Archive for October, 2006

Drezner on Bush’s Cutting and Running from ‘Stay the Course’ on Iraq

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

As a reminder that there exist intellectually honest, rational Republicans in the world, I link unto Daniel Drezner: Is it just me or did the earth move for everyone?

From a policy perspective, it’s good to see that the president is starting to think about other alternatives to simply staying the course. From a political perspective, however, my hunch is that this shift in rhetoric will be a disaster.

Why? For the past five years, Democrats have been vulnerable on national security issues. Bush and the Republicans projected a clear image of taking the war to the enemy, and never yielding in their drive to defeat radical Islamists. The Democrats, in contrast, projected either an antiwar position or a “yes, but” position. The former looked out of step with the American people, the latter looked like Republican lite. No matter how you sliced it, the Republicans held the upper hand.

The recent rhetorical shift on Iraq, however, has flipped this phenomenon on its head. If Bush acknowledges that “stay the course” is no longer a statisfying status quo, he’s acknowledging that the Republican position for the past few years has not worked out too well. If that’s the case, then Republicans are forced to offer alternatives with benchmarks or timetables or whatever. The administration has had these plans before, but politically, it looks like the GOP is gravitating towards the Democratic position rather than vice versa.

Yup, that’s pretty much how it looks for me. Or, for a less Republican-tinged version of reality, there’s this simile from Rosa Brooks’ The Google catches Bush:

When it comes to Iraq, being a citizen in George W. Bush’s America is like being a passenger in a car driven by a drunk driver. Drunk on power, the administration has spent years driving resolutely into brick walls. To compensate, they’ve now adopted a policy of swerving all over the place.

It’s time to take away the car keys.

Grunwald on the Latest Dirty Political Ads

Saturday, October 28th, 2006

From Michael Grunwald in the Washington Post: The Year Of Playing Dirtier.

Experts say that in the past, negative ads were usually more accurate, better documented and more informative than positive ads; there was a higher burden of proof. Stanford’s Iyengar thinks that is still true for candidate-funded messages, which now require candidates to say they approved them. But it is not true when the messages are produced by political parties, shadowy independent groups or partisans posting on YouTube.

“You’re going to see more of this sensational, off-the-wall stuff,” Iyengar said. “If you get people disgusted, they might withdraw from politics, and that’s the real goal these days.”

Unless you’re someone like me, who actually enjoys politicians asserting ridiculous things, in which case it’s like catnip to a cat. Bring it on! :-)

In that vein, check out this email I sent to Tim O’Brien, staff writer for the Times Sun Union of Albany, NY:

Subject: Obligation to identify reported gibberish as such?
Date: October 28, 2006 1:26:42 AM PDT

Hi. I enjoyed reading your article, Political foes pull out stops.

It sparked the following exchange between myself and a friend in an online chat environment:

You say, “republican congressional incumbent john sweeney, re: bill clinton:”

You quote, “”The deficit is actually a result of a recession that began in his administration,” he contended. “We are exponentially paying down the deficit in an accelerated time frame.””

You say, “exponentially!”

You widen your eyes.

Hiro says, “Wait, what?”

Hiro says, “How can you possibly claim that while running the highest deficits ever?”

Hiro shakes his head.

Hiro says, “I don’t understand how they can just get away with bald-faced lying like that.”

You say to Hiro, “it’s exponential!”

You say to Hiro, “and accelerated! those are big words!”

Hiro says, “So why can’t reporters consult a few economists, get a “thats gibberish” answer, and _report_ that?”

I’m curious what your position on that might be. Some possible answers that occurred to me:

* You might not think it would be appropriate for you to provide that context. As a reporter, you view it as your role to present the information from both sides without editorial comment. You quoted Clinton extensively without nitpicking his remarks; you owe the same to Sweeney. If Sweeney wants to say completely ridiculous things, people are free to react as myself and my friend Hiro did. The falsity of the statement is self-evident for a sufficiently informed reader.

* As a practical matter, making an incumbent Congressman out to be a liar is a losing proposition for a reporter. You got those quotes because Sweeney expected you to include them in your story without undercutting them. Were you to engage in such undercutting, you’d quickly lose that access, your job would get harder, and your readers would become less, rather than more, informed.

* You might be of the opinion that actually, Sweeney’s remark was true, either in a substantive sense or at least in some hypertechnically literal sense, and that given that, it wasn’t your place to contradict it.

* You might not have the editorial authority to engage in that kind of opinion-mongering within the power structure of your job as a staff writer. You were told what kind of story to write by your higher-ups at the paper, so that’s the way you wrote the story.

* You might have been inclined to include expert responses as part of the coverage, but simply didn’t have the time, given the realities of your deadline cycle.

Anyway, I was curious what the reality might be.

Thanks again for the interesting read.

John Callender

[me again]

So, we’ll see what, if anything, comes of that.

Election-Time Fun

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

We’re now entering that window of time just before an election when blatantly dishonest stuff starts flying around. In no particular order, then, some of the stories I’ve been amused by in the last few days:

The RNC’s al Qaeda Recruiting Video

Impatient with waiting for Osama bin Laden to do his part for Bush by releasing a pre-election terrorist recruitment video, the Republican National Committee went ahead and did it themselves. I’m going to link to Mark Kleiman’s item on it, not because it has much content (it mostly just links to other people’s take on the story), but because it makes snarky mention of Ken Mehlman being waterboarded.

PA Republicans Blame Fighting Dem for Bogus Iraq Intel

This one’s amazing. A mailer sent out by the Republican Federal Committee of PA points out that Democratic congressional candidate Chris Carney, who worked on a Defense Department team that assembled intelligence linking Saddam Hussein with terrorists in the run-up to the Iraq war, but who now opposes the war, is guilty of flip-flopping. Check out the chutzpah:

Now Chris Carney Attacks the Same War He Helped Start… Don’t Give Chris Carney the Chance to Fail Us AGAIN!

Yeah. It’s those damn Democrats at the Pentagon who got us into this mess in Iraq with all their misleading intelligence. Let’s not let them do that to us ever again.

Tan Nguyen’s Voter-Intimidation Effort

Then there’s California Republican congressional candidate Tan Nguyen. He’s in trouble because of a letter his campaign sent to intimidate Latinos into not voting: O.C. candidate defends letter scaring immigrants. After first claiming he wasn’t involved in sending the mailer, and firing the staffer who allegedly sent it, Nguyen now says there was nothing wrong with it, and has invited the fired staffer to rejoin the campaign.

Swift-boat Veterans for Ethical Carpinteria Government

Finally, a little local color. One reason I’ve been light in my posting activity lately is that I’ve been volunteering for one of the candidates in the local City Council election (go Al Clark, woo!). As part of that, I’ve had an up-close-and-personal look at the nuts and bolts of politics: canvassing, candidate debates, etc. One thing that surprised me is that even in a little teency town, people are willing to pull transparently dishonest political stunts. Like Carpinterians for Ethical Government, which alleges to be a “grass-roots” organization seeking openness and ethical behavior on the part of the city government, but which actually turns out, on closer inspection, to consist of a handful of well-off soccer dads, most of them living outside the city, who are in a year-and-a-half-old pissing contest with one of the councilmembers up for re-election, over an argument about which youth sport should have first dibs on the city’s parks: soccer or Little League.

So, bring on the election. I’m trying not to get my hopes up too much; 2004 taught me the risks of that, and I have no desire to go through another morning after like that one. But however the election turns out, I’m looking forward to some of this silliness going away for a while.

Billmon on Riverbend, and Shame

Saturday, October 21st, 2006

Billmon reflects on a recent post by Riverbend, and on his own complicity in the evil of the Iraq war: Down the River.

He pretty much sums up my own feelings.

Olberman on Bush’s Signing of the Screw-the-Constitution Act

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

As hosted by Norm at OneGoodMove, here’s Olberman’s take on the signing of the military commissions act: Your words are lies.

I read Craig’s criticisms of Olberman as just being another version of Bill O’Reilly, but I don’t buy it. I watched this video, and I can’t spot a single statement that isn’t, as far as I can tell, scrupulously factual. Yes, Olberman sounds outraged. But the things he’s responding to are objectively outrageous.

New Bush Space Policy Makes it all Clear

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

The news item this morning on the Bush administration’s new space policy (ABC News, The Guardian) caught my attention and, for me, exemplified precisely what’s wrong with the goals and motivations of this administration.

The new policy rules out any treaties that limit America’s access to space, then goes on to call for the development of greater space-bourne weapons capabilities. Together these messages make clear that Bush intends America to control space, with force if necessary. But what’s the big deal about this when our foothold in space is still so tenuous?

Currently our local space is a shared resource, useful for communication, observation, and experimentation, but an impractical battlefield. For exactly that reason, this is the best possible time, especially as the dominant power, for America to press for the treaties to avoid the militarization of space. At this early stage, when there are no competing national interests to interfere, gathering international support for such treaties should be easy. And enforcement of these treaties then becomes in the international interest. Future escalation is avoided, and space is preserved for broad scientific and commercial gain.

The only thing America stands to lose, by pressing for such treaties while we are the dominant space power, is another platform from which to wield our power over the rest of the world — but that apparently is exactly what Bush does not intend to give up. This isn’t a real and immediate tactical concession. There is no advantage we give to the terrorists by pushing for the nonmilitarization of space, but that clearly isn’t what’s important to this administration. Our freedom and security aren’t ultimately what’s important to this administration. Absolute American power is.

The last 6 years certainly make a lot more sense viewed through that prism, don’t they?

Arkin on the Lancet Megadeath Study

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

Here’s a thoughtful look at the Lancet study by William Arkin: 600,000 Iraqis Killed By War, Credible?

Arkin’s conclusion is that no, the Lancet numbers are not credible. Rather than the 600,000 Iraqi civilian deaths the study estimates, the real number is probably closer to 200,000.

That’s all: 200,000 additional deaths due to someone’s willingness to treat innocent third parties as his enemies in a global ideological struggle.

So, let’s see: Osama bin Laden did that in the U.S., treating Manhattan bankers and secretaries as legitimate targets, and killed about 3,000 people out of a total US population of 300,000,000. That’s about 0.001% of the population. Bush did that in Iraq, treating its innocent civilians as acceptable collateral damage in his effort to make war on “terror”, and (so far) has killed 200,000 (or so) people out of a total Iraq population of about 30,000,000. That’s about 0.67% of the population.

So, from the perspective of the targeted group, the damage inflicted by George Bush on the innocent civilians of Iraq has been roughly 670 times worse than the damage inflicted by Osama bin Laden on the US. (Or, if you want to look at absolute numbers, you could say that Bush has killed roughly 67 times as many innocent civilians in Iraq as bin Laden did on 9/11.)

Math is fun. Unless you happen to be dead as a result of your enemy’s ideologically driven willingness to kill the innocent. Which it turns out is about 670 times more likely if your enemy is George Bush than if your enemy is Osama bin Laden.

Cover from The Independent courtesy of Bag News Notes, which has some additional interesting discussion of these matters in The Toll.

Update: For those interested in digging a little deeper, some of the better commentary on the Lancet study is available from the following sources:

There’s also a lot of whining about the study from war/Bush supporters whose comments are long on heat and short on reason, which was to be expected, I realize. But I don’t think that stuff is particularly worth linking to.

Finally, should you be so inclined, there’s the actual study, available as a PDF.

Later update: Still yet more followup worth reading, this time by Jane Galt of Asymmetrical Information, as linked to by Kevin Drum: Legitimate questions on the Lancet survey and Illegitimate arguments about the Lancet study.

Sir! Charlie Company Reports Being Extremely Baked, Sir!

Saturday, October 14th, 2006

Brings new meaning to the phrase “war on drugs”: Troops battle 10-foot marijuana plants.

“We tried burning them with white phosphorous — it didn’t work. We tried burning them with diesel — it didn’t work. The plants are so full of water right now … that we simply couldn’t burn them,” [Canadian Army General Rick Hillier] said.

Even successful incineration had its drawbacks.

“A couple of brown plants on the edges of some of those (forests) did catch on fire. But a section of soldiers that was downwind from that had some ill effects and decided that was probably not the right course of action,” Hillier said dryly.

One soldier told him later: “Sir, three years ago before I joined the army, I never thought I’d say ‘That damn marijuana’.”

Boehner: It Was the Democrats Who Endangered Those Kids. Really.

Friday, October 13th, 2006

The thing I find interesting about this story is the audience. Who was at that campaign event, and how hard did they have to work at it from their end to be willing to buy the story Boehner was selling? Anyway, from the AP: Majority leader: Democrats endangered pages.

Boehner, speaking at a campaign event for 3rd District Republican candidate Jeff Lamberti, said Democratic operatives have known about inappropriate e-mails sent by former Rep. Mark Foley, a Florida Republican, to young male pages for some time. He said Democrats had been shopping the information around Washington as a political ploy.

“Someone who had this information allowed those 16-year-old pages to be at risk while they were playing their political games,” said Boehner, R-Ohio. “I do not believe thus far that Republicans knew about these sexually explicit instant messages.”

Blankenhorn: The Election Is Over. Unless the Republicans Steal It. In Which Case It’s _All_ Over

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

I’m really enjoying Dana Blankenhorn lately: Watching the Temple Fall.

If the Republicans do steal this election, it will be so obvious that all of them – all of them – will be destroyed. Not just pushed out of office. Their lives will be forfeit, their fortunes will be seized , their families will either be killed or die in exile like those of Third World despots. Because that’s what they will have become.

Americans don’t put up with that shit.

Bush’s Earpiece (Again)

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Watching Bush’s press conference this morning, I’m forced to give Craig a chuckle by pointing out that (to me at least) it’s obvious that Bush is receiving secret audio promptings. I’ve spent 6 years listening to the guy talk, and his public statements fall into two distinct categories: there’s him speaking his own words, and there’s him speaking while listening to someone whispering promptings to him. And today’s press conference was very much the latter.

It’s a subtle distinction I’m drawing, and it’s based on clues that are potentially ambiguous. When Bush pauses in the middle of a statement to “gather his thoughts,” then delivers something substantially more articulate than he’s able to come up with in other contexts, it’s clear (to me) what’s going on. When he tells someone to be quiet, to let him finish, when the person he’s outwardly addressing isn’t actually saying anything, it’s clear (to me) what’s going on.

Craig, when you’re done chuckling, I encourage you to go to and watch the video of today’s press conference.

Watch for the pauses. Watch his eyes. Ask yourself: What seems more likely, given what we’ve all learned about Bush in the last six years?

I know it’s an illusion of the TV era that we feel we “know” a celebrity in the same way we “know” someone whom we know in real life. But the more video of Bush I watch, the more convinced I am that I can tell when he’s actually speaking extemporaneously, and when he’s sometimes slipping into ventriloquist’s dummy mode.

It doesn’t really matter. I realize that all politicians are essentially dishonest, are trying to craft a false impression of their abilities. But in Bush’s case, I believe there has been a sustained, intense, and fundamentally dishonest effort to portray him as the kind of person who can get up in front of a group of reporters and effectively spin his policies for an hour at a time, based only on his own knowledge and abilities.

Update: And at the end of the White House webcast, as he walked away, I’d swear he had a Y-shaped pattern of lines running down the back of his jacket, similar to the ones that made such a stir during the Kerry debates. I’d be interested in seeing if those last few seconds of video are included in the version posted later on the White House site, and in taking a closer look at them if they are.

Later update: And now, having watched the archived video through to the end, it does in fact cut off as soon as he turns away, so I didn’t get a second look at the next second or two of video, which was part of the original White House stream. Oh well.

Iraq Megadeath

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

I think every citizen should familiarize him or herself with the study just released by researchers from Johns Hopkins: Study Claims Iraq’s ‘Excess’ Death Toll Has Reached 655,000.

The estimate, produced by interviewing residents during a random sampling of households throughout the country, is far higher than ones produced by other groups, including Iraq’s government.

It is more than 20 times the estimate of 30,000 civilian deaths that President Bush gave in a speech in December. It is more than 10 times the estimate of roughly 50,000 civilian deaths made by the British-based Iraq Body Count research group.

If you take the time to read the whole article, it turns out that there are some pretty good reasons to believe the estimate is accurate.

Of the estimated excess deaths since the US invasion, 31% were believed to have been caused by coalition forces or airstrikes. Thirty-one percent of 655,000 is 203,050. So even if you don’t count the people killed by the other side, that’s still quite an impressive number.

For certain values of the term “impressive.”

Iraq War Dead for September, 2006

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Here are the updated graphs for September. As always, I’m comparing the US military casualties in Iraq to those from the Vietnam war at a similar point in each war’s political lifetime (which some have charged is misleading; see disclaimer below). The data come from the advanced search tool at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, and from Lunaville’s page on Iraq coalition casualties. The figures are for the number of US dead per month, without regard to whether the deaths were combat-related.

The first graph shows the first 44 months of the comparison. (Click on any image for a larger version.)

Next, the chart that gives the US death toll for the entire Vietnam war:

Disclaimer: I’ve been accused of comparing apples to oranges in these graphs. For the record, here’s what I am not arguing:

  • I’m not saying that Iraq is somehow deadlier per soldier-on-the-ground than Vietnam. For both wars, the number of fatalities in any given month tracks pretty closely with the number of troops deployed (along with the intensity of the combat operations being conducted). There were more troops in Iraq in the early going than were in Vietnam during the “corresponding” parts of the graphs. Similarly, for later years in Vietnam, when the monthly death toll exceeds the current Iraq numbers, there were many more troops in place.
  • I am not saying that Iraq is somehow “worse” than Vietnam. I include the first graph mainly because I wanted a zoomed-in view of the Iraq data. And I include the second graph, which shows the entire span of the Vietnam war, because I want to be clear about what the data show about overall death tolls — where any rational assessment would have to conclude that, at least so far, Iraq has been far less significant (at least in terms of US combat fatalities) than Vietnam.

I was just curious how the “death profile” of the two wars compared, and how those deaths played out in terms of their political impact inside the US. For that reason, I chose as the starting point for each graph the first fatality that a US president acknowledged (belatedly, in the case of the Vietnam graph, since US involvement in the war “began” under Kennedy, but the acknowledgement was made only later by Johnson) as having resulted from the war in question.

As ever, you are free to draw your own conclusions. And for that matter, you’re free to draw your own graphs, if you have a way of presenting the information that you believe would be better. In that case, feel free to post a comment with a URL to your own version. Thanks.

Zakaria: Game Over in Iraq

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

Fareed Zakaria has a sobering article in the latest Newsweek: Iraq’s dark day of reckoning.

It is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America’s mission in Iraq has substantially failed.

For a while now, Bush’s argument has basically been that the situation is so screwed up that the only people you can trust to fix it are the people who screwed it up in the first place (because the Republicans are the only ones you can trust to prosecute the War on Terra in the direct, manly fashion that it requires).

That argument worked for a while, at least with a certain subset of the electorate (in particular, the geopolitically ignorant part of it that found the smoke and mirrors linking Iraq and al Qaeda to be credible).

But I think even the ignorant people are beginning to see the real situation: Bus. Ditch. Driver.

Bring on the midterms.

Blankenhorn: No Immunity For Bush’s War Crimes

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

This makes me feel better. I’m not sure if, as a practical matter, it’s completely correct, but I like the sentiment behind it. From Dana Blankenhorn: No immunity for war crimes.

War crimes are like the murders of Lady Macbeth. They don’t wash out. Ever. There is no immunity for war crimes.

What happened in Abu Ghraib was a war crime. What the United States is doing in Iraq right now, probably a war crime. What Bush did with his secret detention centers in Europe and elsewhere, a war crime.

You cannot prosecute a war crime in the country where the leader ruled. If the leader’s people are still there, some chief judge will claim him innocent. Exclude them, limit the trial to the man’s enemies, and you have a show trial, not a real trial. The only way to prosecute a war crime is before a designated international tribunal, like the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

No matter what George W. Bush and his party try to do, that doesn’t change. If he is guilty of war crimes he will go to The Hague. The only hope is to steal this election, steal the next election, and steal every election until all the Bushes are dead of old age.

The Foley Claimstorm

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

Joshua Micah Marshall has sunk his teeth into the contradictory statements being made by the House Republican leadership regarding what they knew and when they knew it about Rep. Foley’s improper activities with teenage pages: Early this evening I was starting to think that Foleygate might truly be…

I’ve been at this blog racket for almost six years. And usually you’ve got to really pore over the details to find the inconsistencies and contradictions. So I’m not sure I’ve ever seen this big a train wreck where leaders at the highest eschelons of power repeatedly fib, contradict each other and change their stories so quickly. It’s mendacity as performance art; you can see the story unravel in real time. Just consider, Denny Hastert has repeatedly said he didn’t know anything about the Foley problem until Thursday. But two members of the leadership — Boehner and Reynolds — say no, they warned him about it months ago. Hastert got Boehner to recant; Reynolds is sticking to his guns…

These fibs and turnabouts amount to a whole far larger than the sum of its parts. Even the most cynical politicians carefully vet their stories to assure that they cannot easily be contradicted by other credible personages. When you see Majority Leaders and Speakers and Committee chairs calling each other liars in public you know that the underlying story is very bad, that the system of coordination and hierarchy has broken down and that each player believes he’s in a fight for his life.

Well, I’m sure they got their story together in time for today’s talk shows. Say what you will about how the US has lost its edge in any number of areas, there’s one area where we definitely still lead the world: Our politicians can figure out the best way to spin an inconvenient set of facts, and get that version of reality surgically implanted in the collective hive mind, faster than you can spell hypocrite.