Archive for October, 2003

Kling on Krugman

Thursday, October 9th, 2003

Arnold Kling takes Paul Krugman to task in this piece at Tech Central Station: An open letter to Paul Krugman. Kling distinguishes between two types of arguments: “Type C” arguments, which are about the consequences of a proposed policy, and “Type M” arguments, which are about the inferred motivations of the people advocating that policy. Kling makes the eminently reasonable point that Type C arguments are inherently preferable to Type M arguments. He even makes his case in the form of a Type C argument. Good job.

If there were a way to restrict both sides in the public debate in this country to using only Type C arguments, well, we’d have a much higher quality of debate. Unfortunately, there isn’t, and we don’t. And what Paul Krugman’s willingness to engage in Type M amounts to is an acknowledgement that restricting yourself to Type C when the other side is relentlessly hammering away at you with Type M is a good way to lose an argument.

This is exactly what happened in this country over the last 30 years. (See? I’m talking about consequences. It’s a Type C argument. Woo!) Right-wing politicians and media figures launched an all-out assault on liberal policies and those who advocated them, using Type M arguments as their weapon of choice. The response from the liberals consisted mainly of high-minded Type C stuff.

Well, guess what? We liberals lost the debate, and the current Bush presidency is one of the more horrifying results. So we’re done with the self-imposed limitations. We’ll go back to the Type-C-only arguments when the other side demonstates a willingness to do the same. Until then, forget it. It’s a sucker’s game.

Peters: Media Are Actors, Not Just Observers

Thursday, October 9th, 2003

Ralph Peters, writing in the New York Post, says the media are a key player, perhaps the key player, in determining the success or failure of the US effort to rebuild Iraq: Not so innocent. Peters has a good point: terrorism would lose its effectiveness if there were no media to report on it. It’s pretty much the same case Michael Moore makes in Bowling for Columbine (though I doubt Peters would appreciate the comparison): that the media’s interest in tapping into fear as a way to gather more eyeballs to sell to advertisers outweighs whatever higher purpose they might otherwise serve, making a lie out of their claims to being objective eyes and ears laboring on behalf of the pubic good.

I’ll grant Peters that the media has a vested interest in portraying the dramatic failure of the US effort in Iraq. But that’s the same media dynamic that Bush and his people were only too willing to exploit in hyping the largely baseless charges of Hussein’s imminent WMD threat during the run up to war. The media is what it is. (Are what they are?) It has an institutional bias to report the new, the dramatic, the frightening, while downplaying the old, the commonplace, the mundane. Sometimes it helps the side Peters is on; sometimes it hurts it. Deal with it.

The Bush people are apparently focusing on this as the next Big Message to hammer home: things are going great in Iraq, but the media just aren’t telling you about it. Well, maybe. But I remain suspicious. Just as I’m suspicious when an HMO, confronted by market research that shows people view it as relentlessly profit-oriented and uncaring, chooses to mount an advertising campaign in which a white-coated actor who oozes bedside manner smiles down at a young patient, handing her a teddy bear while her grateful parents look on. As opposed to, you know, actually addressing the real problems in their patient care that led to the negative public perception in the first place.

Successfully spinning the media into portraying a failure as a success might well help Bush hold onto political power. But it won’t actually help with any of the real issues we’re facing. Wouldn’t it be great to have a president who cared a little more (like, at all) about actually solving our problems, and a little less about manipulating the media in order to fool us into thinking he already had?

How Much Is $87 Billion, Anyway?

Thursday, October 9th, 2003

Here’s a nice retread of an old idea: depicting large numbers in a way that lets people actually grasp their significance. In this case, the $87 billion that Bush wants to fund Iraq reconstruction for the next year: $87,000,000,000.00.

The New Yorker on Golden Gate Suicides

Thursday, October 9th, 2003

By Tad Friend, here’s a really good article from The New Yorker on people who commit suicide by leaping from the Golden Gate Bridge: Jumpers.

Well-Done CNN Parody Fools Idiot

Thursday, October 9th, 2003

I was six graphs deep in this before I realized I’d been had: Study: Fellatio may significantly decrease the risk of breast cancer in women. The tip-off? Quoting someone named “Dr. Inserta Shafteer”. Moral: Always check the URL. Design elements do not a CNN web page make.

Valerie Plame Profiled

Wednesday, October 8th, 2003

Here’s a profile of a great American from the Washington Post: The spy next door.

The latest spin from the White House on Plame’s outing seems to be that the initial leak to Novak was the work of some obscure flunky they’ll never be able to find. But the phonecalls by two top administration officials to at least six different journalists mentioned by the Washington Post was perfectly legal, since at that point her cover had already been compromised by the leak to Novak, even though the Post says those calls were made before Novak’s column was published.

To me, this is far worse than the legalistic parsing that gave us Clinton arguing, “I can receive a blow job without my ‘touching’ the person giving it to me.” In this case, we’ve got the assertion that once someone has committed the felonious, and arguably treasonous, act of compromising the cover of a CIA operative working on WMD proliferation, there’s nothing wrong with the White House phoning up reporters in an effort to get the story wider play. Under the provisions of the statute, only the initial revelation is a crime. Trying to push the story after that is perfectly legal.

Maybe it is. But it still sucks. And the people who did it should be tarred, feathered, and ridden out of Washington on a rail. There was a time in this country’s history when anyone who fancied himself a patriot would have happily volunteered to do just that.

Eric Boehlert on Bush’s Poll Numbers

Wednesday, October 8th, 2003

Here’s a really interesting piece that discusses the fact that Bush’s poll numbers, far from being bolstered by his taking time out to push the “things are going great in Iraq” story with a live presidential address last month, actually accelerated their dive for the basement: Bush’s sinking feeling (reading the full version requires getting the free one-day Salon registration, but I think this one’s worth it).

An excerpt:

What’s so unusual about the impact the speech has had is that neither Democrats nor the press jumped on Bush immediately following the address. In real time, on the night of Sept. 7, TV pundits generally gave a wobbly thumbs-up — nothing unusually harsh — while assembled politicians gave their predictable, partisan assessments. (Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., told CNN, “it was a terrific speech.”)

Instead, over the next few days there seemed to be a collective “holy shit” moment for an awful lot of Americans contemplating the cost of the war and the occupation’s duration. From Erie, Pa., to Berkeley County, W. Va., and other key swing voting districts, the reviews were in, and Bush got panned.

“It was the moment when White House spin collided with the public’s appreciation [of] reality,” says Joseph Cirincione, author or “Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction.” “It tipped the scale and made people realize we were in Iraq too deep. Nothing the president said gave public hope we’d soon get out of this.”

I don’t think there’s any way out of this for Bush. He’s run up against that old “can’t fool all of the people all of the time” thing. The middle has figured out what he’s up to, and they’re just not buying anymore.

What If You Made A Point, And Nobody Cared?

Tuesday, October 7th, 2003

If the United Nations is often viewed as misguided and irrelevant in world politics, then Liberal-minded bloggers and media members may be their equivalent! Why? Because their stubborn, obsessive pursuit of ghosts and moot arguments when it comes to the Bush Administration has long since registered a collective shrug from the arena of public opinion, and they are too blinded by their hatred of “Dubya” to see it!

From the “Bush lied about Saddam” camp, to the lost souls still barking about how Bush’s presidency is illegitimate, these electronic town criers continue to push “revelations” that carry no more weight with the general public than your local street corner prophet. But what really is the goal of those making these accusations? Is it simply to seek acknowledgement from those of the opposing ideology that there is truth to their arguments, or do they wish to build momentum toward an uneasiness with, and distrust of, Bush by the voting public so that sweeping changes can occur next fall, with the ushering in of a Democratic presidency?

I’ll go out on a short limb here and assume it is the latter choice.

If so, then why don’t those in the Liberal blogosphere focus on matters that actually resonate with those whom they wish to influence? After months of daily hashing and rehashing of statements, quotes, reports, allegations, and investigations from political figures and organizations, what do we really know about how the ramp up to war came to pass? Despite what the most impassioned anti-Bush bloggers want to push as “facts”, the worst that can definitely be pinned on him is that his Administration took a collective assessment of intelligence information that would, at best, indicate a plausible likelihood that Iraq still had some active weapons programs and/or unaccounted-for WMD, and then stated this “likelihood” as a certainty to the rest of the world, to bolster the “WMD broker/user” rationale for quicker action in removing Saddam from power.

The problem is, that regardless of whether some people want to argue that this was an outright lie, an immoral distortion, a calculated assumption based upon inconclusive data, or an overstatement of the facts, this issue isn’t, and hasn’t been, of any real importance with the general US public for some time now! Even I thought that if Bush can’t prove at least a dormant network of weapon development existed, that he would feel the wrath of public anger. But now I know he won’t (at least, for that reason).

Most polls still have shown a fairly consistent majority (around 60%) of the public typically feels that the war itself was justified, if simply to remove Saddam’s regime from power. Where the Bush Administration is actually getting eroding support is on the question of how much continued military and monetary commitment the US should make in Iraq. The more Bush’s opponents chase the “pre-war justification” ghosts endlessly, the more they help Bush deflect attention from the post-war challenges with which he is struggling. And, although it’s a less sexy topic, the current jobless recovery that is happening under Bush’s watch is a key negative influencer on the voting public that the anti-Bush crowd seems uninterested in emphasizing. Nothing gets feet moving into voting booths faster than issues of the wallet. Bush will be at his most vulnerable if the public blames him for the money drain going outside the Country and for the economic lethargy within it.

But the light in the tunnel for Bush and the Republican Party is that public opinion is still not being effectively galvanized to those weaknesses, either by Liberal opinion-makers or by any truly viable, dynamic, consensus-building Democratic candidate. So, go ahead Bush haters. Keep chasing the fruitless “Bush lied” stories. The only thing that will topple him is the political Perfect Storm next summer of a lack of significant progress in Iraq, a stalled economic recovery, and the emergence of a Democratic candidate who isn’t too scary for the moderate swing voters to embrace.

The Great American Dream

Tuesday, October 7th, 2003

I just read this interesting article over at Buzzflash about the soon to be completed recall election in California, as well as Orrin Hatch trying to push for a constitutional ammendment to enable Arnold to someday run for President.

Who would the VP be then, Sylvester Stallone?

Plame-Outing Investigation Gets Serious. Or Not.

Tuesday, October 7th, 2003

So, the intelligent talk on the Plame-outing scandal continues to outstrip the blather. From Kevin Drum at CalPundit: Bush gets serious. But of course Bush isn’t really serious. Or rather, he’s serious, but not about defending the nation from the risks of an out-of-control political operation that would jeopardize national security just to win some votes. No, he’s serious about minimizing the political damage of someone on his staff having committed a crime. In other words, Bush’s reaction is symptomatic of a larger problem, which is that his White House is willing to risk national security for such self-serving ends, and the reaction to the Plame scandal is making that more clear with each passing day.

More good commentary, as linked to by Drum: From Mark A. R. Kleinman: Betrayed, and, shortly thereafter: Game over: Bush admits Plame revelation was a crime. Bush admitting it’s a crime is a big deal, I suppose, in that it takes the wind out of the sails of those who have been trying to assert that there was nothing other than “politics” going on here. But as Kleinman speculates, the president’s admission has a sinister side. It could be (almost certainly is, to my way of thinking) a clever ploy to dominate the news cycle with an admission of something that everyone (well, everyone who’s being honest about the evidence) already knew. Meanwhile, the more sinister story is pushed off the TV news and into the back pages of the newspapers: that the president’s lawyer is going to sift through the statements of the White House staff for two weeks before handing them over to the Justice Department. All in the name of national security, of course.

Continuing to follow the trail of weblog bread crumbs, Kleinman links to Digby of Hullabaloo, who has a nifty theory about who the Deep Throat is who gave the all-important interview to the Washington Post: Who’s the good guy? The question he’s looking at is, who was the unidentified source for this article, which said that “two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson’s wife.” That confirmation was really important, because it helped give the story more horsepower in the early going, when people like Bob Novak were busy spinning their wheels in reverse, trying to make it go away.

So who is this Deep Throat? You can bet Bush wants to know. When you hear those clench-jawed comments from the White House about tracking down “leaks,” you have to know that this is the guy they want to nail. Digby’s theory is that it could be Andrew Card. Which would be wild, but would also make a certain amount of sense. Digby links to an excellent profile of Karl Rove, which I hadn’t seen before, by Mark Suskind: Why are these men laughing?:

…last spring, when I spoke to White House chief of staff Andrew Card, he sounded an alarm about the unfettered rise of Rove in the wake of senior adviser Karen Hughes’s resignation: “I’ll need designees, people trusted by the president that I can elevate for various needs to balance against Karl. . . . They are going to have to really step up, but it won’t be easy. Karl is a formidable adversary.”

One senior White House official told me that he’d be summarily fired if it were known we were talking. “But many of us feel it’s our duty — our obligation as Americans — to get the word out that, certainly in domestic policy, there has been almost no meaningful consideration of any real issues. It’s just kids on Big Wheels who talk politics and know nothing. It’s depressing. Domestic Policy Council meetings are a farce. This leaves shoot-from-the-hip political calculations — mostly from Karl’s shop — to triumph by default. No one balances Karl. Forget it. That was Andy’s cry for help.”

I know I tend to paint with a broad brush when I criticize Bush and the people around him. But the fact is, there are lots of grown-up Republicans in this country, people who disagree with me on most of the lefty causes I rant about, but who nevertheless are appalled at what Bush is doing. Some of those people are inside the White House.

Kevin Drum Counterspins for Wilson

Sunday, October 5th, 2003

Kevin Drum of Calpundit has a great piece on the current effort by Bush’s supporters to hijack the public discussion about the outing of Joseph Wilson’s wife: The real scandal.

I caught Wilson’s appearance on Meet the Press today, along with Bob Novak’s (yay for having Tivo again!), and boy, if that wasn’t ever a contrast. Wilson came off as sharp, principled, and deadly serious about this stuff. Novak, on the other hand, came off as a total sleaze. He reminded me, more than anything else, of Max Mercy, the sportwriter character Robert Duvall plays in The Natural.

This Headline Is a Lie

Sunday, October 5th, 2003

Among other fun verbal paradoxes Devo delivered over the years, the song “Enough Said” from New Traditionalists contained this gem: “The next thing I say to you will be true / The last thing I said was false.” That song popped into my head when I wrote the headline for this item, although in thinking about it, I don’t think it actually has much to do with what I’m about to say.

No, what I really wanted to mention was David Kay’s preliminary report to Congress, and the way his remarks are being spun this way and that, and the way an abbreviated version of some piece of information (a headline, say), represents a golden opportunity to misrepresent that something.

Hm. Let me give a more concrete example of what I mean. Back in April, as our boys were swooping down on previously inaccessible document troves in Baghdad, the good little minions at the Daily Telegraph ran the following story: Bush always suspected Saddam was behind 9/11. Which would have been quite a story, don’t you think? Except that wasn’t really what the article was about. No, it was about a bunch of documentation allegedly showing high-level cooperation between Iraqi intelligence and al Qaeda, with said documentation having been allegedly discovered by Telegraph reporters rummaging through the wreckage of the Iraqi intelligence service’s headquarters. That, too, would have been pretty newsworthy if it had held up to scrutiny, but apparently it didn’t. At least, it seems to have subsequently disappeared from public discussion.

But back to the headline. At one point, the piece made the following, unsourced assertion:

In the days immediately following the attacks, President George W Bush confided to colleagues that he believed that Saddam was directly involved in the attacks. “He probably was behind this in the end,” he said.

The article pretty much says nothing else about that. But that’s the part they chose to put in the headline. Cool, huh?

Fast-forward to the recent delivery of US weapons inspector David Kay’s preliminary report to Congress. You can read the whole thing, thanks to the helpful webmasters at the CIA, who have run the transcript of Kay’s statement under what I assume was its original title: STATEMENT BY DAVID KAY ON THE INTERIM PROGRESS REPORT ON THE ACTIVITIES OF THE IRAQ SURVEY GROUP (ISG) BEFORE THE HOUSE PERMANENT SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE, THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS, SUBCOMMITTEE ON DEFENSE, AND THE SENATE SELECT COMMITTEE ON INTELLIGENCE.

Heh. In order to be effective at drawing in readers, a headline probably should distill things down a bit more than that. Unless your aim is to discourage people from reading your statement, since the statement itself consists of a rambling, hyper-detailed account that seeks to obscure, rather than highlight, its central point. I think maybe David Kay has been visiting Kuro5hin, where the following piece is currently prominent: HOWTO: write bad documentation that looks good.

But even thus obscured, David Kay’s statement still reveals that actually, he hasn’t found any of those WMD that Hussein was supposed to possess at the time of the invasion. For those who don’t want to read the whole thing, Beltway Bandit offers a nice summary that ties in the report’s key passages with pre-invasion statements by the administration: Comparing Bush regime rhetoric on Iraq to reality.

Nonetheless, righties are spinning as hard as they can to avoid answering the question of whether the Bush people were criminally dishonest (because they sold the public on a pre-emptive war using intentionally doctored WMD evidence) or criminally inept (because their own ideological reality filters caused them to misinterpret that evidence). Like Andrew Sullivan, who writes (in Read the report):

The administration claimed that Saddam had used WMDs in the past, had hidden materials from the United Nations, was hiding a continued program for weapons of mass destruction, and that we should act before the threat was imminent. The argument was that it was impossible to restrain Saddam Hussein unless he were removed from power and disarmed. The war was legally based on the premise that Saddam had clearly violated U.N. resolutions, was in open breach of such resolutions and was continuing to conceal his programs with the intent of restarting them in earnest once sanctions were lifted.

Oh, that’s what the president was saying a year ago at this time. Silly me. I must not have been paying attention. Thanks for clearing that up for me, Mr. Sullivan.

Rev. Donald Sensing comments on the Sullivan story, helpfully putting the gist of the argument in his headline: Kay report upholds administration position. Hmm. I suppose that would depend on what your definitions of “upholds,” “administration,” and “position” are. See also Sensing’s subsequent entry, in which he outlines his theory that it was all the CIA’s fault: The administration, Iraqi WMDS, and the cause of war.

Krugman on the Plame Outing

Friday, October 3rd, 2003

Paul Krugman, as usual, gets right to the heart of the issue. Don’t expect to find any of Bush’s defenders actually addressing the argument he makes in his latest column, because they can’t. Instead, they’ll pass lies about his character and say his words should simply be ignored by anyone sensible.

Don’t believe them. Read the column: Slime and defend.

Geroge Paine on Kay’s WMD Report

Friday, October 3rd, 2003

So, here we are, three months later, and the fearsome David Kay report, the definitive report on Iraqi WMD that was going to force all us peaceniks to eat crow, the one with all the “surprises” Kay was hinting about back in the day, has been delivered to congress. And… he’s got bupkis. Which may well be surprising for those who believed Bush’s case for war, but isn’t much of a shock for those of us who realized early on that it was basically horseshit.

Anyway, George Paine of Warblogging sums things up nicely: 1,200 inspectors; 90 days; $300MM: no WMD

Rush Limbaugh: Addict

Friday, October 3rd, 2003

While I detest the role he has played in undercutting open, honest debate in this country, I still feel sorry for Rush Limbaugh, given the private hell he’s apparently been living with for some time, and the sudden transformation of it into a very public hell. But anyway, this timeline from Kynn at Shock & Awe makes fascinating reading: Rush Limbaugh hearing loss timeline.

Scott Forbes’ Essay on Bush, Saddam, and 9/11

Friday, October 3rd, 2003

I was working on an entry of my own for Donald Sensing’s contest to present a case demonstrating that Bush intentionally misled people into linking Saddam Hussein with 9/11, but I ran out of time. But that turns out to be no big deal, since I would have lost anyway, to the really excellent winning entry from expat-American-in-Oz Scott Forbes: The Contest.

(Naughty Word) Internet Explorer Merchandise Available

Friday, October 3rd, 2003

Inspired by the ease of setting up Cafe Press storefronts, and by my favorite piece of virtual clothing in the Ishar mud, I proudly (well, sorta) bring you the *Fuck* Internet Explorer Store. Shop early, shop often. Swag Now Available

Thursday, October 2nd, 2003

Thanks to the graphics skillz and generous nature of ymatt, along with those schemers after global domination at Cafe Press, you can now plunk down some plastic and buy your own little piece of at the online store. Buy a Rumsfeld coffee mug today!

In related housekeeping news, I did a little tidying up in the blogroll. Some sites I’ve been visiting were added, while some others I’d mostly stopped visiting were removed. Woo! Exciting, eh?

Suicide as Entertainment

Wednesday, October 1st, 2003

The rock band Hell of Earth is planning to allow an onstage suicide “live” at their next show in St. Petersburg, Florida. As you would expect, this has caused quite a bit of controversy, but my favorite part of the whole thing, is that the city council needed to pass a special law, making it illegal to: “conduct a suicide for commercial or entertainment purposes, and to host, promote and sell tickets for such an event.” Apparently, they had to pass the special law, becuase otherwise they had no legal grounds to try and stop the show — no one in the band is planning to “assist” this anonymous individual, they’re just going to let him come on stage and do his thing.

The show must go on however, the lead singer promises that the show will happen at an undisclosed location within city limits, in front of a select few die-hard fans (pun intended) and it will be broadcast live on their website.

Righteous Righties Wrestle with Plame Investigation Implications

Wednesday, October 1st, 2003

The whole Plame-outing story continues to generate vast quantities of weblogging, with lots of good coverage from CalPundit and Talking Points Memo, among others.

Even more interesting to me, though, is the meta-issue of how right-leaning webloggers are dealing with the story. For us Angry Lefties the story isn’t earth-shaking; we’re happy to see some of the Bush spin coming unspun, but our worldview hasn’t been turned upside down or anything. But for those who admire Bush & Co. as patriots, and who accept the word of right-wing journalists like Robert Novak as gospel, this whole thing is really problematic.

Some, predictably, are bending over backwards to come up with innocent explanations for their guys, while finding ways to argue that a) it isn’t a big deal, anyway, and b) if it is, it will turn out to be Clinton’s fault. Others, though, are betraying a heart-tugging degree of intellectual honesty as they struggle to make sense of the discordant data.

Like poli sci professor Daniel W. Drezner, who came out strong a few days ago: What could cause me to switch parties, and has since backtracked a little, but is still sounding very unsatisfied with any of the curves he’s been able to draw to fit the known facts. Similarly, I was impressed by the way Donald Sensing of One Hand Clapping commented early on, though in his case the reality-distortion field seems to have re-established itself pretty firmly, at least for now.