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This blog is the work of an educated civilian, not of an expert in the fields discussed.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

God Is On Our (Or Is It Bush's?) Side

As the twin towers shook, former NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani recalled, "Spontaneously, I grabbed the arm of then Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik and said, 'Thank God George Bush is our president.'"

Maybe, I'm not the best one to decide this ... isn't there something a little sacrilegious about this? Something to make some of the honest religious faithful there a bit uncomfortable? Not that I ever took Rudy as that much of a um ... religious person. It is a bit particular that a twice divorced, pro-choice, pro-gay Catholic isn't booed off the stage given what they did to Kerry.

Of course, as an icon, Rudy is much more untouchable. He didn't continue reading to school children when he heard about a crash into a major landmark. He didn't come to the city a few days after the event. Giuliani earned his respect.

Not that his remarks at the convention, well expressed as they might have been, leads moi to respect him too much. For instance, he compares the rise of Islamic terrorism (Posner aside, "terrorism" per se is just not what we are talking about here) to the rise of Nazism -- noting how little was done to stop it. This is both ironic and just plain wrong. As a product of public and parochial schools in the former mayor's fine city, I learnt how said "little" could be somewhat fairly blamed on his party, given the tendencies of the isolationists of the era.

And, Clinton did plenty (if not enough, arguably) against terrorism, including prosecuting those who placed the bomb in the Towers the first time around. Also, as Richard Clarke notes, a well placed retaliation strike sent a message to Saddam after the Iraqis was deemed to be involved in the assassination attempt against Bush's father. The value of this is seen best by those who separate 9/11 from Iraq. This might be hard to do when we hear that the only alternatives in dealing with Iraq after 9/11 was to do nothing or go to war. Or is this a sign of our President's moral assurance? It gets a bit confusing at times.

My former mayor's encouragement to Bush to be Mr. Tough Guy is both loyal to both of their personalities, and pretty ill advised, especially given what was done thus far. To refer back to the "God" comment, what exactly would have President Gore done differently in response to the attacks? The constant snide sniping by some that he just wouldn't have been man enough (you know, stocked with foreign policy types like Clarke who were just chomping at the bit to go after Al Qaeda, instead of those who wrote letters to Clinton suggesting the way to deal with the current situation was to overthrow Saddam) or something. Please.

And, don't get me started about all of Guiliani's social liberal beliefs (along with the rest, including Gov. Arnold aka Mr. Libertine, who's got into power because the party decided to change the rules) conveniently put aside.

Anyway, I checked the scene of the crime today, and nothing too much was happening (this was circa six o'clock at night, probably not a great time). I did have a better time checking out Madison Square Park, which is about a half mile away at 23rd and Madison. It's a nice public space, very Republican friendly (statutes of David Farragut, Roscoe Conkling, and William Seward) with places to relax, play areas for the children, fountains, and a dog run. Many benches to read your Republican literature. There is even a place to buy ice cream, hamburgers, and the like.

Close your eyes and imagine a bit, and you wouldn't even know you were in the den of Satan.

Monday, August 30, 2004

New Republican Role Model: Clinton?

My Daily Constitution: I went over to Staten Island today, finally taking the ferry trip I promised myself, to attend a discussion of "The War Power Clause" at the main branch of the public library over there. It was led by John Bonifaz, author of Warrior-King and the spirit behind a serviceperson/congressional lawsuit that attempted to stop the unconstitutional (sorry, Sen. Kerry) Iraq War Resolution from being carried out. Overall, it was part of a nice idea known as "My Daily Constitution," an attempt to connect with the public and discuss basic constitutional ideals in these troubling times. I'm not one who thinks bad things are part of some great plan, but do feel we should make the best of them. And, if recent events doesn't challenge us to be better citizens, what will?

Jack Balkin was impressed by David Brooks' article yesterday as well, but notes that the ideology he promoted sounds mighty like Clintonism (perhaps with a more moral face). This is not too surprising -- Clinton was in the pulpit over the weekend bashing Bush, suggesting he too has a religious side. Clinton also promoted welfare reform, anti-terrorism legislation, and fiscal conservatism (though his means might be debatable, his goals in that direction are less so).

He also support liberal policies on social issues, but the difference between this and the libertarian wing of the Republican party is often just a matter of emphasis. Finally, Clinton knew how to sell himself as well as make some distasteful if successful political moves. His willingness to compromise also is an important quality for a successful Republican Party to promote. The bully boy tactics they currently use can only be successful for so long.

The fact that Clinton could not control his moral failings along with a certain inability to follow through [he was very good at triage and playing off excesses of his foes, but there was a sense of failure to his presidency ... a potential sadly not fulfilled] probably can be considered tragic. The model he put forth with the proper leadership is a gold mine for either party, if they can handle it properly.

After all, look at the moderate facade they are showing off tonight ... before they let the cat out of the bag by having Zell Miller (!) as keynote.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Are We Taking Them Too Seriously?

Movie: The Republican Convention is here, so one might want to watch any number of political documentaries (of which, more recently were released) out there. Still, it might be helpful to watch something a bit less political, such as Bright Leaves, a charming new documentary by Ross McElwee (of Sherman's March). The excuse for the documentary was to determine if his great-grandfather was the inspiration of the film Bright Leaf, but really is about tobacco, the land he grew up in (North Carolina), his family, and more. His documentaries are more rambling journeys than anything else, but his skills as a filmmaker makes them journeys we enjoy to watch.

I'm also happy that this site found my musings on Professor Yoo's infamous editorial helpful. Its focus is philosophy and other weighty topics, but has some comments on current events that are priceless. For instance, we have Bush and Scott McClellan as soulless automans here. Conclusion: "The message-automaton befits a despot communicating to his subjects, or, in more contemporary terms, a behaviorist conditioning his captive subjects. It does not befit the leader of a democracy." Worth reading in full.

Some suggest that the problem with how the Kerry Campaign respond to recent attacks is that they took them seriously. In other words, they should answer them with the ridicule that they deserve, such as "Bush, campaign finance advocate?"

Or, in a similar line of attack, suggest that the attacks just show how desperate the other side is -- "is this the best you got?" A thirty year old story that the facts [and what did your guy do back then?] show to be untrue and lame attacks on trial lawyers [Yes, I admit it! I fought to get money for children terribly injured. Damn those juries of average men and women!] Hey, keep it coming!

This isn't quite in their "positive" playbook, is it? Still, many pundits and ordinary voters are responding in this fashion, and it has some merit. At some point, it is healthy to basically ridicule some of the shit the other side put out there. To refuse to let it dominate the press coverage, to blank out the real issues out there. And, a good way to do this is to ask if this is what the other side is going to use, given it is just so empty. Ask the press simply: why are you letting this go on? "Simply" might not be in Kerry's vocabulary, but sometimes things aren't too complicated.

It has to be done carefully because the sneering technique is harder than it might look. Gore basically lost a debate because he was seen as lecturing Bush like some schoolboy, even if he had every right to do so. Kerry/Edwards falls in the same trap sometimes, such as appearing to plaintively ask: why don't they focus on the issues? Or, Kerryites shocked his veteran bona fides was even questioned. The whole technique, no matter how expertly done, also is just a little bit distasteful.

Still, I think it is foolish to focus too much on Kerry not playing by Bushworld rules. The campaign had to respond in some fashion, and it is the lack of a good response that was the problem, not necessarily their taking the accusations seriously. Also, I still would emphasize it's just a bad idea to put such a large focus on his service in Vietnam. Finally, the "yes" in support of authority to go to war just played into Bush's hands. A key example of not recognizing Bushworld snares, but stupid in any political campaign.

So, yes, don't let them get you to play on their tuff. Recognize that the Bushies got this far because they know how to play the game in an especially cynically successful way. A little healthy disdain is helpful. All the same, the Kerry/Edwards campaign made some mistakes that are more complicated than that. Also, they have certain characteristics* that will hinder them from totally playing by Bushworld rules, which is probably not completely a bad thing. It also turns some people off, which probably is.

Well, no one said winning the presidency would be easy, right?


* Edwards is said to be too nice. He got this far by taking a positive path, and I wonder how useful it will be to change his basic strategy. And, remember, his "two Americas" and general persona has an undertone of "those other guys are rotten" -- this is a bit negative, no? Edwards can, however, cheerfully dismiss negative attacks -- he did it before -- as not worthy of respect, as downers that just avoids what matters to ordinary folks. Play to his strengths, I say.

Posner Criticism Of 9/11 Report

The LA Times has a troubling account entitled "Trials and Errors at Guantanamo: Military tribunal's first week trying suspects is marked by confusion and inexperience." David Brooks, whose editorials I find a waste of time, has an impressive article in the NYT Magazine that provides suggestions on how to reform the Republican Party.

I was impressed by the 9/11 Commission Report, though realizing that there were various limitations, and that the reforms suggested might be problematic in various aspects. All the same, it was well written, provided good background material, had striking "you are there" reporting of the day itself, and provided some important thoughts on how a successful policy might be carried forth.

Judge Richard Posner was a less impressed, but his analysis left a bit to be desired, though worthy criticism in various aspects. He was impressed with the writing with the opening paragraphs before the criticism starts basically focus on it, as if it is the main thing he found useful. Posner thought the analysis subpar, perhaps because the report was rushed or was unanimous. Is not it useful to have this in front of us when we vote in November? Is not it more forceful when it is unanimous, not a divided (probably politically) report?

Anyway, since his tone is in general negative, I shall focus on the points of which I disagree. I'd add that I felt the last chapter a bit weak, the solutions debatable (so I welcome criticism), but thought they surely had more merit than Posner. On the other hand, I felt the other two chapters of analysis rather useful, if sometimes in a broad sense, and Posner's criticism or even belittling of it honestly annoyed me. This petulance comes in part because I do not think he even gave them enough respect of a fair rebuttal. Finally, I think the value supplied by the background, 9/11 reporting, and an independent report itself must be underlined. Posner did not do this, and this too is a flaw of his review. [How can you review a book and basically have but a sentence about eighty percent of it?!]
Had the investigation been left to the government, the current administration would have concealed its own mistakes and blamed its predecessors. This is not a criticism of the Bush White House; any administration would have done the same.

This is a bit too evenhanded -- this White House and this Congress in particular are particularly prone to such things. [The next few paragraphs were added after this post was published.] Still, Posner does basically seem to accept the necessity of an independent commission, though he misses part of its point:
The enormous public relations effort that the commission orchestrated to win support for the report before it could be digested also invites criticism -- though it was effective: in a poll conducted just after publication, 61 percent of the respondents said the commission had done a good job, though probably none of them had read the report.

How Posner knows that "none" of those polled read the report is unclear, especially if this means a basic understanding of what it said. Also, the report itself is in some sense not the point, the commission itself was, including the very public friendly qualities Posner criticizes here. It is just such an "enormous public relations effort" that should be praised, if only more of an effort is made to make public or quasi-public bodies directly to the people themselves. This criticism has shades of a troubling elitism, one that Posner sometimes is accused of.
The participation of the relatives of the terrorists' victims (described in the report as the commission's "partners") lends an unserious note to the project (as does the relentless self-promotion of several of the members). One can feel for the families' loss, but being a victim's relative doesn't qualify a person to advise on how the disaster might have been prevented.

I also do not quite understand how participation of the victims' families (though they too are victims) lends an unserious note to the project. If anything, it makes it more serious, more important. Does Posner suggest they should not have participated? If so, is he serious? I wonder if participation of ordinary people in cases his court decides downgrades the seriousness of their jobs. Finally, and this is patently obvious so it annoys me he doesn't point it out, the victims took part because of a desire to investigate certain aspects of the attacks of which they were particularly interested in. Aspects we had every duty to investigate. They were not there to advise how to reform the intelligence system.

[The last two sections were one paragraph in the review, perhaps the most stupid of them all -- surely up there. I underline my ire because it truly annoys me when such shallow argument is offered.]
But the idea that it would do so by infiltrating operatives into this country to learn to fly commercial aircraft and then crash such aircraft into buildings was so grotesque that anyone who had proposed that we take costly measures to prevent such an event would have been considered a candidate for commitment.

Not quite. First, the idea of "infiltrating operatives" was surely not outrageous, and it was well known that Al Qaeda cells existed in the U.S. The fact they might commit terrorist acts was also clear, especially since such acts were done or attempted. The idea that they would include hijackings also was far from uncomprehensible.

The final step was actually how said hijacks would be carried out. Not a trivial matter, though in fact likely to be deemed quite possible if intel discovered in the Summer of 2001 had time to simmer, but the other facts arguably was enough to put us on guard. For instance, a better passenger screening system would have brought to attention at least two operatives, even before the summer. This event alone is far from trivial. Posner quotes a Defense Department's Defense Threat Reduction Agency report that was complacent as to hijackings. Such "climate of thought" is just what the Report criticized, though in fact not really true to the intelligence available.
The commission's contention that "the terrorists exploited deep institutional failings within our government" is overblown.

Why? Posner himself notes that the solutions offered to the Bin Laden problem "for political or operational reasons" were not "feasible." If this is not at least in part a matter of institutional failings, what is? The same applies to his suggestion that one reason for the Bush Administration's "tepid" response to the Al Qaeda threat was the fact it was "predisposed to reject the priorities" of the preceding administration. I again think Posner is overly fair in suggesting anyone would be as "predisposed," but anyway, its an institutional failing if how we deal with terrorist threats depends on what part of the political cycle we are in.

Posner for some reason doesn't point to the problems with sharing information that clearly is a major thing the commission had in mind when it wrote that. This also hindered various opportunities to attack Bin Laden and his forces. Or how the "Wag The Dog" concerns probably led to additional caution. Or how Congress failed to investigate the need to update our national security to deal with new threats, but tossed it to independent commissions. And so on. I also don't quite know what sort of "campaign of attrition" Clinton had in mind against Al Qaeda.
It thus is not surprising, perhaps not even a fair criticism, that the new administration treaded water until the 9/11 attacks.

No response to the USS Cole attack. Emphasis put on other matters, even though Clinton/Berger/Clarke warned them that Al Qaeda was the biggest ongoing threat out there. And, they did not just "tread" water, as in keeping things as they were. If anything, they did less, including less briefings and organized meetings of "the principals." It is "fair" to wonder if a Gore Administration, having for years faced up to a growing threat, would have handled things differently as warning flags started to arise.

Posner then provides a "short" list of improvements that are implied by the findings of the report. He lists seven, though several can be broken down into various parts. Posner suggests the FBI needs to undergo serious reforms, though many are of "managerial" not "institutional" nature. I fail to understand how the two are not seriously intertwined. The FBI works the way it does because it is set up to do so.

Anyway, comments like "significant improvements in border control and aircraft safety" have been done also are questionable. Posner also notes (though doesn't underline) that the Report suggests the Patriot Act was not required for the demolition of the information "wall," though he ignores that it was but one reason for the inhibition of information transfer (again, largely institutional reasons). Also, I don't agree none of the other improvements besides FBI reform are "interesting." Anyway, if the area does interest him, why doesn't he compare his suggested solution (based on the British model or at least "as far as [he] know[s]" about it) with the Report's analysis? Finally, why does he list nothing regarding military action and foreign intelligence?
Which brings me to another failing of the 9/11 commission: American provinciality.

How exactly the 9/11 Commission itself fails in this respect is unclear. Is this not part of the lack of "imagination" that the Report was concerned about? The desire that we have better relations with the world, including working with them to fight modern threats? Is this administration again no worse than any other in this regard? And, talking about "underestimat[ing] non-Western foes" ... the Report supplies a pretty respectful thumbnail sketch of Al Qaeda's strategy. What are you talking about?

[Then he snipes at the recommendations.]
Anyone who thinks this pattern can be changed should read those 90 pages of analysis and recommendations that conclude the commission's report; they come to very little.

Not true, especially if we see them as a broad discussion of what we have to face in a condensed form that will receive broad distribution. To criticize the lack of specifics in various instances is ironic coming from someone who didn't want recommendations at all -- specifics are for policymakers. Commissions open the dialogue. Saying that we are already doing some of the stuff they suggest also is not exactly a criticism, since it suggests we are on the right path. No small matter.

Posner also ignores such concerns such as protection of civil liberties, multilateral relations, and so forth. He also sneers at the "hearts and minds" campaign of appealing to the Muslim people. Posner later says the Commission is wrong to suggest that we cannot use the same basic strategies tried in the past against the Soviet threat. Changing the culture behind the Iron Curtain so that the people themselves demanded change, however, is thought of as a major success. Why not here as well?
The commission wants criteria to be developed for picking out which American cities are at greatest risk of terrorist attack, and defensive resources allocated accordingly -- this to prevent every city from claiming a proportional share of those resources when it is apparent that New York and Washington are most at risk. Not only do we lack the information needed to establish such criteria, but to make Washington and New York impregnable so that terrorists can blow up Los Angeles or, for that matter, Kalamazoo with impunity wouldn't do us any good.

The suggestion belittled here is akin to the police treating every neighborhood in a city of equal threat -- it's simply foolhardy. Clearly, certain cities and areas are particularly vulnerable, partly for reasons of population, likely targets, and so forth. Los Angeles would likely be one such target, especially since LAX was already targeted in the past. I'm also unclear about something: DC is defended particularly well now. Is this a problem? After all, Baltimore or heck Spartansburg, SC is endangered in the process!
The report states that the focus of our antiterrorism strategy should not be "just 'terrorism,' some generic evil" ... But if we listen to the 9/11 commission, we won't be looking out for it because we've been told that Islamist terrorism is the thing to concentrate on.

The point is that "terrorism" is too vague -- specific terrorist threats bring forth different concerns and different solutions. This is why it singled out "Islamic terrorism" -- understanding the specific threat at issue in the report requires we understand the nature of the specific group behind it. I don't think the Report wanted our government to believe there was only one threat out there. Posner is twisting their words.

Also, though more focus on bioterrorism and cyberterrorism probably was warranted (but how relevant to a 9/11 Commission per se? or as the review itself says in its first sentence: "experienced people [that] would investigate the government's failure to anticipate and prevent the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001"), surely the recommendations are not limited to this specific threat!

[belittling two thirds of the final section of the book, Posner than focuses on the final chapter, though he doesn't talk about its FBI recommendations]
Well, everyone is now on edge because of 9/11. Indeed, the report suggests no current impediments to the flow of information within and among intelligence agencies concerning Islamist terrorism. So sharing is not such a problem after all. And since the tendency of a national intelligence director would be to focus on the intelligence problem du jour, in this case Islamist terrorism, centralization of the intelligence function could well lead to overconcentration on a single risk.

The reference to how intelligence was shared during the "Millennium Crisis" does not imply that the system would always work that way. In fact, arguably, the Bush Administration is set up in a way to make such sharing less likely -- though Posner refuses to admit that certain administrations might act differently in such matters. Also, the whole point is that we need such a system on a daily basis, not only when threat levels are high. Finally, various measures (including oversight) can help prevent this "du jour" problem.
The commission thinks the reason the bits of information that might have been assembled into a mosaic spelling 9/11 never came together in one place is that no one person was in charge of intelligence. That is not the reason.

What are they? (1) Too much information to process correctly. Unclear (especially with new technology and collection techniques) and the report suggests improvements, including less redundant spreading of the limited number of resources. (2) Security concerns in sharing information. Not only is it generally accepted that there is too much classification, but the Report also has suggestions on how to improve information sharing while still keeping security issues (institutional failings?) in mind. (3) Tendency to hoard information. Unity limits such ahem institutional failings. Posner fears it will be counterproductive.
Efforts to centralize the intelligence function are likely to lengthen the time it takes for intelligence analyses to reach the president, reduce diversity and competition in the gathering and analysis of intelligence data, limit the number of threats given serious consideration and deprive the president of a range of alternative interpretations of ambiguous and incomplete data -- and intelligence data will usually be ambiguous and incomplete.

A central clearinghouse if anything would help the president in many cases. The new framework would also still have various agencies and compartments that will provide diversity, competition, and so forth. And, how exactly will the President be able to understand and process the "alternative interpretations?"
The proposal begins to seem almost absurd when one considers the variety of our intelligence services. ... The national intelligence director would be in continuous conflict with the attorney general, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the secretary of homeland security and the president's national security adviser. He would have no time to supervise the organizational reforms that the commission deems urgent.

Such intel still has to be processed now. The problem doesn't go away, if problem there be, if things stay the same.
The report notes the success of efforts to centralize command of the armed forces, and to reduce the lethal rivalries among the military services. But there is no suggestion that the national intelligence director is to have command authority.

Right. It is not a "policymaking body" ... it is an intelligence body. That's the whole point. I'd also add that given the National Security Council would be in charge of policy, it is clearly opens up a strong alternate voice, just the sort of diversity Posner worries about. And, it probably wouldn't be alone. Finally, a core emphasis of the report is cooperation, including promoting the idea employees should get a taste of various departments. Is this a problem?
The central-planning bent of the commission is nowhere better illustrated than by its proposal to shift the C.I.A.'s paramilitary operations, despite their striking success in the Afghanistan campaign, to the Defense Department. The report points out that "the C.I.A. has a reputation for agility in operations," whereas the reputation of the military is "for being methodical and cumbersome." Rather than conclude that we are lucky to have both types of fighting capacity ...

A major problem, again ignored by Posner, is that the CIA and its director has too much to do. Given it is the Central Intelligence Agency, it is unclear why it should be involved in military operations. The report also suggests it is a waste of limited resources. Finally, if anything, the recommendations' suggestion to decrease the breadth of the CIA's role is just the opposite of a "central-planning bent."

The review ends on a fatalistic note:
When the nation experiences a surprise attack, our instinctive reaction is not that we were surprised by a clever adversary but that we had the wrong strategies or structure and let's change them and then we'll be safe. Actually, the strategies and structure weren't so bad; they've been improved; further improvements are likely to have only a marginal effect; and greater dangers may be gathering of which we are unaware and haven't a clue as to how to prevent.

The review thus ends on the same note as it begins -- exaggerated. The Report inform us of the "clever" nature of our adversary. It tells us that we will not be safe, just safer, if reforms are made. The Report is generally fair in understanding the realities the government had to face before 9/11, but clearly reforms are necessary. The nature of such reports is to in some fashion to overemphasize certain matters, but even Posner admits a major part of said "structure" (the FBI) left something to be desired. And, other areas do need reform as well.

Overall, worthwhile as it might be in pointing out some weaknesses of the Report, the review is in various ways "unimpressive." It ignores certain political realities, is not really fair in various of its criticisms, and is misguided in its rejection or avoidance of certain important discussions. The final "realistic" sentiment might be true up to a point, but is just too fatalistic. New technology, threats, and the need for periodic change all suggests improvements are not just a "marginal" matter. In fact, a unanimous report has helped push the government to start to seriously examine such issues. Would a divided report (perhaps without recommendations or as much analysis) that came out sometime in the middle of 2005 have the same effect?

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Al Franken Show Edition

Update: I read an amusing (it's all how you look at it) article on an interview President Bush gave; my comments can be found here. Peace protesters were kept from Central Park, an ill advised decision in part influenced by what Laura Flanders calls "protester scare stories." BTC News pointed us to an excellent speech by activist Arundhati Roy. Have a nice weekend.

The Al Franken Show* (his partner is on vacation, but he seems to have been a good boy) was good today because it had various segments that spoke to the issues, which is how things should be -- focus on personality, be it how great Kerry is or how bad Bush has been is somewhat limiting. Tom Oliphant, on record as a Kerry supporter, also pointed out the danger. Presidential campaigns have become a matter of attacking people and determining how much one side can take it.

It amazed and aggravated Republicans, for instance, that Clinton survived so many attacks. The guy is a damn weasel and people still supported him. They must have laughed with glee, however, when McCain took that attacks personally. And, then, he himself showed himself a bit less than a saint over the Confederate flag in South Carolina. McCain was an underdog to begin with -- such tactics, which suggested he was unbalanced, only put the nail in his coffin. Kerry should be careful, therefore, and not fall in the same track. The same applies to his supporters, who have been making this too personal.

Oliphant also has begun aggravated at the stenographer tendencies of the press -- taking what is "out there," but not analyzing it. The First Amendment brings with it a responsibility to respect certain journalistic ethics, including not printing stuff that is not true, or at the very least, analyzing the stuff that is reported. He rightly is not satisfied with a "better late than never" philosophy. The NYT or whomever finally deciding to analyze the Swift Boat story weeks after it has gained traction is just not enough. This realization that we should not be satisfied with mere crumbs after weeks of being hungry is a basic principle so often honored in breach.

[I discuss President Bush's ridiculous attempt to change the subject here.]

The nature of the problem should concern us own, though often one particular side in particular in hurt. The same applies to the issue of depriving the right to vote for those who committed a felony. I discussed this matter before, but it was useful to hear from one such person, who notes that it is particularly hard to look at his paycheck and look at the taxes he now has no voice in passing.

Taxation without representation. Something that Canada, Puerto Rico, and other places realize is a bad idea. What about Florida? And, why is it called felony disenfranchisement anyhow? The idea the you are a felon for life once you served your time, perhaps with a scarlet 'F' seems outrageous to me. I'm not alone, it seems, but that doesn't help the millions who served their time and cannot vote. Perhaps, they will be given their birthright back, the difficulty in being able do so depends on the state.

Some might even understand what this stem cell business is all about. This segment was interesting if a bit rushed -- the show really needs to stop having these strict time limits, be a bit more flexible. Anyway, the segment did a good job giving one a taste of what stem cells are all about. Al was confused why people are against them -- the cells come from embryos used during in vitro fertilization that would be lost anyway.

The idea is that they oppose in vitro fertilization, but at best can prevent funding one aspect of the result. I would add, however, that embryonic stem cell research itself is a problem to them because of what the next step might be . In vitro fertilization is not completely separate from this either, but stem cell research arguably has a slightly more dangerous feel to it. More Brave New World. If the segment was expanded and cell cloning was discussed as well, this might have been touched upon.

Still, it's an example of the opposition not being truly heard, or their views fully covered. It's important to resist this tendency, to resist stereotypes and easy targets. Air America sometimes has trouble doing this, but it surely is not limited to them. It is a fairly human tendency, but one we should still try to avoid.


* Follow this link, and you can find a promotion of Steve Earle's new CD, The Revolution Starts Now. He also currently has a show on Air America 10-11PM on Sundays. I just listened to the CD, and it is pretty good, if a bit short. I particularly liked "Rich Man's War" (for both sides) and "Condi Condi" (yes, a valentine to Condi Rice).

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Kerry At Cooper Union

[A few edits made.]

Cooper Union was made famous by Abraham Lincoln's February, 1860 speech. The speech argued that the party's stance on slavery in the territories was loyal to the founders' view, responded to attacks that it was a sectional party, and ended with an emotional defense of the party -- right makes might. [I originally had that backward!]

It showed those in the East that this prairie lawyer was the real deal and that he was a reasonable alternative to Sen. Seward (NY), who was popular but deemed too divisive of a choice for the nation as a whole (shades of Dean?). In other words, Lincoln had a real chance of winning the damn thing, and he was nominated as the party's candidate a few months later. This decision was made easier by a slew of speeches Lincoln made right after Cooper Union in the Northeast that showed his value to the party.

John Kerry recently gave a speech to Cooper Union. It was not quite as important. To be fair, other politicians gave speeches at CU during the 1860 campaign season, and not all was as well received as Lincoln's. Still, Kerry can learn a thing or two from Abe. I think the most important thing is the Lincoln was there to defend the party, not himself. This was largely a result of the time, tis true, a time when personal advancement was frowned upon in politics. It had to be done behind the scenes.

[The speech was also better advertised by a Young Republicans club of the day ... I did not know until after the fact that Kerry was in town. So, this discussion will be concern some advice I would have gave him if asked beforehand. The local coverage was not too enthusiastic, one calling it a basic "stump speech" without much passion. The NYT emphasized the remarks about the Swift Boat Controversy. And so it goes.]

All the same, the defense of the basic principles as well as the basic shallowness of the other side resulted in a wonderful speech. It brought to the fore a cause, not just a person. And, one hundred and sixty four years later, a cause is again what is important. Kerry was chosen by the voters as the candidate in part because he was thought to be the best person to beat Bush. Bush, however, is not demigod, but the leader of a group. A cabal, if you like, but still far more than one person. What he stands for is what we must truly fight, if we are among his opponents.

This is especially the case because the government is controlled by Republicans. Some of the most important decisions can even be deemed "stealth" ones because appointments (generally unopposed), regulations (no legislation needed), and executive actions are often done largely outside public view. Others are quite important, but require a lot more than one man to put them into place. In fact, for those who think defeating Bush alone will take us "back to normal," you might be quite mistaken. [Also, "normal" left a bit to be desired even in 2000 -- Naderites et. al. aren't completely off. See also, here.] Criticize him, sure, but criticize the cause more, and offer a clear alternative. In fact, do it first -- like Lincoln did. After all, while showing your path is right, you can easily show why the other side is wrong.*

The press, quite often seen as mere stenographers of the talking points of both sides, helps only somewhat. They do, all the same, put out there what the Kerry Campaign says. And, if you don't trust them to do so, you might very well be of the wing of the Democratic Party that still aren't too happy about how the campaign is going. It would be right to some degree to so believe. Vietnam is flooding the papers these days as if it was 1968 partly because Kerry himself made his service there such a dominate issue.

But, the issue shouldn't be what he did or did not do (a matter open to confusion of memory, even both sides weren't biased) thirty five years ago! It should be what he did throughout his career, what Edwards has to offer, what the party has to offer, and why it has to offer an alternative to the current party in control. Too much "I" and him (Bush) these days. Follow Lincoln's lead -- what do you stand for, why is it right, why is the other side (not person) wrong, and rally the troops.

And, be clear about it. Lincoln was a lawyer. He was of an era where rhetoric was king -- he was no soundbite guy. All the same, Kerry too often sounds like Douglas trying his damnest via causuistic logic to defend the Dred Scott Case even though it directly disputed the constitutionality of his cause (popular sovereignty). Kerry also should remember how you say something is important too, even if your basic cause is sound. A bit of flavor helps too. Edwards knows. As I say here, becrying those who attack Kerry's image not his substance, is a bit foolhardy, especially in this media age.

I support Kerry/Edwards. I like various things about them. I like their overall cause more, though I would go further than they are likely to go. This is fine -- politics is the art of the possible and being realistic about the strengths and limitations of your side. All the same, it is very important this election to remember why it was deemed so important to choose these guys -- to defend certain principles. And, it would do well to make sure we focus on them, and make sure others are as well.


* Some of the thoughts in this paragraph in particular was inspired by remarks at a public discussion by contributors to The W Effect: Bush's War on Women, edited by Laura Flanders. It helped remind me what was really important. Hearing a single mother/activist talk of her struggles with a disabled child and how the government wants her to marry the father of the child that was never there to get funding does that. The book's title is a bit ill advised in fact because "Bush" alone isn't the issue -- he is just a representation of it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z.

An excellent article concerning a soldier recently killed in Baghdad was in my local paper today.

Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z. by Debra Weinstein: This is a fairly enjoyable book about a young assistant to a famous poet/professor in the mid-1980s. She is a bit of a naive sort who welcomes the opportunity while also getting involved with a slightly off graduate student. Annabelle's experience with the poet's dysfunctional family and colleagues is told in an amusing style, though nothing too surprising occurs.

This results in the book eventually not going anywhere, but one only realizes this around the final few chapters, so it isn't too upsetting. As suggested by my earlier mention of this book, the novel starts off better than it ends, as if this first effort did not quite have the inspiration behind it for a very good ending (one that also seemed a bit rushed). The first sentence does kind of promise a bit more, so one feels a little gypped, but I still found it a good summer read.

BS or Comedy? You Decide

The author of a good discussion concerning "The Unbearable Rightness of Being Anti-War" added some thoughts on forgiveness and our inability to understand the moral complexity of our society. This leads to a great opening for politicians, who take advantage of the public's desire to resist moral dissonance.

The Washington Post has had some good coverage of current events, including this piece on a new policy on Cuba the Bushies might already be sorry about.

There are moments when the bullshit level just gets too high for me, and yesterday was such a time. I felt that way yesterday as suggested by the piece I linked yesterday at the end of my "Sunday In The Burbs" post. My actual thought was "what the hell is this guy talking about?" President Bush has found campaign finance religion -- he opposes uncapped groups (disclosure rules, so regulated, but no funding limits) known as 527s, who are behind these swift boat ads. The ads that dominated the month. It is a sad commentary on our political system.

Anyway, the ultimate stupidity of this matter is not that President Bush sounds like a lying hypocrite for supporting something that he opposed in the past (no big supporter of McCain-Feingold, he, nor am I) and doing so at a mighty convenient time. No, the whole point really is that the matter is really irrelevant to the issue at hand. Oh, it is quite understandable, since it allows people to bring up MoveOn.org and George Soros, and equalizes both sides. A pox on both sides.* It is sort of a Nader technique.

No, the ultimate stupidity is that the response doesn't make any sense. Critics of the ads are not upset that ads exist. They oppose the content of said ads. They are not even upset that ads are connected in various ways with the campaign, at least if they were truly honest about the whole matter. They are upset that these particular ads are and that the Bushies take a Sgt Schultz "we know nothing!" stance. Finally, they are not upset that independent groups exist, partly since they have their own. They are upset at what the group is doing. This is not rocket science.

The President's stance doesn't make any sense as applied to the matter at hand. Is he saying that if a regulated group said the same thing, it would be okay? Surely, he supports the rights of organizations to promote their views and purchase advertisements to do so. Thus, the ads themselves would exist in some form even without 527s. So, at the end of the day, he isn't really saying anything. Though one might think from some of the coverage that he opposes the content of the ads.

Of course, this is the whole point. We are adults here, we know what's going on. Some, such as the conservative leaning Volokh Conspiracy blog feign ignorance. Though at first not sure, they are wary that the the President is supporting limitations on the freedom of speech. The utter emptiness of his stance is ignored, the hypocrisy winked at, or partly defended as a reasonable cynical move. The press is somewhat the same with their penchant for just supplying talking points of both sides without analysis. I guess this is better than simply misinforming the public on what the President said. The Daily Show must be loving this stuff.

Anyway, congrats to Ted Lilly, former Yank (and Oakland A), for having a career game -- a complete game shutout against Pedro Martinez. He helped the Yanks out by doing so, but I'm glad for him personally. Also, Scott Kazmir -- the Mets prospect traded to Tampa -- actually had an okay start against Seattle. Many feared that he was being rushed to the big leagues, but he pitched five decent shutout innings. Tampa started scoring runs in the top of the next inning, so he's 1-0. [Scoring corrected]

* This is just not true, but the imbalance is so much that people find it hard to accept the reality of the whole thing. For instance, only one side requires loyalty oaths to those who go to their rallies. I mentioned this to someone who isn't as into this stuff as much as I, you know the average voter.

She was shocked because she has a basic sense of what this country stands for, even if we don't agree on various issues. She also was quite upset when someone lost their job because he supported the candidate a client at his firm didn't like. Also, she is always sure to vote. Such idealism is appealing, even from those likely to vote for the wrong person.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Flower Poet Thoughts

I began reading a new book, having done my educational reading for the week. Apprentice of the Flower Poet Z by Debra Weinstein is good so far. It is an account (perhaps a roman a clef?) of a young undergraduate who becomes the assistant of a famous poet/professor. She writes with a nice bemused but still uneasy tone, a proper one for a young character not sure of herself, but realizing the perverse side of her experiences. One good metaphor used in the book was writing as a journey.

My particular skill, as it were, is more poetry in prose. I see the joy and power in writing that excites, energizes, educates, and entertains (note the alliteration). The book also made me think of a particular metaphor, probably not too original, the use of gender to represent politics. My thought was that Democrats (or perhaps, liberals or progressives) seem feminine, Republicans (conservatives?) masculine. This is partly why being "sensitive" is deemed by some a particularly dangerous sort of quality to have.
O, mighty flower!
You are the mouth, the lips, the song,
singing in the eternal garden.*

One seems more caring, accepting of fault, a bit unsure of themselves (though sure about certain things that matter to them), and supportive of "soft" things. There is fierceness to them, of course, and they have their flaws and all. For instance, they care for their children too much, not willing to accept their faults and the duty to punish. This, after all (if sadly necessary), is the role of the father.

And, they need a special strength of their own to deal with life's travails without becoming embittered in the process. [Some do ... in fact, they must deal with this fact, and bear it in their own way. The other side sometimes sneers at this victimhood, at times because it is deemed to be their own fault.]

It is in fact part of their power, though deemed by some a weakness, and perhaps taken advantaged of in the process. For they are less willing to harm, perhaps less able to, though they have their own ways to retain their own sort of power. This power seems foreign and dangerous to the other side, in part because they do not fully understand it.
The intersection of arrogance and betrayal
drove nails into the crucifix.
I make a cruciform sign to invoke the blessing,
and invoke my father,
a boxer,
bejeweled in the anger of the Cross family.*

Nonetheless, they are quite different from their opposite numbers, who are more rough sorts of people deep down, more warlike, and willing to be cruel to get what they want. They see life as something to be borne [a poetic word] that will result in some suffering (perhaps unfortunately, but so be it).

They too have a soft spot; though they are loathe admitting to it (and are only more fierce in covering up what they see as a weakness or lash at their alleged victimizers). Power must be protected at all costs, even if they have to be particularly savage in the process. Power is sort of like sex, which the other side sees in a more compassionate art, though they too are fierce in protecting it (in their own fashion).

I, of course, speak in stereotypes and broad brushes. Those on both sides will note the problems with the definitions of gender alone, not to speak of its application to politics. This is fine because no comparison or metaphor is perfectly apt, nor do I mean it to be here. Life is in part such a pleasant and intriguing thing to contemplate because of its complexity, no matter how we try to simplify it. Still, I found it an interesting exercise, no matter how true it ultimately might be deemed to be.

I bet it could be used to create a pretty good poem. If I was good at that sort of thing, that is.

Sunday In The Burbs

BTC News has put in a useful bookmark list. Along with those provided in Balkanization, Volokh Conspiracy, Common Dreams, and Political Animal [to list those on my blogroll], one can have a nice collection of source material. It is said that some go to the Drudge [Sludge?] Report in part for its links, but one need not assist his hit count for such a function given other sources available.

Sunday was spent visiting relatives up in White Plains, New York. Such a racist name, hmm? Lol. The ride on the train passes by nice town names like "Bronxville," "Fleetwood," and "Scarsdale." White Plains is probably best known for its shopping, but it nice overall to go along the main avenues. There is a large cemetery of the sort in which Buffy the Vampire Slayer would frequent. A small one connected to an old Presbyterian Church (I find they tend to have well titled sermons).

And, some nice public spaces to relax during the summer. I also find it interesting to look at the old military markers, which are about seventy-five years old (one a small piece of artillery in honor of WWI veterans, another a cannonball to mark a Revolutionary War battle). One can imagine the area did not look too different back then, just without the Starbucks, large glass buildings and such.

I also stopped by the new Barnes and Nobles. For certain sorts, a visit to a bookstore is usually a fruitful enterprise, and it was for me since I caught an eye on some interesting looking books. It also is a good way to skim the latest magazines, a fuller way to do so than online, leading one to wonder the value of subscriptions. I was annoyed, however, by some rude individual who insisted to enter the store while talking on his cell. The store is inside a new complex with plenty of spots to have such a conversation without annoying customers.

As to weekend articles against the Swift Boat Smear Commission as well as what Kerry should do in response, I offer these thoughts. I thank the comments that I received in response to some rough thoughts that lead to the piece.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

9/11 Report: Solutions?

Video: Shattered Glass, concerning Stephen Glass and his falsified stories over at The New Republic, was rather lame. An hour of this obvious film with a truly annoying subject (as portrayed, it's hard to understand why anyone liked the guy) was enough for me. Michael Kelly (a small character in the drama) might also have deserved better. I also saw The Guys, the film version of the play (it was better on the stage), and thought it had a bit too much filler. It was interesting, however, to consider its portrayal of a writer putting the words and thoughts of someone else in a proper form -- how an "as told by" story might be formed.

The ultimate value of the 9/11 Commission was the refreshing way it investigated in a public way and expressed its findings in a straightforward way with a reason to hope that it would all be useful in some real fashion. This is one reason such commissions are established to deal with tragedies and other compelling events, suggesting that sometimes an independent body with a single minded focus has its purposes. This might be a result of the current problems with the political system, but so be it.

The nature of the subject overall and the individuals actors makes a small independent commission that is able to put forth unanimous findings and recommendations also useful. This also somewhat limits its ability to supply specifics, but the basic principles it puts forth are in a way no less essential. The Constitution is a basic framework of government, one that can be applied in any number of ways. All the same, the framework, something most of us can largely agree upon, is central.

This is what makes the penultimate chapter, "What to Do? A Global Strategy," so impressive. I must say, and this might temper my thoughts a bit, the strategy is one that mostly appeals to me. For instance:
"[L]ong term success demands the use of all elements of national power: diplomacy, intelligence, covert action, law enforcement, economic policy, foreign aid, public democracy, and homeland defense. If we favor one tool [e.g. war] while neglecting others we leave ourselves vulnerable and weaken our national effort."

And also, as to measuring success ...
"[T]he targets should be specific enough so that reasonable observers -- in the White House, the Congress [e.g. with oversight reform], the media, or the general public -- can judge whether or not the objectives have been attained. ...

[T]he American public are entitled to expect the government to do its very best. They should expect that officials will have realistic objectives [we shall be attacked in some way again], clear guidance, and effective organization. They are entitled to see some standards for performance so they can judge, with the help of their elected representatives, whether the objectives are being met."

Suffice to say, the core "global strategy" moves are not military in nature. We must recognize and isolate threats, which sometimes means military involvement, but "soft power" is much more important. This includes support of those who offer alternatives to the seriously troubled societies that terrorists target. Sound like something Democrats can take a hold on or at least opponents of the current administration? Well, no need to stop there ...

We must "encourage development, more open societies, and opportunities" so that the societies themselves (the only ones who truly can) will take the best path. Though supporting the current (imperfect) leadership of Pakistan seems the best way to go, "short-term gains in cooperating with the most repressive and brutal governments were too often outweighed by long-term setbacks." Multilateral organizations will be very important, including in fighting terrorism (e.g. catching traveling terrorists) and controlling the spread of "WMDs."

Homeland defense is also quite important. A core issue here is a better way to control borders and air travel. The report opposes the current strategy of allocating funds by population, not threat level. Executive and legislative oversight also is necessary to evaluate the action taken. Finally, the increased level of government investigation will require more oversight to secure civil liberties. Something that is very important in the international realm as well.

The final chapter deals with a possible re-organization of the government to help carry forth some of these moves. It sort of bogged down in detail, but a few broad measures can be touched upon. It suggests a new intelligence framework headed by a National Intelligence Director with budget and personnel control.

A National Counterterrorism Center would also be a central clearing house of intelligence with corresponding operational planning authority. This is not so in the current Terrorist Threat Integration Center (TTIC) that serves this function somewhat but without the oversight power. The core concern is "joint action" and the best use of limited resources, especially analysts and linguists.

The FBI is in the mix, but there would be no separate domestic intelligence area, but a specialized force inside the agency that would also be qualified for in basic criminal justice matters. After all, investigation per se shares basic qualifications, and working with the criminal side will be quite important. A close eye must be kept to insure the agency is kept up to date, including dealing with new threats.

Information is not to be cabined, but shared. Congressional oversight, hindered by being splintered into so many parts, is essential. One small oversight committee should be set up in each house to deal with homeland security. Politics should be kept out of this area as much as possible. Reforms would include making the "overall amounts of money being appropriated for national intelligence and to its component agencies" public.

Thus, imagination, joint action, and oversight might be considered essential. The report ends thusly:
"We look forward to a national debate on the merits of what we have recommended, and will participate vigorously in that debate."


Saturday, August 21, 2004

9/11 Report: Foresight ... Hindsight

Item: An excellent example of war reporting.

When examining how the national government handled the lead-up to the events, hindsight clouds our vision some, but some criticisms can fairly be made. This does not mean that if such and such would have been done, the attacks would have been prevented. All the same, the attacks were not somehow foreordained (though some might so think), and they might have been prevented. I find it annoying when this pretty uncontroversial statement is somehow deemed outrageous. Or, when the attempt to point to mistakes is supposed to imply we are blaming. This assumes liability, which does not necessarily follow.

Some want to make 9/11 as a sort of totally shocking event, as if there was no way in hell that we could have imagined it would occur, or do anything to prevent it. The idea that no one imagined a plane would be used as a weapon is such an example. This isn't true, it tries to prove too much. The Summer of 2001 also brought forth a lot of "chatter" that something big was about to occur. [The report is sympathetic to Richard Clarke and his concerns.]

Yes, it seemed to concern something overseas, but domestic action was not ruled out. Little was done though deal with such a threat, in part because Attorney General Ashcroft assumed the domestic sphere was safe. I question if this was justified and wonder if the Bush Administration's apparent lack of concern for the Al Qaida threat (with domestic aspects) that they were strongly warned about by the outgoing Bush Administration (though the Bushies don't quite recall such emphasis, Clinton, Berger, and Clarke do) had something to do with it. They needed a lot less to go after Iraq.

I admit the matter is hazy, though an alert might very well have brought to attention various hints that something was amiss, including the capture of Moussaoui (who the Report suggests might have been a backup hijacker though the "20th" hijacker was probably someone else). It could have speeded things up or put more people on alert on the importance of keeping one's eye out. For instance, a captured terrorist suggested that just the capture of Moussaoui (if known) could have stopped the plot.

Ashcroft's snide attempt to blame some of the problems in sharing essential information that summer on the "Gorelick Memo"* (thus targeting a commission member), however, was directly refuted:
"We believe the Attorney General's testimony does not fairly or accurately reflect the significance of the 1995 documents and their relevance to the 2001 discussion."

There was a big problem in sharing important information among different agencies, including (sometimes especially) between the criminal and intelligence side aka "The Wall." It bears noting, however, why this was so. Quite often, it was more a problem of interagency relations than any legal barrier (or policy arising from one). If anything, the Bush Administration only made the problem worse, and still do in various cases.

There was also, and this sadly affected an investigation that summer, a confusion on what the rules truly were. Finally, hesitance to "press the envelope" often arose because the government's own misdeeds led to blowback and then perhaps excessive caution in response. The technical "wall" was in fact quite narrow, and in response to legitimate constitutional concerns. I believe the assumed need for the USA Patriot Act to "solve" an exaggerated problem was an example of overkill.

The infamous 8/6 Memo also is supposed to be deemed of no value. Not true. Important basics are there, including the desire to attack our soil, al-Qua'da [memo spelling] members living in and traveling to the U.S., suspected interest in federal buildings, and talk of hijacking (also an attempt to target LAX). Furthermore, as suggested above, it is not like the memo stood alone: it summarized a decent amount of intel that some felt was not properly handled. For instance, greater concern for "traveling" terrorists might have resulted in flagging at least two that was involved in the hijackings.

The Report supplies a depressing account about how the Clinton and Bush Administrations could think of little to do to respond to the threat of Bin Laden and Al Qaida. The core problem was that the target was too diffuse, Pakistan stood in the way of direct action, and there was fear of any collateral damage. One might imagine, given the time, Kerry would have acted in a similar fasion. [It bears noting that even after 9/11, our approach in Afghanistan left a bit to be desired, especially the reliance on locals.]

There was also a strong need for "proof" and "sure thing" assurance, which is just hard to get. This was a core reason why nothing was done (by either administration) in response to the attack on the U.S.S. Cole. Other matters, both political (impeachment) and international (Serbia, Iraq, Haiti, and so on) seemed more pressing. Also, the Bush Administration planned to focus on other things -- note that their perceived expertise didn't work out in this case.

The failure to properly process information and deal with the resulting intelligence was a bit less understandable. Also, though the Clinton Administration is to be applauded for realizing the potential of the new threat and starting to understand/deal with it, it can be blamed for not properly making it an issue. A few speeches and budget requests were not really enough. The Congress and public at large should have understood that international terrorism was an important matter to think about in 2000. Times were not as safe and cozy as some thought.

On this, the commission members were right, a failure of imagination was a big part of the problem.

[This review of Jonathan's Randal's new book also suggests lack of knowledge, such as, "how to navigate among tribes, local customs, ways of conducting business and sharing power that at first glance made no sense" was part of the equation as well. The book sounds promising.]


* Commissioner Gorelick had some role in setting up the Clinton Policy (continued by the Bush Administration) regarding the discussed "Wall," but (as discussed in the linked piece) the basic principle was set up a lot earlier. Also, the "Gorelick Memo" not only dealt with a much more narrow matter, it might have helped things somewhat.

I remain opposed to those who suggested she should have stepped down, especially since it is unclear to me why it was not brought up before she sat, and others also had some potential biases. She recused herself from the particular discussion (did those connected to the airlines recuse themselves from that issue?) and the report was unanimous. Also, as with those passionately opposed to Bob Kerrey (the favorite of some, who thought him an equal opportunity critic), there was just too much partisan flavor to the critics to take cries of bias that seriously.

Friday, August 20, 2004

9/11 Report: Heroism and Horror

Other Stuff: I'm a big fan of ATMs, but agree with Robert Samuelson on the issue of cell phones. These useful devices are just overused these days and bring with them a troubling diminishment of privacy. Privacy is also affected when the Defense of Marriage Act is upheld with tragic human consequences such as the inability to have bankruptcy protections that are often essential when tragedy (e.g. cancer) strikes.

The 9/11 Commission Report, as we recall arising from a mandate the President and his misguided nomination for CIA head originally opposed, brought forth enough thoughts to warrant multiple entries. I already introduced the report along with some thoughts on the first chapter. For the sake of convenience, I will split my remaining discussion into three parts: "Heroism and Horror," "Foresight ... Hindsight," and "Solutions?."

The most emotional chapters in the 9/11 Commission Report are surely the ones summarizing the events of that morning. I already mentioned the attacks themselves; the other chapter concerned "Heroism and Horror." -- the response on the ground. This is none too surprising. It is after all the demands of the survivors who truly brought the commission itself to fruition.

[ I also wish to recommend The Guys, originally a play (performed none too far from GZ), and now a movie. It concerns a NYPD fire department captain who lost eight men getting help from a writer (Sigourney Weaver) to prepare for the eulogies. (The fire department lost twenty two people on the job in the 1990s, over three hundred on 9/11.) I saw the play in early 2002, as the shock was just wearing off. It was an excellent eulogy in itself, the writer as our representative, listening, not sure what we can do in answer to what was lost that day.]

The events that morning highlighted the problems we had in preparing for and dealing with the that day. As the Report notes, this can be summarized into four failure categories: imagination, policy, capability, and management. For instance, a major problem that morning on the ground was coordination and communication, especially between agencies.

Only at the very last minute was anyone apparently aware the South Tower would fall and even then, most did not think the North Tower would. This was partly a result of failure of coordination, imagination (e.g. having a structural expert on site giving updates), and so forth. The disorder of the moment surely factored in as well. Many inside did not even realize the first one was hit and informing them was quite difficult (especially with poor radio communication):
"This chief also had a bullhorn and traveled to each of the stairwells and shouted the evacuation order: "ALL FDNY get the fuck out!" As a result of his efforts, many firefighters who had not been in the process of evacuating began to do so. ... At least one firefighter who was in the North Tower has supported that assessment [refusal to accept NYPD ESU officers "advice" to evacuate], stating that he was not going to take an evacuation order from a cop that morning.

The situation for the civilians was troubling as well. It bears noting that it is remarkable that "only" around twenty five hundred died in the Towers, considering the capacity was fifty thousand (many less were there). The ability of thousands to escape relatively smoothly in the midst of smoke, fire, and terror, is a case of courage under fire. Emergency personnel and reforms after the first bombing in 1993 (glow strips in stairwells were godsends to many) helped. Still, we have statements like these to suggest the system was just not set up to handle such a situation:
"The [911] callers were transferred back and forth several times and advised to stay put. Evidence suggests that these callers died."

I think it is justified to suggest that there were a few things that could have been done (including having better radios) to better prepare for such a tragedy. One must recall that the World Trade Center was already bombed once, talk of bombing local tunnels was in the air, and some future terrorist attack on New York City in particular was far from a pie in the sky notion. The final judgment would mostly be kind, perhaps, but it is foolhardy not to look back and consider what we could have done better -- this is the path to reform and did help after the 1993 attack.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Some Reasons Not To Vote For Bush

File Sharing Upheld: The Ninth Circuit handed down a well reasoned (Eugene Volokh disagreed on one issue) opinion that brings a bit of sanity to the issue of peer-to-peer file sharing. It held: "The technology has numerous other [that did not breach copyrights] uses, significantly reducing the distribution costs of public domain and permissively shared art and speech, as well as reducing the centralized control of that distribution."

Thus, the defendants failure to "materially contribute to direct infringement" (as compared to Napster) leads them not to be liable in this particular case. [Prof. Volokh notes they did so contribute, but the legal uses counterweigh, and as the Court says, they didn't know particular individuals would misuse the technology.] The opinion compared it to the use of VCRs -- potential illegal use does not make useful technology illegal. This is the path to a reasonable middle road that protects the First Amendment, computer technology, and copyrights as well. VCRs okay, knowingly assisting a pirating business, not. Prof. Lessig should be happy; his guest bloggist discusses the decision here.

A core reason for opposing President Bush is opposition to his ideology (as with some on the other side, values in my case trumps economic concerns per se, though I'm with those who are concerned with this bunch in that area as well). This ideology has an authoritarian mindset that includes such troubling things as excessive secrecy, inability to admit error, simplification (a useful device to obtain control), and so on. I'm using "ideology" in perhaps an inexact way here, but simply put, I just don't oppose the guy because he's conservative.

Anyway, major ways to carry forth ideological goals are administrative action and judicial picks. Two areas I have discussed in the past as well as other things in this brief summary, but Legal Fiction has an excellent take on a trio of articles over in the Washington Post that deals with the first category. Balkanization has some discussions that highlight some of the importance of the second. See also, Juan Gonzalez's latest on the EPA mishandling of air quality at Ground Zero. [Others picked up the Sierra Club report, but Gonzalez has done yeoman work on this issue.]

I also do not think much of the ability of this administration to do it's job. Kevin Drum cites Juan Cole on how the Najaf battles have not been handled all too well, while also mentioning one particular example of how the whole affair has been handled in a heavy handed way, one not "sensitive" to the complexities on the ground. In part:
Needless to say, Prof. Cole is not very happy that "ignoramus Marines in Najaf" are making these decisions. On the other hand, if Paul Bremer hadn't shut down Sadr's newspaper back in March, maybe none of this would have happened in the first place.

Sports Illustrated also reports that the Iraqi Soccer Team aren't happy to be used as props for Bush campaign ads. No friends of Saddam Hussein and company, voices like these must be faced:
"My problems are not with the American people," says Iraqi soccer coach Adnan Hamad. "They are with what America has done in Iraq: destroy everything. The American army has killed so many people in Iraq. What is freedom when I go to the [national] stadium and there are shootings on the road?"

And, to round things off, there is also the fact that some of the people on the other side just play mean. Julie Hilden has a good discussion on the First Amendment concerns arising from one particularly heinous example. I'd just add that she fails to emphasize that the concurring opinion in the key 1970s Supreme Court opinion she cites has been used (somewhat flimsily) to defend the middle ground she suggests should be taken.

Dahlia Lithwick, guest columnist over at the NYT, suggests today that calling President Bush in effect a stupid child is not the best way to go because it antagonizes key voters, but also because it is the adult misdeeds of this administration that must be underlined. Quite true. Still, even in a library, I had to laugh when she cites how voters in 2000 felt "he represented a return to honesty and morality." Along with the suggestion he would be advised by a bunch of serious professionals who knew what they were doing, that is just TOO funny.

In a sad way.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Sports Update: Baseball, The Olympics, and Women in Sports

Michael Dorf has an excellent piece entitled: "Kerry Stands by His Iraq War Vote And Stands, With Bush, Against Constitutional Principles."

Baseball: I know cries of "unfair" tend to be unfounded when watching sports, though some calls just aren't right, but sometimes a fan just feels the injustice of it all. Last night was such a time. The Mets started the game off well, two runs in the first and new starter Zambrano holding his own.

And, then he hurt himself in the second inning. The long man came in and quickly gave up two runs. The Mets scored, so did Colorado. Dan Wheeler then settled down and pitched to the sixth (about where you'd want him to), but gave up a run in that inning. It turned out to be the winning run. The other long guy gave up two runs in the eighth to ice the deal (final score: 6-4). And, thus, the Mets find another way to lose.

Olympics: I'm not really into the Olympics and find it cheapened somewhat by the number of international games played these days, including Winter and Summer games -- no longer is it a special leap year event. There is also the news that our players appear to be the top users of illegal substances. An Iranian refusing to play against a Israeli also harmed the whole purpose behind the event.

All the same, many people do enjoy the events, even those who would not normally watch sports. The media assist this tendency by focusing a lot on backstories, such as Afghan women or a player trying to play through injuries. Each event, in the eyes of some critics, is more drama than sport. The events also provide insomniacs something to do, since they air all night long (given the time difference between here and Greece as well as the filler potential). The events, however, are often not live (depending on the station, I guess), and scores were often reported on some outlets before the event itself was aired.

I caught a bit of it last night, some sort of women's gymnastic event -- the skill and strength involved in flipping through the routine is unbelievable. One woman noticeably had a couple problems (clearly blatant, if I caught them), which apparently could have seriously hurt the team overall. I was also reading about how upset a nineteen year old fencer* was when she couldn't qualify. The amount of stress these athletes must be under! Pamela Anderson, however, helped one out by donating greatly needed funds.

Someone argued that figure skating and gymnastics (he later added tennis) were the only women sports people really cared about. This brought forth some passionate replies, including a few by "ShriekingViolet" (a consistently good read) that in part involve some good stats on the success of Title IX and women sports overall. Such philosophical differences (at times expressed in crude terms or symbolically) are often more important than alleged ones involving things like Kerry's abilities at Election Time.

I myself am not really a viewer of women's sports though there are various chances to watch women's basketball, softball, golf, soccer, tennis, and so forth. From what I hear, women's tennis is often seen as more enjoyable than men's, partly because of better match-ups and back stories (off the court activities seem quite important to tennis fans). It's hard to compare women's softball, but I don't think men's college baseball really is more interesting. Women's basketball is less exciting, given lower scores and so forth, but I'm no big fan of men's basketball really.

Men's vs. women's golf? As is the case for some when it comes to mens sports, watching women's sports is in part a matter of enjoying the sex itself. I find soccer pretty boring, but I guess women's soccer would have the edge for that reason. It really isn't bad to admit this upfront -- I'm sure those involved in women's tennis know that attraction is one reason why the sport is popular.

And, the reactions of certain fans will tell you the same applies to baseball. Problems do arise -- just look at the personal lives of many male athletes -- but it is clearly part of the equation. Surely, this does not mean that attraction alone is the reason people watch such activities. The sport itself, including the talent, grace, and competition involved, also are part of the mix. And, if women -- who often are not big fans of the particular game -- are on hand to enjoy a day with their loved ones, it is only right (and as enjoyable) for men to be there as well.

Figure skating and gymnastics are two areas where women in particular have special skills in part because of the body types that excel in these fields. They might be considered "women" sports for this reason. The whole point of Title IX and the ethos behind it, however, is that sports need not be for one particular sex. A certain sport, such as football, might be mainly geared to one (though women do play football, just as men skate), but sports in general should be for both sexes. And, the resulting values obtained from team work, athletic excellence, and fan involvement are things women should enjoy as well.


* She is black ... this bears noting because fencing has the image of a white elite sort of activity. It also is a good way for certain students to understand how to use weapons as objects of skill and sport. The value of this route is that said weapons are used quite often, while violent use tends to be a quick and inconsistent affair. The consequences also are obviously significantly different.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

The 9/11 Report

See also: My reply to Phil Carter's piece on attempts to block military recruiters from campus because of that institution's policy on homosexuals. Though not really disputing my argument, the reply (from a philosophy professor ... talk about a mismatch!) is worth reading, as are many other posts on the fray discussing the article.

I have begun reading The 9/11 Commission Report. It is written in easily understood English, impressive in itself, and is a reasonable four hundred plus pages (over a hundred pages of end notes as well). There is a lot of material packed in there, so it's hard to take it all in, but a basic broad understanding of the events can be found. After an account of the attacks themselves, for instance, there are chapters concerning the growth of Al Qaeda, a thumbnail history of counterterrorism, and so on.

[A less than friendly Weekly Standard was impressed with the writing style and background materials, if not the proposed solutions. WS seems to be of the "bomb them" mentality.]

The book has good "skim" value. It also, hard as it is to believe, has parts that draw you in, makes you want to turn the page to see what happens next. The first chapter, "We Have Some Planes," has this effect, mixed with an underlining sadness as well as anger at how unprepared the government was when it happened. It is good, if hard, to get a general idea what happened that morning, on the ground and in the air. Life isn't quite Executive Decision, though apparently movies about hijackings were part of terrorists' preparation.

Still ... At 8:19AM, the airline knew the first plane was hijacked, within about five minutes so did the FAA. The plane crashed at 8:46. The President, however, thought it was an accident. This still doesn't justify, in my view, going to a photo op event. It was a national emergency all the same and immediate action had to occur. We read, as well, that every minute counted ... spending ten or more minutes at the school in the middle of an ongoing emergency was just plain wrong. Once he found out about the second attack, such behavior is almost unconscionable.

Also, how in the hell did it take a second crash (over fifteen minutes later), for the President and company to realize it was not an accident? The FAA knew it was a hijacking. NORAD knew since 8:38. We are talking about a plane in domestic air space not too far from major population centers. Did no one uh call the FAA to check? Isn't this what one would do first in the case of such a crash? I just don't understand.

The account also supplies a chilling account of the resulting disorder. The last flight was delayed, which as it turned out, was probably why Congress or the White House was not hit. The delays gave the people on board time to realize what happened and react. Disorder on the ground, including confusion on the military side, suggests a military solution might have not occurred in time. The chilling thing is, however, that there was time to warn the pilots. It took over ten minutes, but Flight 93 was warned. Unfortunately, before confirmation could be sent, the cockpit was attacked.

Though I have not read the relevant chapters yet, I am a bit uneasy about the gung ho support of the commission's suggested reforms. It is not surprising that an independent commission is being used by Congress for inspiration, since the report itself notes that at least three other times such concerns were tossed to such third parties. And, as a momentum toward change, there is something to be said -- especially if the suggestions are good ones. Still, this does not mean everything it said was gold. Or that change must happen RIGHT NOW. The reforms should be evaluated on their merits and a bit of reflection would be a good thing.

Overall, the paperback version is a good $10 investment (a separate volume of committee reports is also available and on perusal appears of similar value). I shall come back to it with some additional thoughts, as time might warrant.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Two Ordinary Folks No Longer Married

Concern: The Swift Boat Anti-Kerry ad, getting tons of free publicity, is only further causing Kerry supporters to focus too much on that part of his life. His public career involved time as an assistant district attorney, lieutenant governor, and twenty years as a senator. More focus has to be on those years, which are quite respectable. Cries that he is trying to suggest he grew fully developed a la Athena out of Zeus' head from his months in Vietnam must be answered a bit more carefully.

Scout: Don't you remember me, Mr. Cunningham [at the prison to demand Atticus release Tom Robinson to the mob]? I'm Jean Louise Finch. You brought us some hickory nuts one early morning, remember? We had a talk. I went and got my daddy to come out and thank you. I go to school with your boy. I go to school with Walter; he's a nice boy. Tell him 'hey' for me, won't you? You know something, Mr. Cunningham, entailments are bad.

- To Kill A Mockingbird

It is when things we take for granted are threatened or denied that their importance is underlined, when we see how arbitrary people are actually being treated, and how true equality must be demanded. It calls into question our basic beliefs, makes us wonder, and feel uneasy. This is why a matter like the rights of homosexuals, which affects only a small minority of the population, is so important. Why it has been made an issue in this election.

I entitled my entry about the California Supreme Court's ruling on gay marriage as I did because Rosie O'Donnell's marriage (along with the rest) were officially annulled. The decision was not just a dry matter of a mayor's power to supersede state law based on his belief it was unconstitutional. It removed the official recognition of the marriages of thousands of couples.

This might have been legally sound, though I have my doubts it was necessary, but it was particularly painful on a personal level for those affected. The law can be a technical or dry matter, until you realize real people are involved. You can listen to some of the couples affected here. Couples whose marriages are now not recognized by the state, though still by each other and their families, friends, and quite often religious organizations.

And, this is how change will truly come -- as someone in Outfoxed noted, pictures of boring, average middle aged people getting married (or not being able to be) is just so ordinary. Unlike racy gay pride parades (or a few components of them), people just are not too shocked by all of this. It also suggests the basic emptiness of those who argue allowing equality for same sex couples is akin to polygamy or prostitution. The ordinary person understands the difference.

This focus on the people affected is a potentially goldmine approach. To be a bit expansive, Jefferson was known for his respect for human nature, the ability of the average person to know what is right. This is a bit too optimistic, but it is the appropriate focus. So many big issues are out there: war and peace, health care, the environment, privacy rights, criminal justice, and a whole lot more. So complicated, so out of our control, right? Perhaps ... unless we look at individual people affected, their feelings, needs, dreams, and happiness.

It helps put things into perspective.


PS It bears noting that the governor of New Jersey did not resign from office just because he was gay, but because of a critical mass of scandals. I'm inclined to think the matter was not a trivial factor, but it really does no justice to his fellow "gay Americans" to overemphasize it.