I have a few problems with Netflix, generally itís been a convenient addition to my life. More than that, itís been an addition thatís given me the chance to view fine movies that I otherwise wouldnít have the chance to see. My most recent rental was very fine indeed, Luchino Viscontiís The Leopard, a 1960ís classic recently released on DVD (actually, if you live in or near New York itís being screened at the Film Forum through the 24th). I should first note that the DVD is a gem. This is far better than the version that was released in the U.S. in the 1960ís. The awful dubbing is gone, and scenes that were excised for the U.S. release have been put back in. And the movie contains an excellent commentary track by a film critic/scholar. Itís one of the most insightful commentaries Iíve heard in some time, and if you really want to understand the film you should definitely watch it. As to the film itself, imagine Gone With the Wind (itís the 1860ís, there is a war, the ancien regime is crumbling and uncouth parvenus are rising), but set in Sicily and with the melodrama toned down. Itís a truly grand tale, and a production that was probably very influential (more than once I caught myself thinking, ah Coppola must have liked that, or Scorsese must have liked that). Since this is Visconti you have every minute detail done exactly right whether youíre talking about costumes, sets, lighting, photography, or score. The man created beautiful art and demanded that everything precisely fit the period (even if that meant burying shirts to get them to turn the right shade of red). While it could be seen as just another costume drama examining the fall of an out-of-touch elite (albeit a particularly sumptuous one), itís somewhat deeper than that. It manages to be both touching and grand spectacle. While you can understand the film on a thematic level (there is a clear political subtext), the characters are real people as well as symbols. This is the second Visconti film Iíve seen (I was also very impressed by The Damned) Ė Iím very much looking forward to seeing a third.
Should a major publication publish letters to the editor that are blatantly misleading? Or should they allow such letters in an attempt to show a variety of perspectives (as misleading as they may be)?
I ask this in light of a letter in the latest issue of The New Yorker. The letter states "Australia, Italy, England, Japan, Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, and Ukraine all supported the war in Iraq and sent troops." Worded that way and with that verb tense it seems to imply that all of these countries sent troops during the "major combat operations" period of the war, something that most of those countries did not do. Is this appropriate? Or is the problem less one of journalistic ethics and more one of sentence construction?
Ahmed Manajid, who played as a midfielder on Wednesday, had an even stronger response when asked about Bush's TV advertisement. "How will he meet his god having slaughtered so many men and women?" Manajid told me. "He has committed so many crimes."
With opinions like that, it's not surprising that Iraq's Olympic scoccer team wants to be taken out of the president's campaign ads.
Be afraid. Be very afraid. There may be psycho bitches in your town - perhaps at your local post office, perhaps in your home. Maybe they are sneaking up behind you as you read this, about to blow your head off as you finish reading this sentence. It should go without saying that they have no respect for private property or social norms, resent people who are successful, think life owes them plenty, have sapphic leanings, and are poorly educated.
I suppose thatís how I could describe Claude Chabrolís La Ceremonie (1995) if I didnít want to take it seriously. But I do want to take it seriously. Itís thoughtful, interesting and superbly made. So why is my response to it a string of hackneyed jokes focusing on its disturbed villains? Because itís one of the most unsettling movies Iíve seen, and if I concentrate on it I might have nightmares. It is a true thriller. It is wound as tight as a Hitchcock film. And it has the painful inevitability and universal menace of The Omen.
Chabrol has described it as the last Marxist movie. I can see what heís getting at. One of the underlying themes of this film is something not often discussed in our society - how real and enduring the rifts between social classes are, and how people in different social strata often see the worst in each other without stopping to second-guess the stereotypes they rely on. People from different classes might think they understand those different from them, but often they donít. And even if they sincerely wanted to understand each other they often lack the vaguest clue about how to go about doing that. They adopt the well-meaning responses of their class, not realizing that these behaviors are inherently those of their own class. As to how this tension fits into the film, the lead characters all perform a number of slights upon others that they themselves donít think anything of. But the interpretations of these slights by those of another class can leave dark, festering wounds, and gradually this builds up and sets in motion a horrific conclusion. That the objects of this fury are as kind and appealing as any screen characters you are likely to see makes it that much harder to watch. But their fate is what their fate is Ė they are wrapped up in a history and structure broader than themselves, one they are not aware of and cannot be saved from.
While everything from Chabrolís direction to the prominent use of Mozart deserves mention, I want to save special praise for the acting. Sandrine Bonnaire and the four actors who play the Lelievre family (including the ever lovely Jacqueline Bisset) are all very good. Isabelle Huppert is so good that Iím having trouble thinking of a word to describe her performance. She really is one of the best actors working today and itís a shame more Americans are not familiar with her work.
I doubt I will watch this movie again for a long time. It's that dark. But as thrillers go, this is probably one of the best of the last decade.
Does everybody remember the story a few weeks ago about the FBI sting operation that netted a couple of people from Albany (one an Islamic Imam) for trying to launder money that would be made from the sale of a couple of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles? Remember this? There were no missiles, or terrorists. The FBI made the whole story up, and tried to get some people to be involved in the money laundering (not the terrorism). It smelled of entrapment then - the FBI (using an informant who was up on mail fraud charges) went to them to ask about laundering the money.
Nope, not entrapment, just incompetence. It turns out that the FBI may have been going after entirely innocent people. The Albany Times Union reports yesterday that the reason the FBI glommed onto these men was that one of them had been referred to as a "commander" in a journal found in a "terrorist camp" in Iraq.
Those facts, inconveniently, turn out to be wrong. The FBI accepted the Army's translation of the Kurdish "commander." They didn't check it. It turned out to be "brother." Oops. Additionally, the "terrorist camp" was more like a camp for Iraqi insurgents, and had no link to global terrorism. Double Oopsie. Hey, Aref and Hossain, sorry about the whole arrest thing and the press conferences that made you out to be enemies of America. No hard feelings, right?
What's even worse about this is that you would expect the stories that make national headlines to be backed up by better evidence. If this is the standard of investigation for something this big, what is the FBI doing with the everyday stuff? Or not doing. It also makes me want to start drinking before noon.
(Story found through The Light of Reason, part of some new links we put up.)
Well, that's the way the General puts it.
Do they still teach civics in schools across the country? Or journalism? Or vocabulary words? I ask since I frequently hear people decrying "censorship" when they complain that they can't see F911 at their local multiplex. I wish Before Sunset would come to town, but I don't presume to have a constitutional right that requires the local movie-house to broadcast it.
I sure as hell don't agree with him all of the time, but it's because of opinions like this one that I'd really like to see Alex Kozinski fill the next "conservative" opening on the US Supreme Court. He's a great writer, and he's more willing than many of his brethern to protect the civil rights of individuals. And as seen here, he has an appreciation for how technological changes affect American society and, in turn, our cultural and legal traditions.
UPDATE: Eugene Volokh has some good things to say about this dissent too.
Am I the only person who's a little bit surprised at the man-handling of the electoral process that the political parties have been engaged in this year? After McCain-Feingold was upheld dozens of stories were written about how the decision was going to weaken the role of the political parties. But it seems that the parties themselves didn't acknowledge their supposed death, and lately they've been working as hard or harder than ever. Consider just this very incomplete list: redistricting in Texas, dropping rich smiling faces into big races (say someone named Coors), funneling money to extremist candidates (say, just as a for instance, men named Nader and Sharpton) who will supposedly weaken and embarrass the other side, trying to push the governor of New Jersey into an even early unplanned retirement, getting members of the other party to switch parties, continuing the long-standing tradition of machine politics in the Chicago congressional delegation, the weird acid trip the Illinois Republicans apparently took together when selecting their US Senate nominee ... I could go on and on. And lately they don't even bother to hide it. In this story on an upcoming US House primary in Southern Louisiana we see that the Republican party is openly backing Billy Tauzin III (R-Nepotism) who is being challenged by State Senator Craig Romero (R-New Iberia). One can certainly say that all of this is par for the course. But it's interesting that it appears that the weakening of centralized party management that many predicted in the wake of McCain-Feingold doesn't appear to have occurred. I suppose one could perhaps even make an argument that it has strengthened the hand of the parties. Perhaps with more active actors in the process they are less willing to leave certain things to chance (ummm, primary elections) than they were before.
Now remind me why the president has not stepped up to a microphone and announced he is going to push to have the US Constitution changed to allow non-"natural born" Americans run for president? I think it's a winner substantively and politically. And as this story shows, it would create a situation under which one of the GOP's most popular politicians could seek the country's highest office. While things can certainly change long before the '08 race kicks off, the popularity of the governor of California is quite impressive, and so far he has shown a considerable level of political acumen. And of course if he stays popular he could put California in play in a national race (the Democrats worst nightmare, and something that no one named Bush or Dole has had vaguest clue how to do). And yes I have made this point before. But in a time when even Barbara Boxer looks like a lock for reelection, and demographic patterns probably look pretty bad for Republicans in the state, this seems like such an obvious gambit that the lack of movement on this mystefies me.
There wasn't much in this article (free, but sign in required) that was new news to me, but it does do a pretty good job of describing two issues:
First, the whole issue of mountaintop removal. How anyone can think the practice of taking off the entire top of a mountain, dumping the literally tons of rock and dirt into the valleys next door, and removing the coal now exposed underneath is somehow, someway environmentally neutral is beyond me. Before: a mountain and a valley. After: a big, flat space. This is not something that will look "natural" after a few years (or even a few centuries). This is permanently changing the landscape, and not in a good way.
Second, the issue of regulatory versus legislative power. No one likes Congress. At least, however, with Congress you get public push and pull (debate) over issues. When the executive makes regulatory changes that have the force of overturning entire laws, the only alternative to preventing these changes is litigation. There is no real public debate or vote. And when you combine this with this executive's contempt and willful ignorance of policy and science (yes, I'm beating this dead horse again), you get frighteningly ignorant shifts in policy that do real damage to the future of the country. There is a reason many people (from both sides of the isle) argue that the best laws come from divided government - at least then you get debate and compromise.
A couple of quick site notes.
First, we've added a new section to the right that lists the five posts that have the most recent comments, and links to the last comment made to each. Hopefully, putting people up on the web will encourage more of you to add your two cents.
Second, we've added a Movable Type plug-in that blocks comment spam, which we were starting to have trouble with. You shouldn't have any problems posting comments, but if you get rejected, please send us an email and we'll fiddle with the plug-in's settings. Hopefully, we'll get it right.
Third, we want to give public thanks to both Elise and Jay Allen. Elise provided the code for the "recent comments" section and the link to Jay Allen, who wrote the MT Blacklist Plug-In. Both sites are well worth perusing if you use and operate Movable Type.
(And it didn't work out well then, either.)
I check the NYT at the end of the day, and see this wonderful piece of news. The FBI is interviewing known political protestors before the Republican Convention next month. They claim it is legal to do this, and that they are focused only on "possible crimes, not political dissent" at the convention, and that they have no intention of coercing anyone into not protesting.
Yeah, right. If the FBI showed up at my door to ask me what I was doing next month, I don't think I would take that as a gentle question. Rather, I think I would be fearful of my civil liberties, not to mention my life, liberty and ability to pursue happiness. (Just to use a phrase I heard somewhere, once or twice.)
I know Bush likes to have his campaign events/photo-ops with people who won't ask any sort of remotely threatening questions, but we are talking about the whole of New York City here: if the people want to protest, they are going to.
It's a democracy. You have to let them, no matter how much it might mess up your pretty pictures.
The Fourth R: Conflicts over Religion in America's Public Schools by Joan DelFattore, copyright 2004.Amazon Link
Brief Review: Religious and secular parents, children, administrators and politicians have disagreed about the correct/right role of religion in public education for over two hundred years. People who believe there should be religion in schools outnumber people who don't, but since they can't agree on the specific form of how religion should be there (Which text for prayers, for example), all their attempts to legislate or liticate religion end up in infighting amongst the "pro" religion camps.
This is a relatively short book (only 250 pages or so) that covers a lot of historical ground (it starts back in the early 1800s). It is excessively legal, but the author is very clear in the introduction that this is her goal: to discuss the legislation and legal cases that have led us to today's position on religion in school (OK if led by students alone, not OK if anyone else - parents, administrators, outside clergy, etc - leads the activity).
Let me be clear: I'm of the opinion that religion in any form as a part of governmental activity is dangerous. My reasoning is simple: I wouldn't want anyone judging my religious beliefs (which is what the government would be doing, if they allow establishment of a single religion), so whether I'm part of the majority or not, religion is best left to personal choice. My goal in reading this book was to learn the state of the present debate on religion in school, and see how we had got there. This book does those things very well.
Two hundred years ago the debate over religion in school was not one of is-there-or-isn't-there but (since everybody felt it should be there) was one of what-kind-should-it-be. Lawsuits (much like today) were the method of choice for most, and the original dissenters were Catholic schools arguing that the religion being taught was not what the Catholic students were learning at home. The courts back then invoked the constitution to rule that government could not promote one sect over another (Protestant over Catholic), and Congress and the local schools spent most of the next hundred or so years arguing about the correct phrases, texts and passages in order to promote a broad form of Christianity that was acceptable to everyone (any other religions were ignored).
As you might imagine, the other religions began to get in on the act, and the Courts were forced (by their own precedents) to argue that any form of religion that was promoted was the government establishing a religion, and that the schools cannot do that. The compromise position was that the government could not keep religion out of school, if the children themselves brought it in (that would violate their freedom of speech/religion). So any act that had religious content that had official sanction (graduation speeches, reading a prayer over the loudspeaker, etc.) even if performed by students was illegal, but that any action by students alone (meeting after school, prayers before football games) was OK. Which is more or less where we are now.
The book spends the first third describing the nineteenth century litigation, another third covering the landmark court cases in the 1950s and 1960s that removed religion from the classroom, and the last third talking about the failures of Congress in the 1970s and 1980s to put together legislation that would put religion back in school. As noted, the vast majority of Congress would vote for a "pro-religion" bill (whether it be prayer, teaching it, or something else is pretty much irrelevant, though most of the litigation and legislation has focused on prayer), but every time someone really tries to muscle a bill through it collapses because all the different groups and legislators cannot agree on the specific language that would work. Hence, we reach the somewhat ugly compromise position we are in (and, argues DelFattore, likely to be in for a while).
I'm not a huge fan of this subject, but this is an interesting spoke on a larger wheel. The real debate is about the nature of how much power a majority coalition should have in a democracy. The "pro-religion" people, throughout the centuries, have argued that Christianity is overwhelmingly acceptable to the vast majority of people (clearly true in the last century, but not so clearly true today, but I digress), and that if the majority wants to legislate something then just because they are the majority then they can - that, argues the majority, is what a democracy is all about. So if the majority wants prayer in school, the death penalty, a lack of science in policy decisions (see this, or to deny gays the right to marry, then they can, because they are the majority and that's what democracy is about. (Reading DelFattore's descriptions of the "pro-religion" rallies, legal papers and interviews makes this position crystal clear.)
This isn't, for me, what democracy is about. Key to democracy is to protect the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Rarely does the majority need protection, or to codify what they already mostly do. Often, however, does the minority need protection in order to allow those to carve out their own lives, based on their own personal choices - that's the key. DelFattore's book explores one part - religion in schools - of the larger debate, but it is an interesting exploration no matter which side of the religion or democracy debate you are on. Highly recommended.
Go and read this article in the Washington Post (note: free, but requires a sign-in).
I continue to be just blow away by the contempt with which this administration holds the idea of science and the policy process. I have no real objection to ideology, but when your ideology tells you to ignore the scientific method, reason, and logic then it's not a political ideology, but a religion. And that's a bad way to run a government.
This article by Matt Yglesias in The American Prospect is one of the best things I've read in weeks. We've got to get away from our People-magazine approach to politics in this country. That people vote for particular candidates on the basis of characteristics like marital fidelity or likeability is having extremely negative consequences for the country. What should matter most is fitness for office. And while George W. Bush might be an entertaining golf partner, he's out of his depth at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
Francis Fukuyamaís piece in the Summer issue of The National Interest has gotten the interest of Steve Clemons and Matthew Yglesias. As Yglesias notes, there is much in the article that is worth reading. It does remind one that a lot of the power elite in this country still refuses to confront the fact that Iraq is falling apart, that the administration did an egregious job in designing post-war policy, that many of the problems we face today were foreseen, and that the opposition we faced from traditional allies was not simply a matter of those countries being obstinate. That these things are not (and perhaps politically cannot be) acknowledged is extremely troubling if we hope to learn anything from the current crisis, and improve the situation at hand. Add on to that the fact that our failures in Iraq will make it even more unlikely that Americans will be supportive of nation-building in the future (not that they thought much of nation-building before Iraq), and we are left with a key thrust of our foreign policy being completely unhinged from reality.
Fukuyama concludes his article by calling for some basic changes in tactics in American foreign policy. We need to be willing to pursue basic diplomacy and coalition-building, and end a style of foreign policy bullying that is breath-taking by even American (or for that matter French) standards. We need to get it through our skulls that other countries, even our closest allies donít equate their national interest with ours. We need to build institutions within and between governments that will foster the types of norms and values we want to spread around the world. I agree with most of the points in this piece, and with these recommendations. Both Neocons and non-Neocons would be well served by pursuing these changes.
But on a central point this article comes up short. Fukuyama spends a considerable amount of time criticizing Charles Krauthammer for being exceedingly vague in laying out the conditions under which the United States should pursue a policy of regime change. However, he offers no proposed solution to this question Ė Under what circumstances should our Idealism trump the usual tenets of Realism? Fukuyamaís advice on needed changes in the means of our foreign policy is a welcome addition to the national debate. But as to the desired foreign policy ends of the Neocons, those remain as vague as ever. That vaguery in and of itself makes one wonder about the degree to which their idealism is sincere, and the degree to which it masks other motives and aims.
A couple of months ago my friend Crystal wrote me that she saw this book and thought of me (as to what that says about me, you be the judge). It has one of the best titles ever (for those of us who aren't faced with an ever-present rabbit phobia), so I decided to read it. The verdict - for some, it would be a fine book to take to the beach. It lurches into mdeiocrity at the end when it becomes a tiresomely traditional detective story with a little bit of (irrelevant) philosophy thrown in for good measure. But if you can come to terms with a less than unique ending, most of the book is entertaining. It involves the mysterious young Jack who comes to Toy Town, teams up with a teddy bear detective, and starts to investigate the murders of a string of Preadolescent Poetic Personalities (like Little Boy Blue and Humpty Dumpty). The writing can be sharp, and the discussions of what became of various fairy-tale characters after their stories can bring a cynical smile to your face. Basically it's a rather original cute diversion. So if you're looking for something to breeze through when you need to relax, you might add this to your list of things to consider.
Phil Carter's comments on Max Boot's review of General Tommy Franks' new book are well worth reading. They contain a number of important insights about planning the war again Iraq (or the failure to plan it). Carter also rightly critiques both Boot and Franks for not seeing things or not making points that they really should acknowledge, if one's goal is to explain why particular decisions were made and other decisions were not.
I suppose this is not some kind of record, but given that much of the next two weeks will be spent observing international sporting competitions I think it's worth noting that Godolphin's Crimson Palace won the Grade I Beverly D. at Arlington Park yesterday. How is she an unusal Grade I winner? She has now won races on 4 continents. Her seven wins have come in races in South Africa, Dubai, England and now the United States.
That's my response to Matt Yglesias's question. I mean there can be no question that Will's a liar, right? Matt gives but a few of the instances of this administration's mercantilist policies. That Will reports that this administration supports free trade is at the very least stretching the truth since I think one could fairly argue that this White House is the least supportive of free trade of any administration we've had in several decades. The more interesting question is why is he lying. I'd take a wild stab in the dark and say that it has something to do with his career and his wife's career and the fact that many pundits are not paid to give clearly-reasonsed commentary, but are instead elements of a particular power structure in which they are expected to play certain roles. But perhaps that's being too cynical, and he's just desperate to delude himself because he can't deal with the fact that theoretical norms he's championed for years (like the fact that Republicans are supposed to be the party of free trade) now rest in tatters.
While it's a tad early to put Oregon safely in the "Kerry" column, the size of these crowds is remarkable.
But more than what this says about political trends in Oregon, what these photos got me thinking about is that someday someone is going to decide to do something truly interesting with one of the political conventions - and that something will be to give the presidential acceptance speech outside, perhaps on a Saturday afternoon. Yes, that will cause all sorts of logistical nightmares, and step on the toes of various political and media bigwigs. But the sight of a rally in front of many thousands of happy, screaming fans outside on sunny day would reflect a call for optimism and change extremely well, and it would help make the candidate appear like a regular American (if that's a concern). Now I wouldn't expect a campaign like the Bush '04 campaign to benefit from this kind of staging. Out in the world on a sunny day is not the best place to give a "vote for me or you'll all be killed by terrorists" kind of a speech. But for some future man-(or woman)-of-the-people candidate, it'll be a great venue.
I had the following thoughts watching the opening ceremonies of the Athens Olympics. I like living statues, so I thought that bit was interesting. While I understand the need to clothe all the actors, doing so in certain cases looked peculiar if the goal was indeed partially historical verisimilitude. The break-apart sculpture was remarkable. I really liked the runner who marked all the Olympics of the past (and who stumbled or stopped to mark the war years). The new stadium is beautiful (itís a shame we donít have more Calatrava works in the United States, though the new World Trade Center PATH terminal, and if itís built the 80 South Street Tower, will be high-profile exceptions). Roger Federer rules, so it was entirely appropriate for him to be carrying the Swiss flag. And my eyes have rarely had the misfortune to gaze upon clothes as ridiculous as the outfits worn by the American delegation.
As to a more fundmental matter causing distress, while I realize that the Olympics (like professional sports) have become essentially an advertising racket, it was disheartening to see that made so clear right from the start of these games. The almost constant commercials and fact that certain things that had no reason to be in English were nonetheless in English were frequent reminders that our ability to watch the actual competitions will often take a backseat to NBCís attempts to make some cash. Hereís hoping their cloying, manufactured schmaltz doesnít take away from the real competitive dramas like the upcoming Michael Phelps vs. Ian Thorpe match-up.
I just finished Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. This novel has received a host of raves, and it won the 2001 National Book Award. While it's always hard to say which work is really the best of any year, I'm thinking that the judges of that prize may have gotten one right that year (and I say that as someone who adores Michael Chabon and really liked The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay which was, I believe, published the same year).
This book is a tremendous piece of story-telling. The characters seem painfully real. The prose is razor sharp. It vividly captures the emotional undercurrents that separate and draw together an extended family as the various family members go through a string of personal crises. It is at times disturbingly realistic. You really do feel you know these people and their pain. But while there is a certain level of grief, the book is also often quite humorous. It's worth checking out.
Liar, wildly incompetent or both? It's so hard to know what to make of the president sometimes. Witness these comments made by the president after he was asked by Larry King about his decision to continue reading a children's book to small children after being told that the World Trade Center had been attacked:
"G. BUSH: Well, I had just been told by Andrew Card that America was under attack. And I was collecting my thoughts. And I was sitting with a bunch of young kids, and I made the decision there that we would let this part of the program finish, and then I would calmly stand up and thank the teacher and thank the children and go take care of business. And I think what's important is how I reacted when I realized America was under attack. It didn't take me long to figure out we were at war. It didn't take me long to develop a plan that we would go after Al Qaeda. We went into action very quickly.
"KING: So you think the criticism was unwarranted?
"G. BUSH: Oh, I think it's easy to second-guess a moment.
"KING: What was going. . . .
"G. BUSH: What is relevant is whether or not I understand and understood then the stakes. And I recognized that we were at war. And I made a determination that we would do everything we could to bring those killers to justice and to protect the American people. That is my most solemn duty."
So he recognizes we are at war, and decides the appropriate response is to continue a photo op. How in the world does he have any credibility as a national leader if that's true? Why isn't he being more prominetly challenged on this point? Either he didn't know what was going on (which seems entirely possible, but he insists that's not true), or he should be impeached. I don't see any middle ground here. And I wonder if the people working in the Pentagon or in other airliners on that infamous day thought an extra 7 minutes of the president's attention might have been called for? Think we should ask the loved ones of the thousands who died that day?
This post by Publius is important in that it directly confronts two points we typically donít highlight often enough when discussing how democratic government can be spread around the world. First, successfully developing democratic institutions and norms usually depends on a country adopting significant economic reforms. Secondly, accomplishing and maintaining such reforms demands major structural shifts in most societies. These are matters that we should generally consider when making foreign policy, and matters that should be at the front of our mind if we attempt to democratize the world through the use of force. An invasion alone cannot accomplish democratization. Publius believes that economics is the key to transforming the Middle East, and while that might be a tad simplistic, there is a lot of truth in that statement.
There are some other key points in this post. One is that in most cases successful democratization requires engagement with elements of the ancient regime. Yes, ideologically and emotionally we find working with or buying off these elements to be distasteful, but the simple fact of the matter is that such actions have almost always been necessary to establish the stability that is required for a systemic change in the structures of government. It is unsavory, and perhaps ethically it forgives to much, but if we wish to achieve our goal we have little choice.
He also discusses some of the basic structural reasons why Iran should emerge as the next successful Middle Eastern democracy (of course Deputy Secretary of State Armitage has already referred to it as a democracy, but I presume Publius means a liberal democracy). These are excellent points, and they highlight key reasons why the invasion of Iraq can be viewed as a costly blunder, and why we should be extremely reluctant to attack Iran and foment anti-Americanism there in the near future.
Does ANYONE care about elections anymore? I mean even after Florida 2000 we've done a shoddy job of making sure ever voter's vote counts. Many Illinois Republicans probably feel betrayed by the three-ring circus staged by their party to select a US Senate Candidate. The Texas Republicans, led by US House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, carried out one of the most egregious gerrymanders in American history. Congressman Alexander of Louisiana switched parties at almost literally the last minute in order to avoid a serious electoral challenge in November. And now Democratic Congressman Bill Lipinski of Illinois is leaving the ticket months after his state's primary so that his seat in Congress can be filled by his son Dan. I've long loathed Bill Lipinski. He's exactly the sort of person we need out of Congress: status-quo oriented, interested in little more than back-room deals and funneling the country's money into his district. So I'm glad he'll be leaving. And if nothing else, his son is supposedly an extremely capable guy (he was one of the hottest properties on the political science job market when he got his Ph.D.). But if would be terribly refreshing if politicians actually let voters decide elections instead of continually manipulating the rules and the lines to keep themselves and their allies in power.
Discussing a variety of works on the subject, Kevin Drum suggests that we'll reach the peak of world oil production in 5-10 years.
"Dereliction of Duty: Lydon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Lies that Led to Vietnam", by H.R. McMaster. Copyright 1997.
Brief Review: President plays politics with foreign wars in order to further domestic agenda. Joint Chiefs fail to demand policy debate (public or private) on goals of war. Are forced to fight to achieve contradictory goals with inadequate resources. America loses.
(Oh, yeah, this happened in 1965, not 2003.)
No, this isn't the "Dereliction of Duty" (by Patterson) that came out recently that raked Bill Clinton over the coals (yet again) for various national security failures during his administration (different author entirely - this one's not a right-wing nut job). This one is a doctoral dissertation turned into a decent work of regular non-fiction (the huge volume of footnotes gives it away). This book examines the political, bureaucratic and personal relationship between Johnson, McNamara and all the Joint Chiefs of Staff with respect to the decision to escalate American involvement in Vietnam, specifically looking at the period between November 1963 (when Kennedy was assasinated and Johnson became president) and July 1965 (when the US escalated troop strength in Vietnam above 100,000).
The thesis of the book is that Johnson deliberately played politics with the war, being vague about goals or outcomes in order to avoid antagonizing the left or the right (and retain more domestic political power in order to further the "Great Society" programs), resulting in a war that was not planned or executed in any fashion that allowed a success (which, as noted, was undefined). In other words, domestic political considerations had a higher priority than foreign ones, which encouraged the President to avoid making hard decisions (i.e., unpopular with one side or the other) on Vietnam.
But the book is not an indictment of Johnson, or Congress (who should be the constitutional check or balance to the President, but failed to act in this case); the book is an indictment of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They collectively failed to provide the President with military advice about the successful prosecution of the war, choosing instead to use their positions to advocate for their own services and for their own personal solutions to the Vietnam problem. Lemay (Air Force Chief of Staff) believed that we had to fight and use any means necessary to defeat the Communists and North Vietnamese, and that the Air Force is the best (most effective) way to remove them, without the need for all those green uniforms (the Army). The Army representative to the JCS (another, unrelated, Johnson) privately believed that the number of troops necessary to defeat the insurgency was somewhere north of 500,000 (remember, at this time the US had about 50,000 in Vietnam, and this was in 1965), but failed to articulate this pessimistic view to anyone outside the JCS, including President Johnson himself.
Clearly, many things went wrong in order to get the US into the quagmire that would become our war there, but I had not run across the argument that the JCS system (put in place in order to keep politics out of the military) itself failed. No one is so naive to believe that political considerations are left out of military policy, but the degree to which the professional military failed to articulate the clearly seen and easiliy demonstrated problems with the political (Johnson) direction of the war are breathtaking. And the degree to which the policy process is subverted to political goals (factfinding missions where the results are known before anyone leaves, Congressional committee hearings where it is agreed ahead of time what will be released/discussed, etc.) leaves no doubt as to why the policies all failed, at a cost of 50,000 American lives (and many times over Vietnamese lives).
All in all, an interesting book. It is a bit cumbersome and unwieldly, but that is to be expected from a dissertation. It's an interesting take on a subject not heavily studied - the military's failure to advocate for sensible policy planning in order to recieve political direction that allows them to win a war.
We can have no idea whether the events discussed, and lessons drawn, have parallels to the present events in Iraq. Certianly, from today's vantage point, it looks like military leaders are being forced to toe party lines (Rumsfeld playing McNamara), to the detriment of good planning and effective military operations (both pre-, during and post-conflict). But we won't know how disfunctional the Joint Chiefs system performed in this war until years later, when all the relevant individuals (political and military) get to speak their minds through memoirs and biographies. As of now this book allows for interesting historical evidence of past policy failures, and perhaps reveals to us one particlar path where present events might have gone wrong. Recommended for people who have an interest in these subjects.
So I finally picked up The French Kicks album The Trial of The Century, and I'm very glad I did. Yes, it shares certain characteristic sounds with The Walkmen and The Strokes. And yes, if you liked their earlier stuff, their sound has become more synth-heavy, lush and, dare I say it, pretty. But so what? Good songs are good songs, and this album has several. A similar sound doesn't make it derivative, and there's nothing inherently negative about a shift in style. If this kind of thing generally matches your tastes you should check it out. It's a very fine album.
While his selections must still be approved by the European Parliament, the new leadership team of the European Union has been announced by President Jose Manuel Durao Barroso of Portugal. This is the first commission under the new system in which each of the 25 member states have 1 representative (before the last enlargement each of the 5 largest countries had 2). In terms of the posts most likely to be of interest to Americans, Germany's representative received the Industry portfolio, and, as expected, the United Kingdom's Peter Mandelson will be the EU's new Trade Commissioner.
Earlier I noted Congressman Rodney Alexander's despicable behavior, switching parties in a way that essentially blocked any sort of real two-party competition in his district this year. It turns out that he might have been too clever by half. You can find posts here and here discussing the very real possibility that his actions violated Louisiana election law. A lawsuit has been filed, and it appears entirely possible that he'll be removed from the November ballot. To a man who has such little respect for fair elections I say good riddance.
The Silent Movie Theater in Hollywood had been planning to screen D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation, one of the most influential movies in early-American cinema. The theater has canceled this showing though in response to threatening telephone calls, and a promised protest by the L.A. chapter of the NAACP. This is really unfortunate. Showing and watching a movie in no way conveys an acceptance of the political views that a particular film maker wanted to convey. And actions like this imperil our ability to learn more about our past. While it might be an ugly piece of American history, it is, nonetheless, a piece of American history. And on top of that you'd think the NAACP would have more important things to do than people's ability to go see a movie in Los Angeles.
Via Juan Non-Volokh I see that the French government is considering classifying wine as nourishment. Given recent health studies that show small quantities of wine are actually good for you, I don't see much of a problem with that. Spain has already taken such action. But given that we don't even let 20 year-olds buy it, and that we put "sin" taxes on it, I doubt our government will take any sort of similar action.
Whatever happened to Fay Wray? That delicate satin draped frame As it clung to her thigh, how I started to cry Cause I wanted to be dressed just the same...
A massive, 24-hour, transnational computer communications network, IGC services 17 United Nations offices, 40,000 activists, some of the radical stripe and a legion of non-government organizations in more than 133 countries. The Tidesí octopus of the electronic communications world got its start back in 1987, when the England-based GreenNet began collaborating with IGC, which operates PeaceNet, EcoNet, ConflictNet and LaborNet in the U.S. According to an APC Internet historical account, the two giant networks began sharing their electronic conference materials and "demonstrated that transnational electronic communications could serve international, as well as domestic committees working for peace, human rights and the environment." By late 1989, the IGC network included Canada (Web), Sweden (NordNet), Brazil (AlterNex), Nicaragua (Nicaro) and Australia (Pegasus).
While we can treat Alan Keyes as some sort of sad joke, we can't treat Tom Coburn the same way since he is likely going to be the next US Senator from Oklahoma. You might not expect a doctor would be a big advocate of killing, but has been noted before, he has advocated executing abortion providers. And here we see that last year (yes, after 9/11 changed everything) he declared that the biggest threat to our freedom is ... gays. What did the rest of the country do to Oklahoma that would lead it to force Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn on the rest of us?
This article is an brief review of the history of the death penalty in Virginia (the state/colony that has executed more people than any other since it was founded in the 17th century). It's filled with a variety of interesting details such as the description of gibbeting and the fact that in the past people could be executed for theft. For those of you interested in the history of how race affects the imposition of the death penalty, it's probably of interest that of the 1,369 people executed in Virginia, 1,119 of them were black.
Alan Keyes has officially accepted the offer the the Republican leadership of Illinois. He will be their candidate against Barack Obama in November. This should be highly entertaining. While I might comment on him from time to time, there is no way I'll ever be able to keep up with all the scary things he says, or the multitude of ways he finds to embarrass himself. I'd say if you want to stay abreast of Keyes Mania 24-7 for the rest of the campaign, visiting Archpundit is probably your best bet. So go over there and laugh, cry and cringe.
Bloodless Coup went to the movies yesterday to see Jonathan Demme's The Manchurian Candidate. While I can't speak for my colleagues, I found it to be a ponderous bore. Demme has completely lost his ability to create a suspenseful situation, and the script was filled with tired cliches. Liev Schreiber and Meryl Streep did fine jobs with what they had to work with (as did Jeffrey Wright in a small role), but the script really was dreadful. I was not impressed with Denzel Washington (to put it mildly). The less said about the Kimberly Elise character, the better. That is not so much a reflection on Ms. Elise as it is the fault of screenwriters who were apparently determined to smother any aspect of the character (played by Janet Leigh in the original) that was remotely subtle, clever, or the least bit unexpected.
If you're interested in this story, go rent the original. It's exponentially better.
This post by Juan Cole provides some background information on the man who is viewed as Grand Ayatollah Sistani's likely heir.
First Barbara Ehrenreich, now Dahlia Lithwick. As many other bloggers have noted, it's a real shame that The New York Times doesn't force Tom Friedman to stay on vacation (and send Dowd and Safire to some undisclosed location with him). His substitutes are writing the kind of thoughtful prose about important issues that one wishes was on the op-ed page of that once-august paper on a regular basis.
Matt at Basket Full of Puppies posts on an interesting story from the New York Times. No matter which Labor Department numbers you use, Democratic presidents have created more jobs than Republican presidents. And I don't mean on average. Going back over half a century every Democratic presidency has seen more jobs created than every Republican presidency. That's really startling.
And one other troubling thing to think about (when considering the current state of the economy) ... In case you didn't notice it in all the tales of woe that accompanied the release of July's terrible job growth numbers, it was also announced that the previous announcement of the number of jobs created in June (which low to start with) was inaccurate. Tens of thousands of fewer jobs had been created. So keep in mind that when we get the full analysis for July, the numbers may be even worse.
You can add one name (and put it in bold and a huge font) to the list of politicians who are little more than arrogant, self-involved scoundrels. Congressman Rodney Alexander of Louisiana switched parties yesterday. He'd flirted with a switch months ago, represents a conservative area, and apparently he's been promised a seat on the Appropriations mega-committee by Hastert-DeLay-Blunt and company. So the switch itself isn't that surprising. What really makes me hope he loses though is how he switched parties. He switched on the last minute of filing for the fall elections, thereby making it impossible for the Democrats to field a strong candidate against him in the fall. So the Republicans will presumably hold that seat for the next 29 months without any possibility of inter-party competition. I just love the level of respect he has for the system that put him into office, the system of government our soldiers are dying to defend.
Ralph Fiennes has been cast as Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The movie, which will also see Miranda Richardson joing the ensemble cast, will be released in November 2005.
Dave Sirota notes that as Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney worked against the creation of a Director of National Intelligence in the George H.W. Bush administration. Could this have anything to do with the George W. Bush adminsitration's bid to create a powerless DNI?
If at first you don't get Mike Ditka ...
Failing to find a prospective nominee from among the 12.6 million people of their own state, the Republicans of Illinois have chosen to import the firey and, errr, eccentric Alan Keyes in from Maryland to be their nominee for the U.S. Senate. It would appear that having lost two Senate races there by colossal margins did not count against him. Neither did his reactionary political views, nor his comments about the propriety of residents of one state running for office in another.
I was afraid that the Democrats were tempting fate by treating Barack Obama's election to the US Senate as a foregone conclusion. But if Keyes is his opponent it is indeed time to start considering office space and measuring for drapes.
UPDATE: Well, what do you know. It looks like Illinois isn't the second state Keyes has tried to get to elect him to the US Senate - it's the third. Apparently in May of 1998 he asked for the Libertarian nomination to take on Republican Senator Al D'Amato of New York. The Libertarians turned him down.
Dahlia Lithwick considers what we know and what we don't know about the meaning of the Lawrence decision in this column on the 11th Circuit upholding Alabama's law banning the sale of sex toys. Whether you love or loathe Lawrence it's important to be aware of these points. And it's worth remembering the line at the end of the second paragraph - "everyone's a judicial activist when it comes to interpreting vague cases."
Law professor Eric Muller is examining Michelle Malkin's controversial new book defending racial profiling and the internment of Japanese Americans in World War II over on The Volokh Conspiracy. You can find some of the highlights here, here, here, here, and here. I think it's this kind of work that is one of the best things about blogs - serious thinkers commenting on important issues in a timely manner. As to the book, it appears to be a really shoddy piece of supposed scholarship.
This is outrageous. He owns one of the premier conservative news outlets in the country. He's celebrated by members of Congress like Curt Weldon, Charlie Rangel, Phil Crane and Danny Davis. He's honored by the Bush family. Oh, and incidentally, he may be funneling arms and money to the North Korean regime.
A lot of election analysts are of the opinion that Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle is the only incumbent Democrat in the US Senate in danger of being denied another term this fall. While I am inclined to agree at this point in the campaign season, more and more I wonder if there is not another Senate seat that both parties should be looking at very closely. The latest Survey USA poll has come out on the Washington Senate race between incumbent Patty Murray and her Republican challenger Congressman George Nethercutt. Murray currently leads the race, 51-40. Nethercutts' numbers have improved since the last poll, while Murray's have shown only a slight increase. She only leads by 9 points among self-described Independents. While Washington tends to lean to the Democrats in national campaigns, this race could turn out to be much tighter than people expect, and an upset is definitely not out of the question.
The consensus seems to be that yesterday Missouri Democrats took a big step forward in retaining the governorship of that perenial swing state by defeating Gov. Holden's bid for a second term. Instead the their nominee will be State Auditor Claire McCaskill (the Democrats also nominated women for Lt. Governor and Secretary of State). McCaskill faces current Secretary of State Matt Blunt (son of US House Majority Whip Roy Blunt) in the general election in November. It's expected to be one of the tightest gubenatorial races of the fall.
There's an interesting map in the new issue of The Atlantic. It shows proportion of religious adherents in the United States by county. While there are certainly centers of believers outside the area (Utah, Massachusetts and Rhode Island for example), the highest concentartion of religious Americans seems to be in a somewhat trapezoidal area that runs from New Mexico and Alabama in the South to Wisconsin and the Dakotas in the North. As most would expect, you find the fewest religious adherents in the Pacific Northwest. But what I found most interesting about the map is that there is a large swath of the country that runs from Michigan, through Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and south down the Atlantic coast, where the concentration of religious believers is markedly lower than it is to the West in the "heartland". I don't know what explains this variation, but given that these areas (including much of Appalachia and the Tidewater) are not usually considered to be rampantly secular, it is a striking graphic.
OK, "hero" might be a little bit strong. But as Bryan Caplan reminds us here, he shares some key perspectives with conservatives. It would be refreshing if more Republicans acknowledged that he isn't some crazed, partisan hack when discussing his columns.
The future composition of the Israeli government remains as unclear as it has for several weeks (for the latest, see this). But a key act may very well have occurred recently that could have long-term implications. Shinui, the ardently centrist, secular party whose rise was perhaps the biggest story of the last election cycle may very well have greviously injured itself by agreeing to sit the cabinet with the ultra-orthodox UTJ party. Refusing to take part in a government that included the ultra-orthodox was probably their #1 election promise. This enormous ideological concession gives ample basis for the leftist parties (Labor and Meretz-Yahad) to win back some of the voters they lost to Shinui. One should always be wary of presuming that Labor can win an election when it's headed by Shimon Peres, and it's not clear what kind of following Yossi Beilin can muster for his newly restructured party, but Shinui appears to have just given voters concerned about the influence of the ultra-orthodox very little reason to trust them.
Phil Carter notes some intriguing changes in the Army's professional reading lists. While there are some things on these lists that give me pause (why on Earth is the Clash of Civilizations required? is a Friedman book the most we should expect of senior leaders who want to understand globalization?) there are some others that appear to be valueable additions.
At least not a director who has anything remotely resembling the role envisaged by the 9/11 Commission. In suggesting that he is following the commission's recommendation, the president is conveying a familiar lack of candor. Josh Marshall discusses some of the key differences between what the commission called for and and what the president is proposing here. That the president doesn't give this would-be figurehead budgetary authority tells you all you need to know. In a Bush II administration this job would be close to meaningless, no matter who occupies the position. Intelligence would still largely be run out of the Defense Department in the next Bush term, and since the civilian leadership of the DOD has done such a bang-up job in the current Bush administration, one presumes we would see more of the same for another 4 years. (Un)lucky us.
But really Marshall's brief post doesn't even capture the sham that the president's proposal is. If you go back and read all of the commission's report it's clear that they want a director with exceedingly broad powers that will have an ability to reach down into a broad swath of federal agencies. I'm not sure that level of bureacratic overhaul is required. But in any event Bush's ersatz director is a different animal altogether. And I don't see that adding such a toothless functionary would do much of anything to really fix the problems in the intelligence structure that the 9/11 Commission illustrated in great detail.>
George W. Bush must be removed from office in November. He is so out of touch with reality, so insulated from critical thought that doesn't fit with particular ideologies, that he's making decisions that very clearly imperil the lives of millions of Americans. I can't think of any cogent argument that can be made to defend this action. Baffling doesn't come close to describing it. Sadly, "so astonishingly dangerous as to border on both criminal and clinically unhinged" comes much closer to describing it.
Binky and I made it out to see The Bourne Supremacy on Saturday. That's one summer blockbuster that measures up to the hype - or in this case to the hipness it has tried to convey by its lack of hype (I'm still wondering about what this no-marketing approach to marketing means to the future of marketing). It's well-acted (though with Joan Allen and Brian Cox in the major supporting roles you should already know that), taut, and has multiple great car chases. Hey even the closing credits are good (both the background visuals and the music).
Atrios has a post up about the filthy scum of the Earth that we had occupying the White House in the late 1960's and early 1970's. The new issue of The Atlantic has transcripts of Nixon's tapes illustrating what a vile human being he was. And of course at this point there are a host of histories that tell the gruesome story of the reign of Nixon, Agnew, Mitchell, Liddy, etc. in stomach-turning detail.
I mention this to bring up a general line of questions. To those who say we shouldn't criticize a president in war time, is that an absolute rule? Should we make exceptions for presidents who are trying to assassinate their political opponents? What is the line that has to be crossed to allow for criticism to be warranted? Should we let a president have the authority to tear the constitution to shreds just beacuse challenging him matches the aims of an enemy? What kind of America will we be if we are willing to accept that?