March 31, 2005

The M.T.A. Backs the Jets

The M.T.A. approving the sale of the railyards on the West Side is far from the last hurdle standing in the way of the construction of the new Jets stadium that Mayor Bloomberg hopes to make the centerpiece his plans for rebuilding much of the city. And of course New York might not even win this summer's vote that will determine which city will host the 2012 Olympics, so it's extremely premature to talk about the stadium as the home of those games, or even the 2010 Super Bowl that Paul Tagliabue has promised will be held in New York if the city and Woddy Johnson can get the thing built by 2009. Nevertheless, for proponents of the stadium, this is an important step and a big day.

Posted by armand at 02:07 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack


There is a convenience store located in the student union across from my office. We are a Coke campus, so it's no surprise that it sells Coke products. But nonetheless I am very puzzled at the selection they provide. Today, seeking a 12 oz. can of soda, I was presented with 4 choices: Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite and Fresca. Yes ... and Fresca! Is there some new Fresca craze that I've so far missed out on? I associate that beverage with an age in which Kate Jackson dominated America's TV screens. Is it suddenly the choice of the Britney generation? And if so, what advertising genius pulled that off?

Posted by armand at 12:34 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Foreign Relations Democrats Unanimously Opposed to Bolton?

Music to my ears:

Democrats are likely to vote unanimously against John R. Bolton when his nomination to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations comes before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee next week, according to Democratic and Republican lawmakers and aides.

It would be the first time that committee Democrats unanimously opposed a Bush diplomatic selection, and it could put the nomination in peril if any Republicans defected to vote against Bolton.

I wouldn't count on Russ Feingold voting against Bolton just yet since he voted to confirm him to his current job at State (like he voted to confirm Condi Rice and John Ashcroft to their jobs). But supposedly he's rethinking his position on Bolton. And while there are no clear signs that there is a Republican vote against him on the committee, Lincoln Chafee's indecision on the matter at least gives those of us opposed to Bolton some hope.

There are 10 Republicans and eight Democrats on the Foreign Relations Committee. If Chafee switched, creating a 9-9 tie, it would probably kill the nomination, two GOP Senate aides said.

It remains unlikely that this egregious appointment can be stopped - but it's fate seems to rest in the hands of Russ Feingold, Lincoln Chafee and Richard Lugar. And given the norms of behavior in Bush & DeLay-run DC, well, having those three deciding things gives me an unusual level of (probably delusional) optimism that the right outcome might still happen - that this incompetent manager and menace to American interests doesn't become the face the US presents to the world.

Posted by armand at 11:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Patrick Kennedy Won't Run Against Lincoln Chafee

Congressman Kennedy is out, just days after Congressman Langevin declined to run a race against Senator Chafee (R-RI). This is good news for the Republican party, Lincoln Chafee, and Secretary of State Matt Brown, the only announced Democrat in the race. Langevin and Kennedy appeared to be the most obvious obstacles to his nomination. But both of those men have announced their support for what seems to be an increasingly likely Senate bid by former Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, so there may still be a heated primary for the party's nomination against Chafee. Many analysts think that would help Chafee win reelection, though it's probably worth pointing out that a number of Republicans who faced tough primaries in 2004 won difficult general election contests against strong nominees from the other party (though in some cases those races were in strongly Republican states like South Carolina and Oklahoma).

Posted by armand at 09:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 30, 2005

The Draft is Unconstitutional - So Says Chief Justice Taney

True, he never made such a ruling in a case that came before him. And some would argue that if you are looking for allies to make your case, well, invoking Taney's name dredges up a fair amount of historical baggage - even if he did write a brilliant draft opinion. But nonetheless, this find by Will Baude sounds fascinating and should be of interest to people interested in the politics of the Civil War and/or the issue of the draft in the 21st century. Clearly the draft isn't going to be ruled unconstitutional by the courts today - but it's interesting to think of the effects of this argument if it had come down as a ruling of the Court shortly before Taney's death.

Posted by armand at 09:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rev./Sen./Amb. John Danforth Says Christian Conservatives Are Ruining the Republican Party

"The only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law."

Not pulling any punches is he. And this from a stalwart Republican who may well have been the initial Vice Presidential choice of the Bush campaign in 2000. Danforth was one of the administration's most effective advocates of prioritizing in US foreign policy many of the liberal, idealistic principles that the president and his conservative Christian base frequently embrace. And of course he is an Episcopal minister himself. But he thinks that the Christian right has done terrible damage to his political party. He contrasts the party he sees today with the stances Republicans took when he was in the US Senate (1977-1995), representing the people of an area that sees itself as the heartland of America (Missouri):

"We believed in limited government, in keeping light the burden of taxation and regulation. We encouraged the private sector, so that a free economy might thrive. We believed that judges should interpret the law, not legislate. We were internationalists who supported an engaged foreign policy, a strong national defense and free trade. These were principles shared by virtually all Republicans.

But in recent times, we Republicans have allowed this shared agenda to become secondary to the agenda of Christian conservatives. As a senator, I worried every day about the size of the federal deficit. I did not spend a single minute worrying about the effect of gays on the institution of marriage. Today it seems to be the other way around.

The historic principles of the Republican Party offer America its best hope for a prosperous and secure future. Our current fixation on a religious agenda has turned us in the wrong direction. It is time for Republicans to rediscover our roots."

I greatly hope Danforth's plea is heard, and his party mends its ways. But I doubt that will come to pass for many years to come.

Posted by armand at 08:47 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Sweet Charity is Back On

It appears that producers just can't say no to Christina Applegate. Days after the revival of Sweet Charity was canceled before ever making it to Broadway - with tales of ruinous ticket sales and ho-hum reviews filling the papers - the powers funding the show, including Clear Channel Communications, have decided to proceed with it after all. The show's opening night on Broadway will be May 4 - coincidentally (not) the final day of elligibility to be considered for this year's Tony awards.

Posted by armand at 12:48 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Your One Stop Source for Social Security News

To be perfectly honest, I don't read Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo as carefully as I once did. I think he's performing an incredibly valuable service in devoting so much attention to the Social Security debates - but it's just not something that energizes me. Still I hope some people, including Democratic political operatives, are reading it, because it's a great source of information that could be drawn on to justifiably attack unprincipled Republicans in marginal districts in the next election cycle. For example, I really hope the party is going to try to find a strong candidate to oppose Chris Chocola in Indiana. And speaking of the unprincipled, of course another virtue of Marshall's writing is that he remains an amusing source of razor-sharp jabs at hypocrisy - like this post noting that the Club for Growth "bashes (Lindsey) Graham for considering raising taxes rather than being a principled conservative and just borrowing the money".

Posted by armand at 10:13 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 29, 2005

The Lazy Bird... Hilzoy get the worm. This post at ObWi takes on the judicial activism problem that I have been fiddling with for ages, though while my focus (might eventually be) on the lunatic fringe, Hilzoy deals with a broader group. Lots of lively debate, too

Still sick. Still grateful for Armand and Baltar holding down the fort. Still thinking maybe grading midterms with sneezes all over them should be done in a hazmat suit

Posted by binky at 06:25 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

This Continues to Not Bode Well

Iraq, close to two months since the election, continues to muddle along without any form of government. I realize this isn't really news to anyone, but I did think it worth pointing out. Some highlights:

Prominent politicians also said in interviews that the delay in forming a government could force the assembly to take an extra half-year to write the permanent constitution, pushing the deadline for a first draft well beyond the original target date of Aug. 15. That means the delay could significantly throw off the timetable for the establishment of a full-term democratically elected government. (Emphasis mine.)

I'm sure that everyone in Iraq will nicely sit on their hands and wait calmly thoughout the delay. Especially the Sunnis, who don't have any seats to speak of in this parliament.

The part of the meeting today that was open to reporters lasted only 20 minutes. After Mr. Sadr vented his frustrations over the protracted talks, the second member to do so, the temporary head of the assembly, Sheik Dhari al-Fayadh, suggested that the television feed from the room be switched off. Some members protested, saying the public should be allowed to see the proceedings, but the feed was discontinued nonetheless.

No government, but at least they have open, wait, sorry: they don't have that either.

The politicians also said they were trying to negotiate with Sunni Arab leaders to see what government posts the Sunnis might be willing to take. The former governing Sunni Arabs largely boycotted the elections, and some of them are now struggling to organize themselves to take part in the new government. Haichem al-Hassani, a prominent Sunni politician and the minister of industry, said the Shiites and Kurds were trying to "impose on the Sunnis who they should appoint for different positions." Mr. Haichem said he is vying for the post of minister of defense, responsible for overseeing the Iraqi Army. (Emphasis mine.)

I'm sure that putting a Sunni in charge of the Army will make everyone else feel better. After all, there is no recent history in Iraq of the Sunnis being violent to any other ethnic group...

If they can't agree on who's going to run the temporary govenment, how are they going to agree on the permenant constitution?

Posted by baltar at 12:44 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bill Quick Rebukes Republicans

The Republicans are no longer the party of small, limited government, fiscal sanity, states and individual rights, and the Constitution. In their own way, they have become as bloated, hypocritical, invasive, and spendthrift as much of the worst the Democrats have to offer.

He offers 11 specifc examples of this, a list that he notes is far from inclusive of all their recent egregious errors. I don't agree with all of his views, but it strikes me that both the first three things and the last three things on his list are hugely important and cut right to the heart of his position.

Via Dan Drezner.

Posted by armand at 12:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

High-Tech Dead Soldiers

I have no initial objection to a "high-tech" army. Our technology (especially our military technology) is so far ahead of anyone else that comparisons are useless. Of course, to achieve that we spend money on military technology like a drunk sailor at his last bar before a six-month trip in a submarine. It was the level of our technology that allowed us to just brush aside Iraq's formal army in the war 2 years ago.

So I'm happy to see Rumsfeld pushing "Future Combat", the system he envisions as the integration of high-tech weapons, communication, information technologies and low-weight (to ease deployment issues and make it faster for us to get soliders anywhere we want them). This sounds fine. However, it should be noted that most of the deployments by the Army aren't for the purpose of running over someone (like Saddam), but are instead for low-intensity, peacekeeping operations (Bosnia, Kosovo, East Timor, Afghanistan, post-invasion Iraq - just to name the headlines). Thus, the average soldier should not only be integrated into the new technological army, but should also be protected from any ol' random IED. Thus, paragraphs like this make me nervous:

The Army wants Future Combat to be a smaller, faster force than the one now fighting in Iraq. Tanks, mobile cannons and personnel carriers would be made so light that they could be flown to a war zone. But first they must be stripped of heavy armor. In place of armor, American soldiers in combat would be protected by information systems, so they could see and kill the enemy before being seen and killed, Army officials say.

So, we take all the armor out of the vehicles. This makes them light and easy to transport (this is good: as noted, lighter vehicles mean you can get soldiers to where you need them much faster). In theory, "Future Combat" means that through satelite, ground-based radar and other systems, airborne sensors, etc. the US soldiers will "see" the enemy and blow them up before the enemy has a chance to even take a shot (if the enemy doesn't get to shoot at you, you don't need any armor to protect yourself). The story notes that the development work on this is getting very expensive and not working all that well. (Fine, these things often work out in the end, but end up costing a ton.)

My point, however, is what do these unarmored trucks and tanks do when the guerillas in the post-war mopping up plant home-made bombs everywhere (like, say, in Iraq about 60 times on any given day)? The lack of armor will make these vehicles tremendously vulnerable to in low-intensity conflicts (which, as I pointed out above, is mostly what we do). Thus, this recipe seems to produce some very wired dead soldiers. Hasn't anyone at the Pentagon noticed this, or is everyone so scared of Rumsfeld that they've sewn their mouths shut?

I'm all for a high-tech military. And certainly, there is a difficult balance between indestructable (lots of armor, can't move it unless you rent a supertanker) and swift (weighs nothing, blows up when a fly hits it). But lets try to restrain the high-stupidity military plans.

Posted by baltar at 12:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Medellin v. Dretke

This is one of those cases in which traditional conservative/liberal or pragmatist/non-pragmatist divides on the Court would seem to be thrown out the window because there is just soooooo much going on. There are so many different topics that the justices could pursue here. And all of it stems from (wish it was surprising) depressingly shoddy law enforcement in Texas. While the issue of the effect of international treaties on US courts is getting most of the press's attention in this case, it also involves federal/state relations, and one of the most breath-taking assertions of of presidential power this White House has made yet. And since Bush seems to think his personal authority is on par with that of, oh, let's say Charles I of England or Ivan the Terrible, that is saying something.

Click here to read Charles Lane's review of proceedings in The Washington Post, and here to read Emily Bazelon's dynamite coverage on Slate.

Posted by armand at 09:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 28, 2005

Sirota and Dobbs Urge Portman Be Defeated

Dave Sirota is absolutely right that populism sells. No question. And that's why I think one of the Democrats' best chances to win in 2008 would be to nominate someone who can effectively run against the powers that be (I can't be the only one who can easily imagine "Spitzer! Spitzer! Spitzer!" chanted by throngs of thousands - though sadly that seems unlikely to happen at a party convention in '08). But just because populism sells, that doesn't mean that it's good public policy. Have part's of Ohio's economy suffered of late? Sure. But NAFTA is hardly the only cause. And this sort of knee-jerk, let's-wall-up-the-borders invective isn't going to solve the country's trade problems. Trade issues are far too complicated to suggest that free trade is inherently "good" or "bad" - though from the perspective of the US government most economists are likely to say that if one has to choose between one extreme or the other, on balance, it's good.

Sirota is correct to note that policies could be improved. But blocking this nomination is not the way to do it.

And besides if any foreign policy nomination should be denied right now it's Bolton's not Portman's. Just today 59 retired diplomats urged the Senate not to confirm him as UN Ambassador. Expending political capital on this fight makes more sense - on both substantive and political grounds. For more on Bolton, you should regularly check The Washington Note.

Posted by armand at 09:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Dinner at Eight

This 1930's George Cukor classic was recently released on DVD. The quality of the transfer isn't superb, and honestly, though it was certainly an event in its day and features a plethora of the era's stars, the film doesn't hold up terribly well. The most obvious short-coming is that many of the actors engage in not remotely funny, hammy bluster more than, oh I don't know, acting. Still there are some bits of fun to be found in it. The film is probably best known for containing one of Jean Harlow's most famous performances, and she is entertaining. I also enjoyed Lionel Barrymore's sickly, kindly indutrialist. Billie Burke's performance as the hostess reminded me of exactly the kind of person my social-climbing grandmother would have sought to emulate. But far and away the scene stealer here is Marie Dressler as Carlotta Vance. As a character for comparison - think of what Are You being Served?'s Mrs. Slocum would have been like if she had cunningly used her (self-perceived) beauty to make a great deal of money, but over time both her looks and her fortune had faded. Not that that's led her to want to change her lifestyle one iota. She's a funny force of nature with her own sense of propriety. If you are into films of this era this is certainly worth a look. But when it comes to Cukor films of the 1930's based on theatrical works, I prefer The Women.

Posted by armand at 09:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bush & Cheney Lied About Bin Laden Being at Tora Bora

And they lied to the American people in the middle of the presidential campaign no less, when the citizenry is seeking accurate information about who does and does not have what it takes to lead the country. What will we tell the children?

Posted by armand at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Pestilence and Old Friends

A nasty sinus thing has taken over my body for the last several days, and the massive amounts of Benadryl I've been taking have left me too spacy for posting. Instead, I've been under blankies drinking gingerale and reading - sometimes re-reading - detective novels. I've been reminded how much I like the Dalziel and Pascoe stories by Reginald Hill. They are successful, as similarly successful series are, in large part because the stories are anchored in compelling characters. They are also worth reading because of Hill's ability to capture snatches of life - and their metaphorical application to police work in Yorkshire - like this:

This self-conscious pursuit of he aged was not something he understood. He liked the old oak table off which he ate his lonely breakfast (and precious little else since his wife had left him) because it was his and had been his parents'. Probably his grandparents' too; he had no idea how old it was. It didn't signify. But if he had to get another, it would be something new. This stuff was just secondhand. Evidence of your own family's use and misuse was one thing; other people's scars, scratches and grime was something quite different.

Next time you're down with the pestilence, check 'em out. And thanks to Baltar and Armand for keeping things up around here.

Posted by binky at 10:35 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Iraq: 60 Attacks a Day and More Foreign Jihadis

Since we haven't put up any links to the current situation in Iraq just recently I thought I'd link to Juan Cole's daily review of news in the region. There are links to many more stories embedded in this post.

Cole starts out with comments on a story being run by ABC.

US Generals revealed on Sunday that a) guerrillas in Iraq are able to keep the number of attacks at about 60 a day and b) that the proportion of fighters that is foreign jihadis has increased somewhat in the past few months. (The proportion seems to have been about 5 percent through last fall). The CIA is worried that the jihadis are getting training in Iraq that will allow them to contribute to destabilizing the Middle East and might impel them to attack the United States, as the veterans of the Reagan Afghanistan Jihad did. By the way, if there are 60 attacks a day, why do I only read about 7 or 8 of them?

And of course Iraq continues not to have a functioning government almost 2 whole months after elections there. This would seem to be a rather problematic sign. Not just in terms of the ability of the government to be able to perform basic tasks, but also for what it foreshadows about the process of constitution writing. The Assembly is supposed to come up with a new national constitution by August.

Posted by armand at 09:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 27, 2005

The Ford Administration and Iranian Nukes

This is interesting.

Lacking direct evidence, Bush administration officials argue that Iran's nuclear program must be a cover for bomb-making. Vice President Cheney recently said, "They're already sitting on an awful lot of oil and gas. Nobody can figure why they need nuclear as well to generate energy."

Yet Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and outgoing Deputy Secretary Paul Wolfowitz held key national security posts when the Ford administration made the opposite argument 30 years ago.

Looking beyond Cheney's ridiculous and inflammatory remarks, and the specific roles played by Cheney (then White House Chief of Staff) and Rumsfeld (he was Defense Secretary then too) in this very poorly thought out policy proposal from the past, I would like for you to briefly think about what this story might tell us about the president's plan to sell fighter jets to Pakistan. Is it really a great idea to sell dangerous jets to a military dictator with a tenuous hold on power over a country in which anti-US sentiment is extremely high?

Posted by armand at 02:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Our Ally Pakistan: Not Just Buying Our High-Tech Weaponry but Breaking US Law and Smuggling Nuclear Technology!

Less than 24 hours after I wrote this post on my general disgust at the decision by the Bush administration to sell advanced military technology to a nuclear weapons-proliferating military dictatorship that has many terrorists inside its borders comes this report in the Los Angeles Times. The first sentence basically says it all.

A federal criminal investigation has uncovered evidence that the government of Pakistan made clandestine purchases of U.S. high-technology components for use in its nuclear weapons program in defiance of American law.

What will we do about this? We'll sell them high-tech weapons of course! That's the obvious answer (at least in Bush reality). Which isn't to say that all parts of the government support this move. But people who want to take a harder line (and a wagging finger or put-out sigh would be appear to be a harder line than we are currently taking against these violations) are failing to gain any ground in DC.

The impasse is part of a larger tug-of-war between federal agencies that enforce U.S. nonproliferation laws and policymakers who consider Pakistan too important to embarrass.

"Too important to embarrass". You wouldn't think it would remain possible ... but every so often this administration can still provoke a reaction of stunned disbelief.

Posted by armand at 01:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 26, 2005

Thom Mayne Wins the Pritzker

We at Bloodless Coup have been remiss in not noting the fact that Thom Mayne was recently awarded the Pritzker Prize. He is the first American to take the honor in 14 years. We don't cover architecture very often here at Bloodless Coup, so why do I say we have been remiss not to note this achievement? Because it allows us to link to the website of his firm - Morphosis. The design of the site is quite interesting, and it allows you to look at many of the firm's recent plans (like those for the proposed Olympic Village in New York - should that city win the 2012 games - or the proposed new state capitol building in Alaska). It's worth checking out.

Posted by armand at 02:55 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Bush to Sell F-16 Fighter Jets to Pakistan

"The president's decision reversed 15 years of policy begun during the administration of his father. The United States barred the sale of F-16s to Pakistan in 1990 out of concern over its then-undeclared nuclear arms program ..."

But now that they have come clean about building nuclear weapons, tested them, been a haven for terrorists, remain the home to hundreds if not thousands of schools that are educating the terrorists of tomorrow, sold WMD technology to some of the most corrupt and horrifying political figures in the world ... well, obviously it's time we started selling arms to the military dictatorship in which Osama bin Laden is probably hiding out, right? Right?

Perhaps this is just one of those moves I don't understand since I'm part of the reality-based community.

The administration though has announced in their comments on this story that they are happy to sell arms to India too.

''What we are trying to do is solidify and extend relations with both India and Pakistan at a time when we have good relations with both of them -- something most people didn't think could be done -- and at a time when they have improving relationships with one another," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

Given this I suppose I understand one thing that's partially behind this move - we hope to start an arms race between nuclear-armed rivals because it's good for US companies like Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, and where would they be without activist (reckless) foreign policy moves by the US government on their behalf. And beyond that, maybe there are people in the White House thinking - Hey if it worsens relations between India and Pakistan (which have been improving of late for the first time in years) maybe that will make corporations less likely to out-source jobs to India! We get to support one of our favorite dictators and help protect US jobs all at the same time! True, a nuclear war could result from us fanning the flames of the long-standing conflict between India and Pakistan. And/or the current dictator could be killed and replaced with an Osama-friendly or more ardently anti-India regime and choose to use all those planes we just sold them against us or our allies. But ... well, those things aren't definitely going to happen, there are merely entirely plausible possibilities, so we'll all just gather at Camp David, sing spirituals near the fireplace and hope for the best.

Finally, I can't let this go without taking another swipe at Rice. That statement shows, for seemingly the billionth time, her disregard for reality and the truth. I mean it is true that India has been spending a good bit of money on its military of late, and perhaps they do seek access to more US military products, but the idea that this move helps to "solidify" our ties with the world's biggest democracy is ... well, it's either moronic or a flat-out lie. Take your pick (though with Rice, as we've seen in the past, it could be both).

Posted by armand at 11:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 25, 2005

Josh Chafetz Reviews Single-Malt Scotch

For the Scotch fans among us, Josh Chafetz provides these reviews. From his comments the Scapa and Ardbeg sound interesting. I look forward to trying them. At the moment I have a bottle of Glenfarclas at home - that's tasty stuff. But what do I know? I also like Glenmorangie (though I don't think I've ever had it aged a mere 10 years).

Posted by armand at 02:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Who's Trying to Smear Bill Arkin?

Josh Marshall alerts us to a story that immediately (and for obvious reasons) brings to mind the Niger forgeries, the lies of Secretary Rice (well, some of them), and the attempts by some person or persons apparently allied with the administration to impugn the integrity of Joe Wilson, and, potentially, play with the lives of US government personnel and their sources as part of a pathetic and craven political vendetta. Is there anything these people won't stoop to?

And I dearly hope that there are still news outlets with the necessary resources pursuing the Niger story. Sen. Roberts killing the investigation into that is one of the most shameful moves in the recent history of congressional oversight.

Posted by armand at 01:33 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The "Washington Times"

Julian Sanchez has made a brilliant style choice.

Posted by armand at 09:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 24, 2005

The Government Will Require You to Persist in a Vegetative State

Or at least that will be the case if you live in Louisiana and the latest (there have been so many) idiotic move to regulate people's lives proposed by Republican State Senator James David Cain becomes state law. With no family input and no spousal input the government will keep you hooked up to machines forever. Yet again, I'm getting visions of The Matrix. And I'm still finding all this truly bizarre given the Republican Party's recent focus on the bedrock role played by the family and marriage in society.

And of course this also brings up, yet again, Baltar's complaint (and I share his views on this) about modern big government (heck, at this point we should just call it omnipotent government) Republicans. Cain's example brings up one possible factor that might partially explain this shift. The scary Republicans who want to control every second of your life used to be scary Democrats. But I suppose that doesn't really get at the issue of how people, any people, came to think that these were proper topics for the government to deal with in the first place.

Posted by armand at 08:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Intra-Coalition Disputes in Iraq: The US Versus the Spanish

Via Juan Cole I noticed this story from El Pais:

The U.S. high command ordered the closing of the Sharia courts set up by the Shiite clergy in Najaf to run the city in accordance with Islamic law.The U.S. Provisional Authority in Baghdad headed by Paul Bremer was working on establishing a secular legal system in Iraq, and the Americans saw the Sharia court as a challenge to their plans -- particularly as the power behind it was the radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr.The Spanish commander refused to comply, explaining that closing down the court would upset the delicate stability in the town that his troops had worked hard to achieve and would result in violence.The American response was to dispatch a U.S. special forces unit to Najaf to arrest al-Sadr's right hand man Mustapha al Yaqubi without warning the Spanish forces.As the Spaniards had warned, the arrest, said El Pais, sparked "the bloodiest battle the Spanish troops were involved in during their turbulent mission," and produced "the worst falling out between the U.S. and Spanish commands since the beginning of the (Iraqi) invasion."With the arrest of al Yaqubi -- considered a moderate in al Sadr's organization -- the Spaniards lost a useful go-between to the radical cleric.The U.S. authorities also, incidentally, also had a warrant out for the arrest of Moqtada al Sadr, but it was quietly dropped.When the Spanish commanders demanded an explanation for arresting al Yaqubi without warning, the U.S. response was that the proper procedures had been followed.The force of the attack by Moqtadar's Mahdi army caught the Spaniards by surprise, but it was a U.S. soldier who lost his life in the fighting along with an Iraqi and another soldier from El Salvador.

This kind of thing isn't remotely surprising. Disputes among the NATO allies over Kosovo were far more severe. Wesley Clark's book provides many enlightening and disconcerting examples of these sorts of fights. But even if it's not surprising, I think it's useful to always keep this kind of thing in mind when planning foreign operations. Alliances are far from easy to maintain. And engaging in these types of operations can do as much to endanger them as to strengthen them. And if running alliances is difficult, it needs to be a task put in the hands of those who can do it ably since we live in a world where it's impossible for the United States to accomlish many of its aims alone.

Posted by armand at 01:11 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Comic Book Movie News

On Pete's Perfectly Cromulent Blog one can learn about which X-Men characters will be joining the cast in the next film, and the actor that will be playing the villain in Spider-Man III.

Posted by armand at 11:28 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Charles Fried on the Schiavo Legal Wrangling

Baltar asks below "Where have the REAL Republicans gone?". As shocking as it may be to some, one answer is Harvard Law School. It's a turvy-topsy world.

Posted by armand at 11:18 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Jim Langevin: So Pompous, Arrogant and Self-Involved He'd Be a Natural in the Senate

Yet it is not to be - at least for now. Congressman Jim Langevin (D) has opted not to challenge Republican incumbent Lincoln Chafee in the 2006 election.

During the media event he organized to announce that he was not going to run he urged people to support either US Rep. Patrick Kennedy or former State Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse. Beyond that, he actually called on Secretary of State Matt Brown to drop out of the race. He said:

"Matt Brown is a nice guy but I don't believe he has the experience to serve in the U.S. Senate."

Dear readers I hope you'll pardon me if you think my reaction to this is too negative, but ... what an asshole! By what measure exactly is Langevin's experience more worthy? I mean he was Secretary of State himself, and since then he's served a whopping 4 years in the US House. Why he's a veritable Dick Lugar or Ted Stevens isn't he. Mr. Langevin, I think we should leave it to the voters of Rhode Island to decide who can best serve the interests of the people. Just because you are annoyed that Matt Brown had the nerve to question your would-be coronation doesn't make you particularly wise or learned. And expressing your irritation in this manner makes you appear to be a whiny little bitch.

Posted by armand at 09:51 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tom Delay has a "SpongeBob Squarepants" Air Rifle.

I've been working up some sort of "where are the actual small-government, deficit-reducing, sane-national-security-policy Republicans" post in my head for a while. It will be a remarkably poignant post - tears to your eyes, and all that emotion stuff - since I'm a registered Republican, always have been, and I'm clueless as to who these people are in Washington who call themselves Republicans, but don't really seem to act like Reagan, G. H. W. Bush, or (in his better moments) Nixon. This is not that post. I'm still working on it. Until it comes, via Crooked Timber, feel free to read this post on Kung Fu Monkey. He is much funnier than I will be, but the sentiments are similar:

I Miss Republicans.
No, seriously. Remember Republicans? Sober men in suits, pipes, who'd nod thoughtfully over their latest tract on market-driven fiscal conservatism while grinding out the numbers on rocket science. Remember those serious-looking 1950's-1960's science guys in the movies -- Republican to a one.
They were the grown-ups. They were the realists. Sure they were a bummer, maaaaan, but on the way to La Revolution you need somebody to remember where you parked the car. I was never one (nor a Democrat, really, more an agnostic libertarian big on the social contract, but we don't have a party ...), but I genuinely liked them.
How did they become the party of fairy dust and make believe? How did they become the anti-science guys? The anti-fact guys? The anti-logic guys?

Read the whole thing. (The title of this post will make more sense.)

Posted by baltar at 08:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 23, 2005

Margaret Talbot on Justice Scalia

Margaret Talbot’s article on Justice Scalia in the March 28, 2005 issue of The New Yorker brings several points to mind. Of course some of these deal with Scalia’s actions as a member of the Supreme Court. While Justice Scalia is usually consistent in holding to his principles, whether or not his approach to jurisprudence is appropriate remains far from clear. Originalism and textualism can lead to rulings that seem contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. And there are a host of lauded decisions like Brown v. Board of Education and New York Times v. Sullivan that would have presumably never been written if the Court had held to these principles.

[For a thoughtful commentary on Scalia's latest angry originalist dissent see this piece by Publius.]

But beyond these issues, Talbot’s article made me think about individual-level factors that may be important to consider when the next nomination for the Supreme Court is made. Scalia’s approach to the law is deeply linked to both his religious upbringing and how he thinks (as opposed to simply what he thinks). It may be hard to evaluate the latter in the context of a nomination to the nation’s highest court. But that doesn’t mean it might not be an important and highly informative endeavor. An interesting case is made in this article that the way this Justice approaches the cases before him is very closely tied to his personal perception of the world, the law, and the types of argument and debate that he believes are legitimate. This would suggest that a careful study of a nominee’s biography and the structure of his or her writing might tell us as much about the rulings he or she would make once sworn in as focusing exclusively on ideology or approach to the law.

In addition, both President Bush and the Senate may want to consider the “collegiality” issue. When Scalia was nominated it was expected by some that he would foster comity and get along well with his colleagues. That’s not been the case. In fact, it’s possible that his behavior has driven some of his colleagues away from him over time. Furthermore, his presence on the Court has greatly changed the nature of oral arguments. Justices today are much more active, even combative, from the bench than they were when Scalia joined the Court. Whether that, or Scalia’s frequently dismissive and annoyed interactions with the counsel before him, are positive changes is a matter of debate. Those involved in the confirmation process may want to consider the impact of these behavioral dynamics as they consider prospective nominees.

Finally, and on a very different subject, the profile discussed Scalia's years at school. If the “drama club” he belonged to at Georgetown was Mask and Bauble (as I presume it was since it's the oldest continuously running student theatrical group in the United States) suddenly my memories of the many M&B parties I attended during my years at GU seem to be cast in a rather peculiar light. But then I suppose many things were quite different at such affairs when Georgetown was an all-male school.

Posted by armand at 06:37 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Girls Don't Like Sports Anyway.

Compared to Iraq, the trade deficit (now at an all time record), the budget deficit, Republican hysterics over Schiavo and a few other front page items, I missed this little item:

U.S. Rule on Women's Sports May Ease College Compliance (NY Times, via Corrente)
In a move that could make it easier for colleges to show that their sports offerings for women comply with law, the Education Department has quietly issued a new clarification of the regulations interpreting Title IX, the statute barring sex discrimination at institutions that receive federal financing.
Under the new clarification, colleges can demonstrate that they are satisfying the demand for women's sports by taking an online survey showing that female students have no unmet sports interests. The Education Department says they may use e-mail to notify students of the survey and must offer it in a way designed to generate high response rates - as part of the registration process, for example. But, the department said, even if the nonresponse rate is high, nonresponse will be interpreted as a lack of interest.(Emphasis added.)
To demonstrate their compliance with Title IX, a part of the Education Amendments of 1972, colleges must meet one of three tests: they can show that the proportion of female athletes is at least the same as the proportion of women in the student body; they can show that they are expanding their sports programs for women; or they can show that their women's sports program "fully and effectively" accommodates the interests of female students.
The new guidance addresses how colleges may meet that third test, the one used most frequently by those trying to show compliance when under government review.

In other words, rather than do actual research to demonstrate that female college students either are or are not having their athletic needs met by the college or university (the article later notes that the status quo method for this is to survey local high schools, intramural leagues, etc. and find out if women's athletic participation varies widely outside of the college/university compared to inside), the college/university can just give an online survey. If the survey shows that most people feel their needs are met, case closed. The part of the quote that I put in bold shows that even if the survey is ignored by most of the students, that lack of response is interpreted as an indication of lack of interest (which means that the school won't have to provide athletic opportunities for women).

End result: fewer opportunities for women in sports in college.

Mia Hamm would roll over in her grave if she were dead.

Posted by baltar at 03:43 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Science is No-No

Once again, I am reminded that however nice the beaches and mild the winter, I have no desire to move back to the South. This time it's the decision of IMAX theater owners not to show a movie about volcanoes because there are references to similarities between human DNA and that of underwater bacteria.

IMAX theaters in Texas, Georgia and the Carolinas have declined to show the film, said Pietro Serapiglia, who handles distribution for Stephen Low, the film's Montreal-based director and producer.
"I find it's only in the South," Serapiglia said.
Critics worry screening out films that mention evolution will discourage the production of others in the future.
"It's going to restrain the creative approach by directors who refer to evolution," said Joe DeAmicis, vice president for marketing at the California Science Center in Los Angeles and a former director of an IMAX theater. "References to evolution will be dropped."

I'm having flashbacks to elementary school, and learning about the troubles of early scientists discussing celestial orbits and their conflicts with the Catholic Church. The funny thing is though, even in my public elementary school where the students were made to listen to a teacher pray before lunch, they still taught evolution and the scientific method in the classroom.

Posted by binky at 03:30 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 22, 2005

Control Room

As with many movies that somehow managed to skirt a run in lovely small town USA, Control Room is one that Bloodless Coup just got around to watching. By some miracle of scheduling - or perhaps because yesterday was the first day back from Spring Break and none of us could really face it without some diversion- all three of us sat down to watch the movie together. Like many, I had heard very good things about this movie, most of it from Leftish sources, and most of it was positive though vague e.g. "Have you seen Control Room? It's great!" I had few expectations about the film, but had watched some great documentaries (Dog Town and Z-Boys, Okie Noodling) in the last few months and was curious about this film about Al Jazeera.

What surprised me about the film was that I ended up being less focused on the Al Jazeera part, and more captivated by the film's portrayal of the journalists, and the dualities they face as professionals and as people. Through its coverage of the people working for the news channel the film captures the desire of these people to be journalists just like everyone else. While I suspect Baltar has a somewhat different opinion, I think it was clear that the objectivity of the Al Jazeera news reports is much like that of its peers in other countries: compromised by feelings, by access to information, and by the need to give the target audience what they want. Most of them also freely admit their biases and opinion, particularly Hassan Ibrahim, a veteran former BBC reporter. Even though in some ways their status was special and different (and it's clear that different isn't always good, as Al Jazeera was banned in some countries for criticizing the rulers) and generally positive, they also drew a great deal of negative attention, not least from the US, in the film in the person of Secretary Rumsfeld. But behind the politics of the context, at times you could almost forget which network the story was about, as you watched editors, producers, and interviewers cope with the hassles of reporting on a war.

What I thought was even better about the film was its insight it offered into the complicated position of professionals working in a non-democratic, non-developed country. As someone who has spent time in authoritarian, democratizing and democratic countries in the Americas, I was struck by the similarities to professionals I have met who lived with the complications and compromises of their countries, yet somehow managed to carry on in an insulated bubble of professionalism. The person in Control Room who most exemplified this was Samir Khader, a senior producer, but could also be seen in Deema Khatib, a younger producer. It struck me as being right on target in showing the way that educated professionals are both part of, and removed from, their countries in these sorts of complicated political situations. They are very pro-West in some ways (Khader's daughter goes to the American school, Khatib is by appearance a Westernized female professional) but Khatib expresses dismay when no one resists the US troops entering Baghdad, a blow to pride in the form of perceived cowardice on the part of the Iraqis. It's a difficult position to be in... to love your country (or in this case, region) but hate your government(s) and not really to be able to say so. To appreciate the United States, its freedoms and opportunities, and to desire your children the freedom of living there, but to be angry with the foreign policy of a US administration that results in the death of a friend and colleague. To be ashamed at the conduct of your government and neighbors, but defensive when outsiders criticize your "family." Even to be fearful that your own fellow citizens (subjects?) above and below will see your actions as a betrayal of national (regional) identity if you are perceived as too moderate or balanced in the coverage of the war. These existential conflicts could be of a journalist in authoritarian Brazil, an economist in Cuba, or a doctor in Chile. It was this universal quality that transcended the borders of geography and politics, and that I very much enjoyed as I watched the film.

Posted by binky at 04:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

John Bolton's Sleazy (No, Not in a Good Way)

Steve Clemons brings us up to date on some of the skeletons in John Bolton's closet. He thinks the nomination of Bolton to be UN Ambassador could be in serious trouble. I hope he's right.

Posted by armand at 12:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jean Jaques Rousseau Was a Terrorist-Loving, Commie Sodomite!

Well, no, he wasn't. But he was a foreigner after all. And apparently foreigners are not to be trusted. They are horrible people, trying to wreck all that is noble and godly in the world. And the US must be protected from their crazy and evil beliefs. Or apparently that's what John Cornyn of the great state of Texas thinks - and thinks should be required of the government and all red-blooded Americans.

This resolution might be xenophobia at its finest, but it's also utterly ridiculous on a host of grounds. Moon cuts Cornyn's argument to shreds here. The basic point - Cornyn is stirring up a political firestorm in reaction to ... nothing. What Cornyn asserts is going on is not actually happening. Cornyn sees potentially treasonous malfeasance in ... dicta. But of course reality has never been enough to stop Cornyn from proposing terrible public policy before, so he's unlikely to let that stop him now.

Posted by armand at 11:48 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 21, 2005


We at Bloodless Coup have slipped under the radar of the whole woman bloggers drama stirred up over a post by Kevin Drum. For one, we are too tiny to rate as a popular blog. Alas, we are also too "omni" (-party, -gender, -etc). Plenty of people have weighed in on this (including the folk at Crooked Timber and this list at Culture Cat, but I thought the delightful Bitch PhD) had a link to the funniest summary of the spat. It strikes me though, as more sad than anything the way the "missing" women are justified, before people even take a moment to look around to see that rather than missing, there are many that are simply not being noticed. Makes me happy to be with the Bloodless crew, who have no trouble acknowledging that I can be vicious and self-aggrandizing as the boys who get turned on - rather than turned off - by arguing.

You know what, the more I read on in this vein, the more irritated I get. I mean, shoot, with all the things that are supposed to make male bloggers superior (angry, willing to fight, highly credentialed, writing about war and other important issues, etc) I realize I should be one of the most popular token women out there, given that I am angry (what, you want to make something of it?), willing to fight (see , oh, any thread), highly credentialed (why else would I have gotten that damn PhD?), and write about war and other important manly topics. Most definitely when you consider my predisposition to associate with people who have penises (baltar, armand, and most of the peanut gallery). I'm tellin' ya', Bloodless Coup should rocket to the top of the pop charts. I mean, it can't be that Binky Rasmussen, Woman, is actually interested in this stuff. No. It's got to be something she does just to appeal to men. (insert eyeroll here)

In the mean time, check out this list of woman bloggers at What She Said. There are many others too, but clearly someone has been fired up enough to start a list. Oh and this list of excuses at Sapphos Breathing is great too.

Posted by binky at 02:47 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty

The Booker (now Man Booker) Prize juries have never steered me wrong. I’ve read 4 of the last 15 winners and every one has been a superior work of fiction – Ondatje’s The English Patient, Roy’s The God of Small Things, Atwood’s The Blind Assassin and now Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. Hollinghurst’s novel takes us into the spirit of the 1980’s. With its twin focus on Thatcherism and the outbreak of AIDS, we get a luxuriously written moral novel that takes us into a world centered around the cold, fleeting ecstasy of lavish fetes and taboo-breaking sex. But the lifestyles of the Feddens and Nick Guest (the primary characters) are impermanent constructions built upon certain types of blindness. They collapse. And when they do, they take many beautiful people from various stations of society with them. And of course many others suffer and perish from the damage these vacuous souls leave in their wake.

The few negative words I’ve seen written about this book have tended to fault the author for getting too tied up in describing the supposedly glamorous world that his characters inhabit. These critics get a little bored with detailed tales of party after party after party. But to me, including these in the book is entirely worthwhile. It reinforces how the spectacular or illicit can quickly become mundane. And when that occurs, the continual need for grander and more exciting experiences, and ever-deeper beautiful discoveries, can lead to a lack of focus on other affairs. And that can lead to catastrophe.

The sex scenes might shock certain readers, but they are no more graphic than those in Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library (which also received critical acclaim).

I recommend this book very highly. It’s interesting as an historical observation of society in the mid-1980’s, a period in which AIDS, Reaganism and Thatcherism were changing much of the world. The morality of the book is complicated, and could spark many interesting discussions. And it’s an interesting and unusually fine addition to the enormous body of literature that follows in the tradition of Henry James. But more than any of that, it’s beautifully written. The author has a remarkable ability to say deep, lush, and passionate things succinctly. He’s one of the best prose stylists writing today.

Posted by armand at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

A.Q. Khan - Worse Than We Thought?

You wouldn't think it's possible. And you don't want it to be possible. But apparently, yes, he is/was. From an article by William J. Broad and David Sanger in the New York Times today:

Nuclear investigators from the United States and other nations now believe that the black market network run by the Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan was selling not only technology for enriching nuclear fuel and blueprints for nuclear weapons, but also some of the darkest of the bomb makers' arts: the hard-to-master engineering secrets needed to fabricate nuclear warheads

And while the president of course flat out lied to the American people last year in his reelection campaign (as Eric Cartman would put it he lied, lied right to their faces) saying that this network had been stopped and brought to justice, Americans have still never even been allowed to question Khan, who remains an immensely popular figure in Pakistan. Secretary Rice "raised concerns" about that (again) when she met with General Musharraf last week, but the Bush team has either 1) put little real pressure on him (which seems entirely possible given other recent appalling news stories) or 2) been remarkably ineffective at pressuring the country's dictator, one of the biggest recipients of US foreign aid. I was under the impression that we invaded Iraq and brought down its government for far less threatening actions.

Posted by armand at 09:38 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 20, 2005

Abstinence Pledgers Really Like Sodomy

Was this really what "just say no" abstinence types had in mind? It doesn't shock me that advocates of these policies would often deny young people health information that they need, or that they are failing to really lower the amount of sexual interation by all that much - but the degree to which they seem to encourage risky sex practices is quite striking. Whether we're talking about "four times more likely" or "six times more likely" those are remarkably high numbers.

Posted by armand at 05:43 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Friendship Hill

If you are a resident of Southwestern Pennsylvania or North-Central West Virginia and are looking for an out of the ordinary excursion one day, I recommend you visit Friendship Hill. Friendship Hill was for a time the home of Albert Gallatin, senator, congressman, diplomat, and, for 13 years, Secretary of the Treasury under presidents Jefferson and Madison. And that's just his political life. His broader life story is, perhaps, even more interesting.

The National Historic Site includes several trails that are very pleasant for walking. One of them runs along the Monongahela River. And in the main house there are exhibits on Gallatin's life. The house itself, or at least the stories relating to its construction, are fairly interesting too. The museum's exhibits also include a holographic head of Gallatin that makes some points about the grounds and the gentleman's life. While it's more or less Disney technology - it's really kind of cool. It provides an interesting counterpoint to the much more traditional nature of the other exhibits.

Gallatin was hugely influential in his day, but is one (of the many) people from the era of the Founders that most Americans know little about. So if you want to learn a bit about him, or just take a pretty long walk in the country, this place is worth a few hours of your time.

Posted by armand at 02:20 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Team Bush Lies to Our Allies (Dog Bites Man)

Between this, the multitude of misinformation they spread about Iraq, the spying, the insulting people he appoints to high diplomatic offices ... if you were the leader of a country, would you want to work with the Bush administration? Would you believe a single thing the President of the United States says?

And of course beyond that, this news once again reinforces our touching commitment to Pakistan - the WMD-proliferating military dictatorship we rely on to maintain the stability of the Middle East and South Asia, and keep the winds of democracy blowing through the region. Team Bush is wildly inconsistent in other areas, but at least they have a fairly consistent record of supporting Gen. Musharraf's regime, at least when he's not asking for changes in our protectionist trade policies.

Posted by armand at 02:11 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The Republican Schiavo Strategy: Anti-Choice Opportunists

This Schiavo thing is killing me. Partially, this is because it appears that as a society we have reached a point that whatever event the media can be manipulated into (and in turn manipulate) as the latest trendy story of the week apparently can be enough to call Congress into session (and that's rarely a good thing, period) and lead to the president flying hundreds of miles to take part in the macabre spectacle. To me, it's not one of the more impressive turns democracy has taken of late.

But beyond that, it's making me a little confused (as usual) about just what it is that Republicans stand for (beyond a tremendously powerful and huge government, and pro-gigantic deficit and anti-gay agendas). Yes, there are some things that are always present as Republican priorities lately. They don't like it when judges follow the law but reach outcomes that don't fit with the goals of their activists. And, in particular, they don't like judges in Florida. And of course the whole thing fits with the Bush administration's 1) devotion to the dominance and power of the party (and hence themselves) and 2) their disinterest in ideological consistency on all but a few matters ... but it does bring up some interesting possibilities for what those few matters are. Republicans didn't seem so interested in the rights or opinions of parents in the Elian Gonzalez matter - and in that case the child in question was still a minor, unlike in this case. And supposedly they are the strongly pro-marriage party at the moment - but they seem completely disinterested in Michael Schiavo's views or rights or ability to play his legal role as a husband. And of course the comments from people like Jim Sensenbrenner and the nature of the proposed legislation appear to point to a supposed desire to set no precedent by this extraordinary action, and, again supposedly, not require the federal judge who would be assigned this case to rule in ways inconsistent to the rulings in Florida. So ... what's going on here? Does this mean that their abortion-politics priorities trump their supposed family-friendly priorities, and that, fundamentally, politics trumps everything else? It looks that way to me. But maybe I'm too cynical. Then again, given that views of some of the parties who are active in this case would seem to imply that families should never have the right to disconnect the feeding tubes of their loved, ones and that the government should force hospitals to keep people hooked up to machines for years on end irrespective of their family's wishes, or even their own - maybe I'm not cynical enough.

Posted by armand at 10:58 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

March 19, 2005

It's Been an Ugly Week

At least in my opinion, it's been a bad week for American politics. The inevitable flexing of conservative muscles since the re-election of W has begun in earnest, and brought us this:

1. Paul Wolfowitz has been nominated to head the World Bank. While I'm happy that he won't be at Defense anymore, I'm not really sure what qualifications he has to run a major component of third-world development (other than a correct ideology).
2. John Bolton is going to be our ambassador to the United Nations. For those who don't know him, he's on record as thinking the UN is useless and should be dismantled. He ought to be fun at cocktail parties.
3. Congress (i.e., the Republicans who run Congress) are refusing to investigate whether the executive branch lied to Congress or the American People with regard to what they made public to justify the invasion of Iraq. This is far more dangerous than the little publicity this story has thus far garnered. One of the little-reported slow-moving stories of the George W. Bush adminstration is the glacial but still apparent movement of power out of the Legislative Branch into the Executive Branch. Congress has consistently abandoned it's role as a watchdog on what the President and the branch he represents does in the name of the people. I freely admit that Bush et al. may not be guilty of evasion or lies to Congress, but there is a prima facia case to made that they did deliberately distort the truth, and Congress needs to investigate.
4. In a little noticed vote earlier this week, the Senate voted to open drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). While it is possible that getting the oil out of this desolate location won't harm the local flora and fauna, I wouldn't bet any amount of money on it. Sometimes I really wonder what Americans in 100 years will think of us (when they have no oil, and no wildlife refuges).
5. The Senate passed the perfectly odious bankrupty bill this week (the House will not oppose it). This bill was written by lobbyists from the credit card companies, and is a significant financial windfall for them. It is uniformly awful for anyone who is living on the margins and suffers a random misfortune (fired, gets sick, etc.).
6. The Senate voted down a Democratic attempt to invoke PAYGO (Pay As You Go) rules for the budget. Had this amendment passed, any spending (or less income, like cutting taxes) would have had to been paid for by offsetting spending cuts or tax increases. In other words, it would have forced the government to be fiscally responsible (can't just vote to spend any amount of money on Iraq, free drugs for Senior Citizens, or anything without somehow paying for it). Needless to say, it didn't pass. How can any Republican say with a straight face that they represent the party of fiscal conservatism and small government? Read the Obsidian Wings catfight between Katherine and Sebastain about which party is more sane.
7. Last but not least, Congress spent a good amount of time this week dealing with steroids in baseball and Terry Schiavo. On the baseball thing, I'm sadly resigned to seeing Congress (who clearly has better things to do with it's time) spend a few hours trying to get some millionaire baseball players to admit they took quasi-legal drugs to get paid yet more money. It's completely irrelevant to actually working on laws (or, as noted, investigating what the Executive Branch is up to), but I'm beginning to expect this. On the other hand the Terry Schiavo thing is unbelievable. The issue has worked its way throught the proper court channels. There is nothing left for any government to do. The courts have ruled (properly or not I can't say) that Schiavo's husband has the right to remove the feeding tubes (hence, allow her to die). The parents have offered to pay whatever the costs are to keep her alive, and the husband has refused. The fact that Congress has subpeonaed her (she is in a coma - she clearly cannot testify) is turning this into a circus. If Congress wants to get into this general issue (not this specific case) they have that right (though why Republicans, who claim to like small government, would get involved in overruling individual states is beyond me). They should leave Terry Schiavo alone, and let the individuals involved work out the end of this tragedy.

It has been an ugly week. I hope things brighten up.

Posted by baltar at 03:21 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 18, 2005

And This is Supposed to Make Us Feel Better?

As if we haven't been dreading the latest cinematrocities to be trotted out by George Lucas in the final (?) installment of the Star Wars series, now we have this to add to our apprehension:

"It's not like the old 'Star Wars,' " Lucas told theater owners at the ShoWest convention. "This one's a little bit more emotional. We like to describe it as 'Titanic' in space. It's a tearjerker."

"Titantic in space." Oh god, my eyes have rolled so far back in my head I don't think I can get them straight again.

Posted by binky at 11:55 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Volokh and His Critics on Cruelty and Torture

This post by Eugene Volokh is getting a lot of attention. The best response to it that I've seen yet is by Mark Kleiman. Others who are taking on Volokh include Matt Yglesias and Moon.

Posted by armand at 10:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 17, 2005

Russ Feingold's PAYGO Move Fails

On a 50-50 vote yesterday the US Senate opted to take another bold move toward potentially calamitous deficits by refusing to go back on the PAYGO system. Senators Jeffords, Chafee, Voinovich, Snowe, McCain and Collins joined all 44 Democrats in supporting a return to the system, but the rest of the Republicans opted to continue on their tax cuts crusade, stratospheric deficits be damned.

It's at times like this that I just can't get over the fact that the people of Kentucky sent Jim Bunning back to the Senate. Dan Mongiardo came so close.

Posted by armand at 01:41 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Wesley Clark Puts WesPAC on the Web

For all you Wesley Clark fans out there - the general has a new website up that will feature a blog.

Posted by armand at 11:50 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

You Have a Right to Persist in a Vegetative Coma

Fresh off their decision to confront the terrible, culture-shattering scourge that is steroid use by multimillionaires, the Republican-run Congress has rushed to action to put a stop to judicial proceedings in Florida (the Republicans sure do have a deep fear of judges and state law in Florida) that would allow a feeding tube to be removed from Terry Schiavo. As Pete says:

Finally, we can add "Persons in Persistent Vegetative State with No Likelihood of Improvement" to "Zygotes and Blastulae" on the comprehensive list of Organisms the GOP Care About. Poor children, pregnant women, and just about anybody else can go piss up a rope, apparently.

With this jackass move can we stop saying that the GOP favors small government and federalism? Please, please, please! Or can reporters and anchors at least bust out laughing when they try to pass off those lies? It's abundantly clear that the post-Gingrich GOP favors a government on the scale of ... well, given this case, comparing it to The Architect and his machines in The Matrix seems apt. Barry Goldwater must be spinning in his grave so fast that he's probably already cracked the vault.

Posted by armand at 11:28 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

March 16, 2005

Bush Not Pushing for Political Reform in Jordan

Abu Aardvark updates us on King Abdullah's trip to the United States. Sadly, President Bush, supposed friend of freedom and democracy, did an appalling, truly abysmal, job of putting any public pressure on the king to support reforms. I'm not the biggest fan of this administration's supposed go-go-go democracy agenda. But if you believe in it, one place in the region that we unquestionably have a great deal of influence is tiny, broke Jordan. And yet Bush had nothing but sweet-nothings to say about the king's illiberal, strong-armed monarchy. More and more it appears that we only really care about democracy when 1) the government involved is an enemy or competitor (and, usually, very weak) or 2) when a friend was planning a few movements (which might not have any substantive implications) in that direction anyway. Or put another way, Bush likes it when it's convenient (hmmm ... imagine that in a Church Lady tone ... think there's any chance of bringing Dana Carvey back to SNL?).

The post also notes that there is one North American who will apparently ask the king tough questions - ABC's Peter Jennings. That must please the true-believers in this movement (whoever they are) no end - their fight is being waged not by the president, but by someone who's both a stalwart of the MSM and Canadian.

Posted by armand at 07:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Halliburton - Robbing Us Blind

And as long as I'm covering some bleak and depressing aspects of the war today ...

Halliburton apparently charged the American people $27.5 million dollars to deliver $82,000 worth of fuel.

That's right, $27.5 MILLION.

True, Halliburton is doing dangerous and difficult work. And anyone who doesn't expect them to get as much of a profit as they possible can (often more than deserved) obviously knows nothing about the way that DC and corporate America work. But those numbers are positively scary and fall on the floor laughable. No wonder the Bushies run what few people remain committed to oversight of government spending, making sure we fight and defend ourselves effectively, out of Washington.

Posted by armand at 12:19 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Kudos to the Co-Sponsors of HR 952

Keeping with the theme of prisoner abuse noted below, Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings provides us with information about Congressman Ed Markey's bill to end extraordinary rendition. I am very happy to see that my congressman, Alan Mollohan, is among the cosponsors.

Posted by armand at 11:57 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Today's Prisoner Deaths Story

Comes via John Lumpkin of the AP. If things hold to form we'll learn that these numbers, the highest released yet, include notably fewer deaths than the total number of prisoners that have actually died violently while in US custody. The military is doing all it can to hide the details - both of the deaths, and the horrific abuse that doesn't result in the end of prisoners' lives.

For more on this issue, and others, I hope you have Body and Soul on the list of blogs you frequently read. Jeanne's one of the best writers on the web. And she has an all too rare gift at getting to the heart of even the most troubling and difficult subjects. If you haven't yet read her post, "The Beast in US", you really should. It's a beautifully put consideration of what we are becoming as we prosecute the "war on terror" and the fight in Iraq. I recommend it highly.

Posted by armand at 11:49 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Wolfowitz for World Bank President

Kemal Dervis would have been an excellent choice. Bono was already out of the running. Angelina Jolie's recommendation of Colin Powell apparently didn't carry much weight at the White House. The White House had already decided to quash current World Bank President James Wolfensohn's desire to be reappointed to head the IGO for another 5-year term, so it's no surprise they didn't support Wolfensohn's recommendation of US Senator Chuck Hagel. Hey, Hagel even had public support from Western Europe, so you knew he wouldn't get the backing of this anti-"Old Europe" administration. Instead, the president has chosen to name Deputy Scretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz to the job. Given that Wolfowitz is one of the administration officials most closely associated with the war in Iraq, the response from "Old Europe" should be interesting.

While I opposed going to war in March of 2003, and though I think the war has been run disastrously, I am actually not completely opposed to this choice. For one thing, there are worse things than getting Paul Wolfowitz out of the Pentagon. But beyond that, he has been committed to improving the lot of poor and backward countries and peoples for decades. Say what you will about him (and I'll say a lot) he is one of the true-believers in the administration that the US has an important moral role to fill in making the world a better place. And firmly believing in those sentiments is probably a good thing to have in a World Bank head. Now that, on its own, doesn't mean he has the management skills or the diplomatic strengths that will enable him to run the organization effectively. My sense is that he doesn't. And there were certainly many stronger candidates the president could have chosen. But I'll be interested to see how this nomination is considered, and the debates over it that arise.

Posted by armand at 11:19 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 15, 2005

Gay Marriage in California: Judge Kramer and Strict Scrutiny

Julian Sanchez notes a key point in yesterday's decision. Banning gay marriage isn't simply problematic because of the ban takes away a fundamental right without a rational basis - there's also the problem of gender discrimination.

After carrying out his "rational purpose" analysis, Kramer asserted that California's ban on same-sex marriage was actually subject to "strict scrutiny," which "applies where a legislative classification creates a 'suspect' class or impinges on a fundamental human right." Both, said Kramer, were true of the marriage ban: Marriage is a fundamental right, as the Supreme Court found in Loving v. Virginia, and discrimination according to gender makes use of a "suspect class."

Kramer's not the first to make this point, and it's a key issue in this public policy debate.

Posted by armand at 03:04 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Cabello v. Fernandez-Larios

Where can victims of Chile's 1973 coup go to seek justice? The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed that one place is the US judicial system.

Posted by armand at 02:27 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Book Review: Pol Pot, by Philip Short

Philip Short's Pol Pot is a controversial book. The New York Times review and (even more strongly) the Washington Post's review both praise Short's writing and style (from the WP: "His text sparkles with shrewdly plausible inferences mortared into a compelling narrative."), but both reviewers are squeamish about Short's thesis: that Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge are to a large degree products of Cambodian culture and history, not just evil monsters (from the WP review):

Moreover, Short does not really explain the mental processes driving Pol Pot and his colleagues to order mass murders. Instead he offers examples of how this was simply the thing to do in Cambodia. He writes that Khmer Rouge atrocities were rooted in the country's history and tradition -- in "pre-existing Khmer cultural models." He even calls Buddhism (whose most basic precept forbids the taking of any life) a factor because its "impersonal fatalism . . . erects fewer barriers against evil than the anthropomorphic God of Christianity or Islam who sits in judgement and threatens sinners with hell-fire." Among other exotic explanations, he implies that Pol Pot's hatred of cities had deep roots: "In Khmer thought, the fundamental dichotomy is not between good and evil, as it is in Judaeo-Christian societies, but between srok and brai, village and forest." By going to the maquis, the Khmer Rouge had moved to "to the jungles, the wild places, where dark, unknown forces roamed."

In other words, the horrific brutality of Pol Pot (he was responsible for the deaths of somewhere between a million and 1.7 million Cambodians, something between 20 - 40% of the population of the country) was not the result of a unique individual seizing a unique historical time to create a dictatorship to pursue his goals of killing millions, but is instead the result of cultural and historical factors that allowed any driven individual to end up being a murderous dictator - Cambodia has always suffered to a lesser degree under despotic murderous rulers, and Pol Pot was just a more active example of a type. Short argues that Cambodian culture created Pol Pot, and thus Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge do not bear all of the guilt for the killing fields of Cambodia. This, as you might imagine, isn't a very popular conclusion:

From the WP:

Philip Short's 537-page book goes a long way toward telling us who Pol Pot was; unfortunately, it is marred by superficial generalizations about Cambodian culture and a bizarre attempt to exonerate the Khmer Rouge of genocide.

From the NYT (more positive, but still squeamish):

No doubt some people will be offended by this book, not only for its indiscretions, but also for its restraint. Wasn't Pol Pot a monster pure and simple? How dare Short imply otherwise! This attitude, understandable though it is, hinders our apprehension of reality. The truth is that even now you can find poor people in Cambodia who -- no matter that they lost relatives in the Pol Pot time -- wish for the return of the Khmer Rouge.

I, too, am squeamish about these "essentialist" arguments (that whatever historical event - genocide, failed state, lack of economic growth, massive economic growth, whatever - is explained by unique cultural and historical circumstances that can't be replicated elsewhere). Writing off any historical event as unique removes it from academic or intellectual study (why both researching what happened if it can't happen again?). While, of course, history never exactly repeats itself, there are clearly times where parallels at least partially exist (Hitler didn't learn from Napolean not to invade Russia in the winter; the US thought it learned from Europe in the 1930s to oppose rising dictators and not to appease them in Vietnam; etc.). Hence, I am reluctant to write off Pol Pot and the entire era as unique to that time and place.

That being said, Short's book may not be the place to turn. I am not a student of this time, place, or movement, so I have no other histories to point people to if they have an interest in this subject. Short's book is not bad (very nicely written, very well sourced: he had interviews with many surviving Khmer Rouge officials who are still alive - and free - and in some cases still active in Cambodian government), and is full of detail. It is, however, devoid of the detail that makes Pol Pot one of the worst murderers of this century. The section of the book that describes the time when the Khmer Rouge were in power (1975 to 1979) was a time when somewhere around 1.5 million people died. Yet, this book lacks any sense of gravity when describing the conditions around the country at this time (most people starved to death). There could be two explanations for this lack: first, the awfulness of the spectacle has been described in other places, and Short felt no need to add yet another description; second, by minimizing the descriptions of Cambodia's worst era, it makes it easier for Short to make his case that Pol Pot is not acting to far from standard Cambodian culture and previous despotic dictators (who also killed, but not on Pol Pot's scale). Which of these is accurate, I don't know (and it could be the first, or both, or another). To the degree the explanation lies in the second argument, that is a violation of the idea that historians are supposed to let facts lead to conclusions, not the other way around.

An interesting, but disturbing book (on many levels). Not Recommended.

Posted by baltar at 12:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 14, 2005

Wanting to Get Married Makes you Anti-Marriage!

Oh wait, only if you're gay.

Mathew D. Staver, president and general counsel of Liberty Counsel, which represents Campaign for California Families, a group in Sacramento that has opposed San Francisco's bid to legalize same-sex marriages, denounced the ruling as "ludicrous."

"Marriage should not be undermined by the stroke of a pen from a single judge," Mr. Staver said in a statement. "This ruling, which flies in the face of common sense and millennia of human history, will pour gasoline on the fire ignited by the pro-marriage movement."

I know we can't expect clarity from every, uh, activist willing to provide a quote to the media, but this one kind of boggles. Who is getting inflamed? The "anti-marriage" gay people who want to, uh, get married? Or the anti-marriage (in the case of this court ruling) straight (presumably) people who are, uh, pro-marriage (though not necessarily desiring to get married themselves). ?!?!

Posted by binky at 11:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Cutting the Essential Air Service Program

While one can debate the usefulness of the nation's small airports, it's becoming increasingly clear that the president's decision to cut funding for the Essential Air Service Prorgam by over $150 million in the next 2 years is going to result in more in more stories like this one. It might be a relatively small slice out of the federal budget, but the funds are key to keeping many small airports running. In West Virginia it is estimated that 3 of the state's 8 airports could close as a result of the cuts. One of those imperiled is in Lewisburg.

Posted by armand at 08:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

World Trade Center 7

As Binky and I had a chance to see not all that long ago, work on World Trade Center 7 is proceeding very quickly. Here are some photos via the Downtown Lad.

While the rebuilding will not heal all the scars that remain from September 11, there is something hopeful about it.

Posted by armand at 02:02 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Stop John Bolton

Do you want to stop John Bolton from becoming the US Ambassador to the United Nations? Here's a website suggesting ways to do it (for now, target members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and try to lobby them).

As I mentioned before, I think this nomination is terrible move by the president (hmm, President Bush making poor personnel choices and showing a tin-ear for foreign policy .... who'd have expected that?). Bolton has an appalling record, both in terms of what he believes, and the legion of failed policies he's supposedly overseen at the State Department. Pissing off our allies, while it might feel good, serves no real substantive end, and can often result in the US having to suffer under unecessary costs. And of course some of those can mean terrible results for American families. If he can't even begin to see how the United Nations can serve American interests, or that it has the potential to improve the quality of life of much of humanity (at least according to how that's viewed through American norms), he has no business serving in this position.

Posted by armand at 01:17 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 13, 2005

Congress Lets Bush Write History of His Failures (Again)

In the comments thread relating to Publius's post "A Linguistic Case Against Scalia" Baltar and I have agreed that one of the reasons (though surely not the only reason) that we have an "activist" Supreme Court is that Congress does a lousy job of performing certain key functions. Via Spencer Ackerman we see Congress failing, yet again, to even be a weak check against hideously destructive excesses committed by the other branches of the government. In this case Congress is choosing not to carry out one of its core responsibilities, oversight of the executive branch, on issues tied to one of the biggest blunders made by any administration in decades. It appears that Congress will leave the investigation of executive branch shenanigans that led to the cooking of intelligence - and hence to our invasion of Iraq - to a commission appointed by the president. And as if that wasn't a pathetic enough turn, surprise, surprise, it appears that the commission will have realtively little to say on the matter at all.

Posted by armand at 02:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rockport Harbor and High Limit

So I think I mentioned Rockport Harbor two times on this blog last fall. He has been viewed as one of the strongest contenders for the Kentucky Derby for several months. It now appears that the injury I noted in yesterday's post may not take him off the Derby trail after all. So if you want to pull for the Smarty Jones team, but at the same time support a horse with a winning record and bloodlines that suggest he can win big races around two turns, he might remain who you want to cheer for on mint julep, I mean Kentucky Derby, day.

However Declan's Moon, the reigning champion of his division, is indeed out of the Triple Crown races due to a knee injury.

In yesterday's key race on the road to the Triple Crown the Bobby Frankel-trained High Limit easily won the Louisiana Derby. He looked very strong in what was only his thrid career start.

Posted by armand at 01:23 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 12, 2005

Forecasts for the Kentucky Derby Suddenly Change

In the span of a mere two days, injuries appear to have knocked what appeared to be the two leading favorites for the Kentucky Derby out of that fabled race. Declan's Moon and Rockport Harbor will apparently not be running for the roses. Could this entice the connections of Sweet Catomine, last year's phenomonal 2 year old champion filly to run against the males in the Derby instead of in the Kentucky Oaks? It will be interesting to see if this affects what they do.

Posted by armand at 04:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Rehnquist the Great?

Jeffrey Rosen makes the case for viewing William H. Rehnquist as one of the Supreme Court's greatest Chiefs in this article in The Atlantic. The gist of it is that Rehnquist has done a remarkably good job at melding his conservative policy preferences with a pragmatic approach to law making and building coalitions in the Court. While I have a host of problems with Rehnquist's behavior on the Court, I think it's clear that he's been a more powerful and successful Chief than his predecessor. As to how lasting that influence will be, that remains to be seen (and the decision in Raich could be particularly interesting in that regard).

The article is also interesting in that it discusses something that might perplex many movement conservatives. While in many ways Rehnquist is the most conservative and pro-government power justice currently serving on the Court (or who has served on the Court in the past several decades), at the same time he has voted more often with Justices O'Connor and Kennedy in recent years than with Justices Scalia and Thomas. While it's entirely possible that Rehnquist's replacement might be even more conservative than he is, it will be interesting to see if such a justice will be as effective at coalition building, and carefully and continuously pushing major changes in the interpretation of the law, as Rehnquist has done.

Posted by armand at 04:35 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Anniversary of the Tokyo Fire Bombing

Kenneth Gregg reminds us of the anniversary of one of the darkest moments of the twentieth century, and, it could be argued, American history.

I presume there will be at least a feature or two on the anniversary of the atomic bombings this summer, and I have seen stories on the anniversary of the Dresden bombing. This, however, hasn't received enough notice. And I don't just mean on the weekly news magazines. I mean in the entire American educational system, and in the country's basic social conciousness. At a time when so many discuss international politics as a zone of total war, let's be sure to remember the costs involved if we approach politics in that fashion. And let's also try to remember the specific losses that come in any great war, even if it tends to be hard to do so given the magnitude of many past horrors.

Posted by armand at 03:56 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Why Can't I Have His Job?

Shorter David Brooks: "Now that I have this gig, I get invited to places you couldn't afford to look at! Caffeine keeps me awake! No one ever just cuts loose! It's all Clinton's fault!"

How much does he get paid?

Posted by baltar at 01:39 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 11, 2005

Social Security - Enemy of Marriage and Children?

So I see that the University of Buffalo refers to one of the authors of this ridiculous study as a "renowned economist". And maybe he's renowned in Buffalo, but from reading his work it looks to me like his knowledge of comparative public policy has more than a few holes. And some of the holes resemble, oh, let's call them gaping chasms. I mean how can you study rates of marriage in a country without including measures of the religion of the population. And the assumptions in the paper are breathtaking: marriage is a prerequisite for having children; altruistic parents; a successful marriage is a core part of every individual's utility function? You've got to be kidding me. Ugh. There are some economists who really shouldn't even try to study politics given that their assumptions are so unrealistic, and it would appear that the authors of this ridiculous piece of pro-Bush propoganda are among them.

Posted by armand at 04:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Jonathan's Course on Lebanese Politics

For a self-professed novice on the subject, Jonathan Edelstein has put together a fine introduction to Lebanese politics. If you want to know the system, a bit of the history, and the current players you should check it out. Lebanese politics is famously complex, but especially given today's politics it's well worth getting to know some of the basics. This is Part 4 of the series, and you can link to the earlier sections of the series from the bottom of this post.

Posted by armand at 03:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Congress Conditions Aid to the Palestinians

Via Josh Marshall I learn of this. Now it's not that I am completely opposed to Congress having a role in setting US foreign policy. But at this particular moment when the administration is supposedly working to change the relationship between the US and the Palestinians in the wake of Arafat's death, and trying to support the new leadership there as it tries to get its footing and change many policies that the US and the Israelis have opposed for years, these actions seem far from helpful.

Posted by armand at 02:22 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 10, 2005

Book Review: Ghost Wars by Steve Coll

Ghost Wars describes the over twenty year history of the US government's involvement in Afghanistan. There is nothing really earth-shattering here, just details of historical points where different decisions by the US would likely have derailed 9/11 (but hindsight is perfect). However, decisions were made for short-term gains, not long-term strategy (a problem for all politicians). All administrations get some blame over the course of this era: Reagan and Bush I for ignoring the problem (of course, the Soviets were collapsing, and what was Afghanistan compared to Poland or East Germany?), Clinton for focusing on domestic politics exclusively in his first term and getting so caught up with sexual scandals in his second that he couldn't really govern ("Wag the Dog" meant he couldn't use force against al Qaeda because he would look like he really was trying to divert attention: except there were - possibly - a couple of times where we might have been able to get Bin Laden, and Clinton flinched), and Bush II for utterly ignoring terrorism as an important issue for his first nine months. In that sense, the book is non-partisan.

The book starts just before the Soviet Invasion (in 1979) and ends on September 10, 2001. It is not a history of Afghanistan, or even a history of the violence in that period. It focusses almost entirely on US actions with respect to Afghanistan, and US actions with other players who were influential in Afghanistan in that period (Bin Laden, the various mujahadin, the Taliban, Pakistan's ISI, Saudi Arabia's intelligence services, etc.). In the main, the book details the intra-governmental debates and activities between the White House (mostly the National Security Council), the State Department and the CIA.

The broad outlines of the story are likely already known to people: the US, seeking to punish the Soviet Union, pushed a large volume of money and arms into Afghanistan. This helped the Afghan mujadin push the Soviets out, but also facilitated the rise of fundamentalists who gave Bin Laden space to create al Qaeda. The interesting parts of the book are in the details. The US contributions to the Afghan war were funnelled (except for some cash) through the Pakistani ISI (for quite legitimate initial reasons: the US needed a friendly neighbor to provide physical space to build depots to put the arms before moving them to Afganistan. The only countries that border Afghanistan (in 1979) were the USSR, Iran and Pakistan. Who would you work with from that bunch?). The problem with this is that the US had no real control over what the ISI did with the stuff they delivered. The ISI used the American supplies to support mujahadin leaders they approved of (fundamentalists who could provide stability in Afghanistan - something Pakistan wanted - and training for non-Pakistani guerillas to fight in Kasmir), and starved the ones who didn't toe the Pakistani line. Hence, the rise of fundamentalists: they were the best equipped and supported groups fighting in Afghanistan. It shouldn't have been much of a surprise when they won the civil war that started when the Soviets withdrew. This led, as everyone knows the story, to the establishment of the Taliban and the camps they allowed Bin Laden.

Another big surprise was the relative volume of the US contribution. The fighting in Afghanistan attracted three major anti-communist donors: the US, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. While the US support reached a high of several hundred million dollars in it's peak years (somewhat less than half a billion, if I remember correctly, in 1990 or so), that amount was equalled or exceeded in just about every year by the combined Saudi and Pakistani contributions (which, of course, were also going to the fundamentalists). Hence, there was a great deal of money going to fighting the Soviets, and from the mujahadin's perspective the US was just one of several important donors. We had no real unique claim on their loyalty.

Bin Laden starts out as just another Wahabi fundamentalist who is trying to funnel money to Afghanistan. The US knew about what he was doing (and supported it in an intellectual sense, not physically) in the early part of the war in Afghanistan. He becomes more and more radical, and gradually more and more worrying to the US over the 1980s. By the time we really want him, he has moved to Africa, and is out of our reach. By the time he comes back to Afghanisan (mid 1990s), we have abandoned the country (their isn't even a CIA officer assigned to monitor the country in the early 1990s) and can't get to him. We spend most of the second half of the 1990s trying to convince ISI to help us get him (who politely tell us they will try, when in point of fact Bin Laden is mostly helpful to them in training Kasmiri fighters), and trying to work out for ourselves how to kidnap (later, kill) him when we have no embassy, no agents, no loyal allies, and hardly anyone who even speaks the language (as you know, we never overcame those obstacles).

Overall, as I noted, there are no real eye-opening revelations. Just a detailed story of one missed opportunity after another, until it was too late. I'll recommend the book, but it is not crucial to an understanding of where we are today (though it does explain why Afghanistan is such a mess today: but since Afghanistan no longer harbors terrorists, we don't really seem to care if it slides back into chaos, so an understanding of Afghanistan is moderately useless). Recommended.

(PS: Funniest anecdote - In 1992 the Soviet installed Afghan leader (Najibullah) is clinging to Kabul and power because the various mujadin are fighting themselves as much as the official government forces. The US decides that what the guerillas need is better armor and artillery to fight real battles on real battlefields (not just the guerilla hit-and-run stuff of the Soviet period). Where is the US going to come up with tanks and cannons that can't be traced back to us? Remeber this is 1992. There is a huge pile of slightly used tanks and cannons on the road from Kuwait City to Basra, abandoned by Saddam's army on the "highway of death". The US sweeps it up, refurbishes it slightly, and ships it to the ISI, who distribute it to their favored leaders. Next offensive sees ex-Iraqi tanks push the mujahadin into Kabul and the war is over (the real civil war starts immediately). Yah gotta admit, that's some efficient thinking.)

Posted by baltar at 03:16 PM | TrackBack

J.D. Hayworth Gets Cold Feet

Drat. I was so looking forward to him leaving Congress. To me half-way informed + pompous + blow-dry = J.D. Hayworth (though in the photo included in this article he looks more like some sort of happy fish). But it appears he isn't deluded enough to think he can defeat Gov. Janet Napolitano.

The article raises the possiblity of a candidacy by former Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods. I'm a big fan of Woods, but I think it will be difficult to run a campaign against Napolitano. She's very popular, and appears to have had a very effective term in office. You'd have to think she will be showing up on many lists of potential Democratic candidates for Vice President in 2008.

Posted by armand at 11:18 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Lots of Love for Closed Rules, But None for Filibusters?

TAPPED brought my attention to this new report by the Democrats in the US House (TAPPED's posts on it are here and here). Quite apart from the very serious basic problems that this behavior (the considerable increase in the use of closed rules that tightly limit what members of Congress have the opportunity to vote on since the Republicans took power in the House) raises in what's supposed to be the most open and majortarian arm of our government, this also makes clear that the Republicans in Congress who are bemoaning the use of the filibuster are hypocrites of the highest order. Even if you believe that the proceedings in the Senate should be as majoritarian as those in the House (though given the history and design of the two chambers there is no reason to think that should be expected), how can someone who's supposedly principled and sincere on this matter argue for more open floor votes in the Senate if at the same time they are doing all they can to ensure that such moves are blocked in the House?

Posted by armand at 09:09 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 09, 2005

Publius Makes a "Linguistic Case Against Scalia"

"Scalia looks at the Constitution and sees 'understandings' – I look at the Constitution and see words. "

This is yet another great post by Publius. While it starts with some interesting points about last week's decision in Roper, in moves on to very basic observations about what the law is and can be.

Posted by armand at 01:07 PM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Gov. Manchin (D-WV), Anti-Choice, Pro-Idiotic Drug War Policies

Great. Just great. The new governor of West Virginia has, I'll admit deservedly, been winning a great deal of positive press, and support generally, for the moves he's taken to change state government since taking office a few months ago. So what's he taking on next - protecting cell clusters from murder. If that's what he personally believes fine. And hey, West Virginia is a very Catholic state. But personally, I still find it horrifying that some rich, white, good old boy thinks he knows better than the women and doctors of the state what kinds of choices that West Virginians should be allowed to make in the interest of their own health and welfare. And he'll send those that disagree with him to prison. Lovely.

Sadly, that's not the only intrusion into personal liberty and people's health choices that he's making. There's also this inane proposal to limit the amount of pseudoephedrine that can be bought by people in the state. Want some Tylenol? Too bad. If he and the state legislature think you've already bought too much over the counter material you'll need a prescription, or there's no cold medicine for you.

Posted by armand at 12:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

March 08, 2005

Pondering Band Names

Someone just asked me a question I don't know the answer to (yeah, there are a lot of those, but usually I can just make something up: this time I was stumped):

How many syllables are there in the ideal band's name?

Off the top of my head, the low is one ("Yes" and "Lard") and the high is six ("The Polyphonic Spree"). What is the "right" number?

Update: On further reflection, the high is fourteen ("Presidents of the United States of America"), which is clearly too many.

Posted by baltar at 05:54 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

The Lib Dems Prioritize Civil Liberties

Yet another difference between the US and the UK (there might be a "special relationship", but in terms of government and politics there are oh so many differences) - a major political party places the defense of civil liberties at the heart of its election campaign. Can you imagine that here? I can't.

Posted by armand at 05:49 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Joel Schmacher's The Phantom of the Opera

It's a mystifying combination of awful, boring and hysterical. I'm always happy to see Minnie Driver. Love her. And I still can't get over how wonderful Patrick Wilson was in Angels in America, so it was sort of good to see him too. And who doesn't like Miranda Richardson? It's nice to know that good actors are presumably getting paychecks they can use to feed themselves, and allow them to take on interesting small roles for less pay. But at the same time, you feel a little sorry for them being associated with this mess. And it is quite a mess.

Posted by armand at 05:12 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Hizbollah Rallies in Beirut

Abu Aardvark and Jonathan have some interesting thoughts on today's protests organized by Hizbollah in Lebanon. While change is certainly coming to that country, the direction it will take is far from clear, and actions like today's show that in a more sovereign Lebanon one of the leading players will be a political party that the United States brands a terrorist organization. But that's too simple, much like calling today's protests "pro-Syrian" is too simple. This being Lebanon, politics is never simple and it will be interesting to watch this as it develops further.

UPDATE: Helena Cobban notes how Israeli actions are likely affecting the timing of all this.

Posted by armand at 05:03 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Death of Public Discourse, Part 10,374

I realize this (even if it is news to some) won't surprise too many people, but it seems that the Pentagon has a deliberate policy of flying in the soldiers wounded in Iraq after dark (no subscription, but have to watch a brief ad). We already knew that the Pentagon was banning any photos of coffins arriving. That's old news. Given that, banning photos of wounded is the next logical step.

Since 9/11, the Pentagon's Transportation Command has medevaced 24,772 patients from battlefields, mostly from Iraq. But two years after the invasion of Iraq, images of wounded troops arriving in the United States are almost as hard to find as pictures of caskets from Dover. That's because all the transport is done literally in the dark, and in most cases, photos are banned.

You know, if this is a "just" war that is spreading freedom and democracy, shouldn't we be able to see and celebrate those people who are paying for it with literally their blood and guts? Is that too much to ask?

Of course, what this really does is further remove the real costs from any sort of public debate about why we did it, and what we should do next. I'm not saying that the American people would immediately abandon Iraq if we did see coffins and stretchers, but it certainly doesn't help the level of truthfulness of the debate to keep them hidden.

Posted by baltar at 01:06 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 07, 2005

Ambassador Bolton

The president is naming John Bolton to be our new ambassador to the UN? Is this some kind of sick joke? I mean if he doesn't like the UN, or doesn't think it works well or that we should be part of it ... well, then maybe we should just pull out of it. To stay in it and name as our ambassador a man who's had nothing but bad things to say about it and seeminly can't work with any diplomat on the planet, that's ... well counter-productive is a nice word for it. Knowingly incurring costs is a less nice way. And I suppose stupid ... well, that may be the most honest description.

Posted by armand at 01:45 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

March 06, 2005

Manual Labor by Frederick Busch

I praised the writing of Frederick Busch in one of my first posts on this blog after reading The Children in the Woods, an excellent collection of short stories. I read one of his old (published in 1974) novels last week. Manual Labor is quite interesting. Structurally, it's mostly told through two sets of writing, one a long letter written by a wife to her mother, the other a set of journal writings, or the like, written by the husband. Basically, it's a tale of two people, a young couple, who have suffered losses and are trying to get by, day by day. They launch into chores, activities, and sometimes even conversations, as they try to move on from the past. It's a very domestic tale. But it's also very powerful (the mere idea of the first few pages is startling), and Busch's use of langauage is insipring. It's familiar yet grand, funny and moving, insightful but confused. All in all, it's a fine short novel.

Posted by armand at 06:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 03, 2005

Lawyers and the Internet

You've probably heard this story before. Website (Something Awful, a snarky pop-culture site) says something a company (Limitless Horizon's Limited, LLC - a software development company making the 400 millionth game about being an elf and stabbing an orc) doesn't like for some reason. Company responds by theatening legal action unless the website removes the offending material. Website points out to company that it hasn't said anything libelous or illegal, and that the company should go away. Like I said, you've heard it before. Although the language the website used to tell the company to go away is somewhat novel:

I ran your complex and colorful letter by the Something Awful Legal Team (inc.), and he informed me that not only was your letter "totally completely idiotically something somethingly," but he additionally said it tasted like "really bad fish" when he attempted to eat it. Our legal team then scurried off and began crouching in a dark corner, perhaps to begin summoning up his legal might against the towering powerhouse that is the Limitless Horizons Entertainment LLC behemoth. Or perhaps he was still sore about losing "the one ring" to that short little fellow who came by our house yesterday.

Read the rest of it. Why is it that people feel a need to use the law like a club just because they don't like something?

Posted by baltar at 01:55 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Blood on the Handkerchief

Reports are blossoming all over the 'net about Greenspan's comments regarding a "consumption" tax.

The first kind of consumption tax that would spring to most minds is a simple sales tax. Other would imagine something more along the lines of the European states' VAT. A broader view would tax anything that wasn't saving (read down, it takes a bit). Of course, a consumption tax is criticized for being regressive, among others.

In any case, it seems worthwhile to investigate, as God - I mean, Greenspan - has spoken in favor.

Posted by binky at 12:53 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Is This What Democracy Looks Like?

Per the Washington Post (today), we see (perhaps) the true cost of Abu Ghraib and other associated "problems" in the wars on terror and Iraq:

China accused the United States on Thursday of using double standards to judge human rights in other countries, adding to a growing list of nations suggesting the government that produced the Abu Ghraib prison abuses has no business commenting on what happens elsewhere.


The sentiment it [the Chinese statement] expressed -- the Bush administration has compromised on human rights and has no standing to criticize others -- reflected similar views in a number of other foreign capitals where governments were chastised for violating human rights standards. Although such chafing often follows Washington's annual report, it has become more intense and more readily voiced since U.S. abuses of Iraqi and other prisoners were publicized around the world.

Just for the record, the "other foreign capitals" that have rejected our authority to chastise them for human rights abuses includes Russia, Venezuela, Mexico, Turkey and Egypt as well as China.

This may be the true cost of Abu Ghraib. While the actual number of Iraqis harmed at the prison may be small, the US has lost any real ability to shine a spotlight on the practices of other countries. And that has real, human costs. The suffering of unknown prisoners (likely political) in Egypt, China and Russia can be more easily hidden (and justified) and the ability of the US to force those states to be more democratic becomes that much harder.

Bush may want to facilitate the global movement of democracy, but it becomes increasingly more difficult to force change through peaceful means without the moral high ground. Of course, if we had punished the guilty parties for the prison scandal and then ceased doing it again, we might have a leg to stand on. Nope:

In November 2002, a newly minted CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison just north of Kabul allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets, according to four U.S. government officials aware of the case.
The Afghan guards -- paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision in an abandoned warehouse code-named the Salt Pit -- dragged their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin, before putting him in his cell, two of the officials said.
As night fell, so, predictably, did the temperature. By morning, the Afghan man had frozen to death.
After a quick autopsy by a CIA medic -- "hypothermia" was listed as the cause of death -- the guards buried the Afghan, who was in his twenties, in an unmarked, unacknowledged cemetery used by Afghan forces, officials said. The captive's family has never been notified; his remains have never been returned for burial. He is on no one's registry of captives, not even as a "ghost detainee," the term for CIA captives held in military prisons but not registered on the books, they said.

I'm sure the Chinese (and Russians, and Egyptians, and...) understand.

Posted by baltar at 11:40 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

March 02, 2005

We traded Curmudgeons for Cuteness?

Who the hell is John Tierney, and why does he get a spot on the NYT Op-Ed Page. Per his bio, he hasn't written anything of substance (unless you want to count a couple of humor books).

I wasn't a huge fan of Safire, but this doesn't look like a good trade.

Posted by baltar at 10:42 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 01, 2005

The Lebanese Government Falls

While it is really hard to predict where these events will take us, it's clear that exciting changes are taking place in Lebanon.

That said, I'm still very curious about killed Hariri and the others. If we knew that, we might know a bit more about what to expect.

Posted by armand at 12:43 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The Battle of Algiers and All The Real Girls

Having just watched The Battle of Algiers I can understand why they screened it at the Pentagon. While there are several key differences between the fights in Iraq today and Algeria in the 1950s, there are some important similarities (though I suppose some of you would rather overlook the fact that we are now playing the role that imperial France occupies in the movie) that probably could have informed the way officers look at the conflict in the present day. But quite apart from whether or not this 1960's film is relevant to today's politics, it's a very well done political thriller. That none of it was documentary footage, well, let's just say that the director did a phenomenal job of recreating events, particular considering when this movie was made. And there are all types of things about its construction, the action, the acting and the score that hold your interest.

As to my other recent rental, All the Real Girls, if you were able to get through it, good for you. I found the begining of it to be down-home folksy and romantic in such a heavy-handed and pretentious way that it boogles the mind. I had to pop it out of the DVD player after 11 minutes.

Posted by armand at 11:26 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack