Archive:

August 2003, Part 1

Jim Miller on Politics



Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Intervene in Burma, suggests leftist Eric Scigliano of the Seattle Weekly, though he does seem to prefer sending in the CIA, in support of a long, destructive guerrilla war, to sending American troops.  Why liberate Burma and not Iraq, which his newspaper opposed in the most violent terms?   I find it hard to tell, even after reading his essay several times.  He does seem to believe that the liberation of Iraq was something "few Iraqis wanted", a conclusion that is contradicted by both the recent poll in Baghdad and evidence from reporters like John Burns of the New York Times and Johann Hari of the Independent.  Does he even know that the Shiites make up a majority of the Iraq and that somewhere between 10 and 15 per cent of the population are Kurds?  A majority of the Shiites appear to have favored the liberation and nearly all the Kurds did, many fighting at our side.  Millions of Iraqis supported the liberation, which is not what I would call a "few".

More important than that mistaken belief seems to be his support for purely "humanitarian and peacekeeping" missions.  (He is wrong, by the way, in his claim that "neocons", as he calls them, hated Clinton's interventions in the Haiti, Bosnia, and Kososvo.   Most did oppose intervening in Haiti, where we replaced a friendly dictatorship with a hostile and incompetent dictatorship, but some supported Clinton on both Bosnia and Kosovo.)  If, as in the liberation of Iraq, there are strategic gains for the United States, he would, it seems, be opposed.  So there you are, people of the third world.  If liberating you might help the United States, then Eric Scigliano thinks you should continue to suffer.  If your country is of no importance to us, like Burma, then he thinks we should send our help.

One question he never confronts is why the United States should be tasked with these problems.  Why, for instance, should not South Africa send troops to Liberia, rather than the United States?  (Even better might be sending a mercenary force, but that's so politically incorrect that even I will only mention it.)  If the Burmese junta deserves overthrowing, why should this not be done by its neighbor, India, rather than the United States?  Nor does he seem to notice that, in the case of Burma, he is favoring (eek!) unilateral American action.  I guess there is good unilateralism and bad unilateralism, though I can't guess how he would distinguish between them.

All in all, I can't help wondering if Scigliano's views come from a variation of the rules that Orwell described back in 1947.  Let me try: The first rule of this "ism" is that when Bush says or does something, a way must be found of showing that it is wrong, even if it happens to be what Scigliano was advocating in the previous week.  Could be, and, with appropriate modifications, the other two rules seem to fit, too.
- 10:51 AM, 8 August 2003   [link]


George Orwell on British Anti-Americanism: Recently, I bought this complete collection of George Orwell's essays and have been browsing through them.  One, written in 1947, could be published today, substituting a few names to make it current.  (The essay, "In Defense of Comrade Zilliacus", is a mock letter of support for a far left activist.  Orwell wrote it as a letter to the Tribune, a far left newspaper, but it was never published there.)  After discussing Zilliacus for a bit, Orwell turns to his main subject and asks where the Tribune itself stands on foreign policy, and gives this tough summary:
If one had to sum up the Tribune's apparent policy in a single word, the name one would have to coin for it would be anti-Bevinism.  The first rule of this "ism" is that when Bevin says or does something, a way must be found of showing that it is wrong, even if it happens to be what Tribune was advocating in the previous week.   The second rule is that though Russian policy can be criticised, extenuating circumstances must always be found.  The third rule is that when the United States can be insulted, it must be insulted.
(Some Americans may need to be reminded that Ernest Bevin was the Labour foreign minister, under Clement Attlee, after World War II.  He had, to say the least, a colorful life, rising from dock worker to foreign minister.  There are some brief biographies of him here and here.  As foreign minister, he pursued tough anti-Communist policies, which disturbed many leftists in the Labour party.)

Change a few terms, "Bevin" to "Blair", and "Russia" to "American enemies", and every bit of this is true of many on the British left today.  And what Orwell says a bit later about anti-Americanism also requires few changes to bring it up to date:
And what, I wonder, is behind Tribune's persistent anti-Americanism?  In Tribune over the past year I can recall three polite references to America (one of those was a reference to Henry Wallace) and a whole string of petty insults.  I have just received a letter from some students at an American university.  They ask me if I can explain why Tribune thinks it necessary to boo at America.  What am I to say to these people?  I shall tell them what I believe to be the truth—namely that the Tribune's anti-Americanism is not sincere but is an attempt to keep in with fashionable opinion.  To be anti-American nowadays is to shout with the mob.  Of course it is only a minor mob, but it is a vocal one.  Although there is probably some growth of ill-feeling as a result of the presence of American troops, I do not believe that the mass of the people in this country are anti-American politically, and certainly they are not so culturally.  But politico-literary intellectuals are not usually frightened of mass opinion.  What they are frightened of is the prevailing opinion within their own group.  At any given moment there is always an orthodoxy, a parrot cry which must be repeated, and in the more active section of the Left the orthodoxy of the moment is anti-Americanism.  I believe part of the reason (I am thinking of Mr. G. D. H. Cole's last 1143-page compilation) is the idea that if we can cut our links with the United States we might succeed in staying neutral in the case of Russia and America going to war.   How can anyone believe this, after looking at the map and remembering what happened to neutrals in the late war, I do not know.  There is also the rather mean consideration that Americans are not really our enemies, that they are unlikely to start dropping bombs on us or even to let us starve to death, and therefore we can safely take liberties with them if it pays to do so.  But at any rate the orthodoxy is there.  To speak favourably of America, to recall that the Americans helped us in 1940 when the Russians were supplying the Germans with oil and setting on their Communist parties to sabotage the war effort, is to be branded a "reactionary."  And I fear that when the Tribune joins in this chorus it is more from fear of this label than from genuine conviction.
One thing that has changed greatly since 1947 is the scale of the anti-Americanism in the media.  In 1947, the Tribune was a weekly newspaper with a circulation of about 20,000.  Now one can find the same anti-American attitudes in "prestige" newspapers like the Guardian, mass newspapers like the Daily Mail, and, worst of all, the BBC.  The scale of it leads me to think that many more in Britain may now hold anti-American views out of conviction, rather than just fashion, though I am sure that still plays a part.  In some circles, Britons may never even hear a defense of the United States.

Finally, when Orwell wrote this essay, President Bush was a little more than a year old.   It seems just a little strange to give Bush sole blame for anti-American attitudes with such deep roots.
- 9:27 AM, 8 August 2003   [link]


America as Gulliver, Again: Very important journalist Josef Joffe explains, in this lecture why the rest of the world often sees America as Gulliver.  You can read Joffe or you can read this much more succinct post I wrote way back in September, which uses the same analogy.  Unlike Joffe, I also discuss this from the American side.  Though we should walk with care, we should not submit to being tied down by the threads of treaties and agreements that are not in our interest.

(I would quibble with some of his history and part of his analysis.  Contrary to what he says, our dominant position is not the first since Rome. The empire of Genghis Khan and the British empire, after the Napoleonic wars, approached our unchallenged strength in much of the world.  None of these three empires faced the powerful checks, internal and external, that we do.  American public opinion places sharp limits on what the United States can do, especially in relations with other countries.  Joffe, like many others, has paid too little attention to what happened to our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, after they defied us on Iraq—nothing of any consequence.  And, though he does not mention it, nuclear weapons equalize relations between the powers profoundly.)
- 7:39 AM, 7 August 2003   [link]


There is a Hot Spell in Europe, as almost everyone knows.   Many take this to be evidence for man caused global warming.  There is a cold spell in the Atlantic off the United States, which I just learned.  No one considers this evidence that a new ice age is approaching, though it is just as strong evidence for that theory as the European warm spell is for global warming.  This point should be obvious, but apparently is not.

(Obligatory disclaimer:  So far I am a skeptic about global warming worries, but am willing to change my mind if there is better evidence that (1) last century's warming was caused mostly by human activities, and (2) it would be bad for people if the world warmed another degree or two.  Most of the warming in the last century occurred in the first half, before the greatest human caused carbon dioxide production.  Most historic accounts suggest that, at least in Europe, people were better off with a slightly warmer climate back in the Middle Ages.  And, I think that alternative theories about recent warming, like the idea that the varying cosmic rays drive climate change, described here, deserve consideration.   Curve fitters will find the graphs there quite striking.  And, I did not know that the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had been declining, very long term.)
- 11:09 AM, 7 August 2003   [link]


Leftists Are Touting a study that supposedly shows that conservative newspapers are more partisan in their editorials than their liberal counterparts.  Jay Manifold, who says he is not a conservative, critiques one aspect of the study here, their selection of "incidents", and shows that their conclusions are unjustified, or, in his word, "garbage".  There are other problems with the study, as there are with nearly all studies of media bias.  For example, people on the left so dominate the media that there really are no conservative newspapers comparable to the New York Times or the Washington Post.  (Although the Wall Street Journal has a conservative editorial page, its news side is about as liberal as the Washington Post.)  Comparing the New York Times and Washington Post to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times is comparing apples and oranges.

Despite these obvious problems, the study has convenient conclusions for those on the left in the media, and it drew praise from Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post, who does not notice his conflict of interest, and from Timothy Noah, whose piece has the unfortunate headline, "Conservatives: The New Stalinists".  (He means only that conservative editorialists are more loyal to their leaders.)  Whoever came up with the headline should apologize.  And, yes, it is both an example of media bias and a counter-example to the claim that leftists are less harsh than conservatives.  I doubt Noah understands either of these obvious points.

There is a general point that bears repeating.  Formal studies of media bias pose extremely difficult methodological problems.  And, they have not always—let me put this gently—attracted the very best methodologists.  As a result, you should be skeptical about almost all of the studies.  (If you see one that you think needs criticizing, feel free to let me know about it.)
- 7:27 AM, 7 August 2003
Update:  The PowerLine blog has a similar, more extensive critique of the study.  Especially interesting are the quotations from the author of the study, Michael Tomasky.  Most would not consider them measured and civil.
- 11:20 AM, 7 August 2003   [link]


Oops!  The great mayor of New York, Fiorello La Guardia, once said, "I seldom make a mistake, but when I do it's a beaut."  I can't claim that I seldom make mistakes, but I did just make a beaut.  As Kevin Drum points out here, I carelessly believed a Guardian story on the declining trust in the BBC, in spite of internal evidence in the story that should have raised serious doubts.  There are three lessons I see in my error.  First, don't post when you are short of sleep.   Second, assume that newspaper analyses of polls are wrong until proved otherwise.   Few journalists have the skills required to analyze poll data and they err frequently.   Finally, as always, be especially careful about evaluating data that supports your cause.  It is far too easy to see what you want, even if, as in this case, it may not be there.

Now then, a comment on the original question: Has British trust declined in the BBC?   Quite possibly.  Trust in journalists has declined here in the United States for some time.  And the BBC's public quarrel with Tony Blair is likely to make at least some Blair supporters have doubts about the broadcaster.  The polls they cited don't support their argument, but the Guardian may be right about the direction of the change, though the amount seems far too high, on second thought.
- 7:54 PM, 6 August 2003   [link]


How Are Dr. Dean's Patients?  Where possible, I like to judge candidates by what they have done, more than by what they say.  (With some candidates—Senator John Edwards comes to mind—that's not possible because they haven't done anything.  They have not held an executive office or been a legislator long enough to have a record.)  For example, in 2000, I was impressed by Bush's record as Texas governor.  He had improved the schools, building on the reforms of a Democratic predecessor, he had fought crime, and he had been relatively frugal.   (Records don't always predict; Bush has been many things since becoming president, but frugal is not one of them.)

Since former Vermont governor Howard Dean worked hardest on improving medical care in Vermont, it is reasonable to ask whether he succeeded in that.  Here's how the 2002 Almanac of American Politics describes his efforts:
The major issue in Dean's early tenure was health care.  In 1992 he signed a bill to negotiate with insurance companies for universal coverage; but in 1993 his legislation was rejected by the legislature, foreshadowing the fate of the Clinton health care plan in Washington.  He moved to promote early childhood development, and pushed a Success by Six prevention program, offering home visits to babies, and claimed that as a result child abuse was down 30 per cent and the child immunization rate was the highest in the country.  He worked to subsidize health insurance for children.  But Dean is not a believer in giveaway programs; his medical plans all include co-payments, and he sponsored a welfare reform which time-limits and imposes work requirements on recipients and has reduced the caseload.
All in all a substantial effort, though his biggest program was blocked by the legislature.

Now then, how well did he succeed?  A complete answer is beyond the scope of this site, and perhaps beyond my abilities, but I can mention two interesting indicators.   After longevity, infant mortality, the number of babies that die before their first birthday, is probably the commonest measure of public health policies.  (Longevity is inappropriate as a measure for governors for many reasons, among them the fact that it depends on much that happened before the governors took office.)  Some of the measures mentioned above, like subsidies for children's health insurance and prevention programs, might be expected to reduce infant mortality.  After a bit of searching, I found this table, with the latest available infant mortality statistics by state.   Nationally, 6.9 babies per 1000 die before their first birthday.  Vermont does better than that at 5.8, but much worse than its neighbor, low tax New Hampshire, which is the lowest of all the states at 3.8.  Vermont's rate is also higher than two other New England states, Massachusetts and Maine, at 4.6 and 4.7 respectively, though it does very narrowly beat out Connecticut and Rhode Island, both at 5.9.  So, after all Dean's effort, the infant mortality rate in Vermont is above the average for New England.   There may be reasons for that, though none immediately occur to me.  At first glance, infant mortality does not seem to show that Dean's policies were successful.

A second health indicator is vaccination rates.  The pattern here is similar; although Vermont does better than the national average in vaccination rates, it seems to be little behind the average for New England.  Since 1994, the government has been doing a survey of vaccination rates for children between the ages of 19 and 35 months; you can see a description here and download your own copy of the latest table, if you want.  Since this is a survey, there are sampling errors for the results, which is why I say "seems".  Although the table gives the values to a tenth of a per cent, the sampling errors mean that they may be correct only to within two or three per cent, even for the largest states.  Still, the differences are there, and unless Dean has other information, we should conclude that he is wrong to claim that the immunization rates are higher in Vermont than in other states, at least for children 19 to 35 months old.

Because of the limits of the data and the complexity of the problem, I don't want to push my conclusion very far.  But I think it fair to say this much:  Judging by infant mortality statistics and vaccination rates, Howard Dean's policies made no obvious difference in the health of Vermonters.  He worked hard to improve their health, but appears to have no results to show for that effort.  It is especially interesting that Vermont's neighbor, New Hampshire, which has much lower taxes, seems to be markedly healthier.
- 4:04 PM, 6 August 2003   [link]


Update:  Ted Bowen, the Saskatchewan NDP researcher who called George Bush, "Shrub", in a memo trying to build support for a petition to Bush, has resigned.   After, according to the article, being asked to.  Bowen is just the latest person on the left, in Canada and in Europe, to lose his job because he can not keep his insults toward Bush private.  It shows, I suppose, just how strong their feelings are about our president, and perhaps how little discipline many of them have.  (Many others have been saved, no doubt, by friendly journalists who have chosen not to publish their indiscretions.)
- 8:44 AM, 6 August 2003   [link]


Were Saddam's Sons drinking Israeli beer just before they died?  Maybe, though as usual I have to warn that DEBKA is not always reliable (like, come to think of it, the New York Times and the BBC).  The growing Iraqi-Israeli trade described in the piece is real, and illustrates economist John Maynard Keynes' point that men are seldom as harmless as when they are making money.  Many, especially in academia, still have an aristocratic disdain for commerce.  From time to time, we should all remember that there are worse things men can do than buy and sell.   (By the way, can anyone tell me whether Macabbee beer is any good?  Or is this just more evidence that the Saddam's family is not known for its good taste?)
- 8:30 AM, 6 August 2003   [link]


Nature Is Not Benign, as this coyote attack on a toddler reminds us.  Many Greens think nature is as nonthreatening as a suburban garden.  In fact, we are usually safe from predators because rough men, in the past and occasionally in the present, kill them and drive them away from human settlements.   (I say "usually" because predators do, from time to time, kill people here in the United States.  A toddler was killed by a coyote in Los Angeles about a decade ago, and mountain lions have killed several people in the last few decades, as have bears.   Statistically, these large predators are less dangerous than bees, and much less dangerous than swimming pools, but no one should think they are our friends.)
- 6:17 AM, 6 August 2003   [link]


In the Last Nine Months, the number of Britons who trust the BBC has declined sharply from 92 to 59 per cent.  So we critics have made progress, but we still have to keep working on that 58 per cent.  (Reforming the organization is probably impossible, in my opinion.)  This morning, up even earlier than usual, I heard a typical example of the BBC's bias on one of their news programs.  A woman asked a man reporting from Iraq whether the Americans were actually going to use the Iraqi oil for the Iraqis.  He replied, weakly, that the American officials keep saying they will.  So an accusation is made, through a question, but never refuted.  Nor did either think to mention that the United States (and Britain) have spent very large sums supplying relief of all kinds to the Iraqis.
- 6:24 AM, 5 August 2003
Update:  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  I foolishly believed a Guardian story and got corrected by Kevin Drum.  Here's my post on the error.
- 8:05 PM, 6 August 2003   [link]


Swedish Experts Found Evidence of Saddam's Weapons Programs!?   That's the gist of this article from an Irish newspaper.
Swedish arms experts found signs of an Iraqi programme for manufacturing prohibited weapons during a secret visit in June, their supervisor said today.

Military and government officials played down the claims and criticised the visit, saying it was not authorised.

Two chemical and biological weapons experts travelled to Iraq to help a television team evaluate information it had obtained about Saddam Hussein’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, said Aake Sellstroem, from the Swedish Defence Research Agency, who authorised the visit.

The information indicated Iraq had a programme for making chemical and biological weapons as late as last year, but yielded no clues about whether any actual weapons were made, he said.
If the evidence can be found by a Swedish television team, it could be found by an American television team, too, unless our journalists are all hopelessly incompetent.  Wonder if any of the networks have even been looking?  They would not be encouraged to do so by the vitriolic attacks in Slate on Judith Miller of the New York Times, who was searching for the weapons, honestly as far as I could tell.
- 6:02 AM, 5 August 2003   [link]


Easy Come, Easy Go: Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has seen his fortune decline from about $40 billion to $21 billion in just two years.  At that rate, we'll be holding a rent party for him in the fall of 2005.  Here's the article describing his recent losses.  I don't know whether every single company he has invested in has lost money, but he does seem to have a reverse Midas touch, at least when he is not working with his partner, Bill Gates.  Sports fans will be interested to learn that he lost $100 million on the Portland Trailblazers last year.  The article does not say how much went to cover legal fees for a team more often called the "Jailblazers".   (To be fair, not all of the Jailblazers had legal problems, but it may have been a majority.)
- 3:20 PM, 4 August 2003   [link]


Kudos To Bruce Ramsey of the Seattle Times for his column criticizing people who play games with their assets so they can qualify for Medicaid.  (In a recent, much publicized case, a Washington woman spent $35,000 on home improvements and a new car to force the taxpayers to cover her husband's care in a nursing home.  She's not unique; Ramsey cites a recent study of similar people; eleven per cent of them actually had trusts so that they could pretend to be poor.  Others no doubt used other tricks.)   Meanwhile, though he does not mention it, Washington state is cutting back on some medical help for those who are truly poor, or close to it.  To govern is to choose.  We are now choosing to subsidize nursing homes for the well off, while we cut off dental insurance for the poor.

(Wonder where "to govern is to choose" comes from?  So did I, and so I checked my copy of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations which attributes it to Duc de Lévis, a man unknown to me.  (Since he is French, he actually wrote: "Gouverner, c'est choisir.")  The dictionary also credits him with: "Noblesse oblige."  But I digress.)

- 2:58 PM, 4 August 2003   [link]


DEBKA has more on the substantial evidence found, so far, of Saddam's weapon's programs.  (DEBKA, if you are not familiar with it, prints intelligence reports relying on a number of sources, some connected with Israeli intelligence.  They are sometimes ahead of everyone else, and sometimes wildly wrong.  I generally view their reports as close to close to raw intelligence, interesting but not something to bet on without confirmation.  This one, however, appears to be based directly on David Kay's testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee.)   Seven and-a-half miles of documents have been sorted into three categories, program plans and budgets, progress reports, and leads to locations of hidden material.  It may take years to analyze all the material collected so far, and more is coming in regularly.

DEBKA also has two sensational claims in this report, one supported by this Times of London article, and the other with no obvious origin.  David Kelly, the British scientist who committed suicide after he became the center of a war between the BBC and the Blair government, told the Times of London in June that he had "firm evidence to show that Saddam Hussein built and tested a 'dirty bomb'", that is a bomb with radioactive materials dispersed by conventional explosives.   (In the past, "dirty bomb" was often used to describe a nuclear weapon with high amounts of radioactivy, relative to its blast, but the common meaning has shifted in the last decade or so.)  Dirty bombs are relatively easy to build, but are not of much use except as terror weapons.  The evidence for this sensational claim seems pretty strong, although I do wonder why the British government did not include it in its dossier against Saddam.

I am more skeptical about the second sensational claim, that documentary evidence of Saddam's efforts to purchase uranium in Africa
had been doctored by anti-American, anti-war factions in Italian intelligence in such a way that it would be discovered and appear to be fabricated.  They plotted to bring the three war leaders [Berlusconi, Blair, and Bush] into disrepute by manipulating them into committing an untruth while also souring the warm relations between the Italian prime minister and the White House.
Blunders explain far more of what happens in the world than plots do, although I see nothing impossible in the story.
- 9:00 AM, 4 August 2003   [link]


Putting Criminals in Jail reduces crime, most of us believe.   Not Fox Butterfield of the New York Times, though.  Once a year, as George Will told those few people who still watch This Week yesterday, Butterfield writes this article, describing his puzzlement that serious crime declined "despite" an increase in the prison population.  Butterfield is not alone in holding this strange idea; he usually quotes criminologists with doctoral degrees from real universities, who also hold this view.   And the idea can be found across the Atlantic; today's Guardian has this editorial, which finds it dismaying that the rise in prison population in Britain "coincides with the biggest drop in crime for 100 years".

The idea that imprisoning criminals has no effect on crime rates is not held by all academic students of crime, or even, I hope, most of them.  There are, in fact, powerful studies that show just the opposite.  Two decades ago, I recall seeing a study that concluded that, if New York state were to put people in jail for five years after their third felony, it would reduce crime there by half.  (Since this is from memory, I may be a little off on the details, of course.)  The study was conservative in its estimates, because it only estimated the effects of incapacitating criminals.  It did not include the effects of deterring those who might change their behavior once the new policy was in effect.   Studies like this, some described in the New York Times, were one of the strongest arguments for our increase in prison population and the passage of laws that require fixed sentences for third convictions, popularly known as "three strikes" laws.

It shows something about the New York Times (and the Guardian) that the common sense idea that putting criminals in jail reduces crime, supported, as I said, by many academic studies, is so foreign to them.  They are out of touch with ordinary people, which is not surprising.  They are out of touch with the best academic work on the subject, which is suprising.  And, they are out of touch with conservatives and moderates, which is understandable, but leads to many mistakes.  George Will is just the latest to find Butterfield's idea hilarious.  Every year when Butterfield writes this article, I see one or more replies in conservative publications noting just how silly it is.  So far none have ever gotten Butterfield to change his article, or even to explain why he holds this bizarre view.  He and his editors at the Times do not realize that most of us read that "despite" and laugh.
- 7:48 AM, 4 August 2003   [link]


Saudi Schizophrenia: One of the reasons I favor a delicate approach to Saudi Arabia is the schizophrenia in their relations toward the West.  This article mentions the dual dress code that many wealthy Saudis have, dressing one way at home and another abroad, but you can find the same schizophrenia in more important matters.  The same government agencies, and in some cases I suspect, the same people, may both help us in fighting terror, and contribute to terrorist organizations.  Some of this is a cynical attempt to bribe the terrorists, and us, for that matter, but much of it, I think, reflects genuinely mixed feelings.

There is nothing unique or even unusual about these mixed feelings.  Most Americans have mixed feelings about the French, admiring some parts of their culture even if we don't care much for their politics.  And the mixture of extremes in Saudi Arabia is not surprising when we realize that the nation is, in some ways, still emerging from the 7th century.  Some years ago, for example, I saw an article on the training of mechanics for the Saudi air force.  Americans doing the training found that the recruits were unfamiliar with something as simple as a wrench.  Many have equally primitive political ideas.

Often successful diplomacy requires hypocrisy; as Sir Henry Wotton wrote in 1604, "An ambassador is an honest man sent to lie abroad for the good of his country."  I think that the Bush administration is right to follow the line taken by all American administrations since World War II and claim friendship with Saudi Arabia, even though we know many of their citizens, and some of their officials, are our enemies.  This does not mean that we should not continue to take the practical steps to stop much of the support for terrorism by Saudis.  We were far too lax before 9/11 in controlling their activities.  It does mean that in asking them to choose Western ideas, instead of medieval ones, we are most likely to succeed by avoiding open conflicts, however much we would like to hector them for their double dealing.  The surest way to force the Saudis back to their medieval clothes is to require them to dress that way while in the West; the surest way to force them back to their medieval political ideas is to start an open conflict with their government.
- 7:20 AM, 3 August 2003   [link]


Worth Reading: Robert J. Samuelson's column on the myth of "Big Media".  
In the past 30 years, media power has splintered dramatically; people have more choices than ever.  Travel back to 1970.  There were only three major TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC); now, there's a fourth (Fox).  Then, there was virtually no cable TV; now, 68 percent of households have it.  Then, FM radio was a backwater; now there are 5,892 FM stations, up from 2,196 in 1970.  Then, there was only one national newspaper (The Wall Street Journal); now, there are two more (USA Today and The New York Times).
Samuelson thinks it is that splintering of media power that has created hostility to changes in media rules; there is now something being broadcast to offend everyone.
- 6:36 AM, 3 August 2003   [link]


Meanwhile, France has had to apologize for a botched unilateral French military operation in Brazil.  They tried, without even telling Brazil or Colombia, or getting authorization from the United Nations, to rescue one of their citizens.  And who authorized this mission?  Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, last seen lecturing us on the evils of unilateralism.
- 7:45 AM, 2 August 2003   [link]


French Tourism This Summer is mediocre or even terrible, says this front page story from Le Monde.   The fifth reason in their list of causes for the drop in tourism is "la brouille franco-américaine" (the Franco-American disagreement).  The drop is a serious matter, since, as the article notes, tourism is an essential sector of the French economy, or more colorfully, it is the "véritable locomotive" of the French economy.   It may be significant that Le Monde, a bitterly anti-American newspaper, uses the neutral "brouille" (disagreement) to describe the conflict, rather than a sharper term.   Perhaps even they are having second thoughts about French President Chirac's grandstanding opposition to us on Iraq.
- 7:21 AM, 2 August 2003   [link]


What's the Point of Having Press Conferences if the reporters are going to ask questions like these two in the latest Bush press conference?
John.

Q Thank you, Mr. President.  Building sort of on that idea, it's impossible to deny that the world is a better place in the region, certainly a better place without Saddam Hussein.   But there's a sense here in this country, and a feeling around the world, that the U.S. has lost credibility by building the case for Iraq upon sometimes flimsy or, some people have complained, non-existent evidence. And I'm just wondering, sir, why did you choose to take the world to war in that way?
. . .

Ed, last question.

Q Mr. President --

THE PRESIDENT: Hold on for a minute, please.

Q Good morning, Mr. President.  Since California is on your mind, I'd like to ask you about the recall campaign.  Since you're not only the leader of this country, but as someone who came into office under extraordinarily partisan circumstances, do you view this recall, which was funded almost entirely by one wealthy Republican who would like to be governor, as a legitimate, democratic exercise?  And do you have a candidate in this fight, since one of the potential successors is somebody you've backed before?
Note the vague "sense", "feeling", and "some people have complained" in the first question.   The reporter, rather than honestly giving his own views or quoting a Democratic candidate, makes his accusers anonymous.  He then puts the sting in with the "non-existent evidence".  He accuses Bush of lying, indirectly, as a gossip would tell you that "people are saying".  It's a disgraceful and dishonest way to ask a question.

The second question is also disgraceful and dishonest, but in a less direct way.  To begin with, nearly everyone agrees that, while Congressman Issa provided most of the money, the sentiment to remove Davis was there long before he funded the effort.  The "extraordinarily partisan circumstances" were caused not by Bush, but by his opponent, Gore, and the interest groups allied with him, who chose to try to win an election in court that they had lost at the ballot box.

The two questions are not just partisan, they are also so sloppy in their language as to make one wonder whether either reporter ever took a course in composition.  The reporters have days or weeks to prepare these questions.  Is this really the best they can do?
- 5:13 PM, 1 August 2003   [link]


Is Maureen Dowd Cracking Up? It is hard to avoid wondering about that after you read the lead sentence in her latest column.
There is no more delightful way to pass a summer's day in Washington than going up to Capitol Hill to watch senators jump ugly on Wolfie.
Now I know Ms. Dowd has been disappointed personally of late, but surely she can think of better ways to spend a summer's day if she tries.  You can ignore the rest of the column; it is mostly a poorly informed attack on the Bush administration for deceiving the public, a fault that Ms. Dowd does not seem to think counts in her own case.  She has yet, for example, to apologize for her deceptive omission of some words from a Bush quote, which altered the meaning, though she did give the full quote in a later column.   Several small newspapers have dropped her column as a result, and "Dowdification" has become a term meaning omitting words in order to alter the meaning of a quotation, but Dowd seems unworried about her own lost credibility.
- 12:57 PM, 1 August 2003   [link]


We May Never Find Saddam's Chemical or Biological Weapons, for reasons I described here and here, but we have already found substantial evidence of his weapons programs.  That's the conclusion I draw from the reports of David Kay's testimony to the Senate Intelligence committee.  The Telegraph has the most straightforward account I've seen.
The United States has found evidence of an active programme to make weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, including "truly amazing" testimony from Iraqis ordered to dupe United Nations inspectors before the war, the man leading the hunt said yesterday.

David Kay, a former UN inspector and now the CIA's leading consultant who is joint head of the Iraq Survey Group (ISG), offered an unprecedentedly bullish assessment of the hunt for weapons of mass destruction.
They have already found a substantial amount of evidence:
That evidence included documents detailing how to conceal arms plants as commercial facilities, and for restarting weapons production once the coast was clear, officials told reporters.
The Washington Post is more skeptical, even though the reporter admits, indirectly, that the paper erred in an earlier report on Kay's search.  The New York Times is tendentious, quarreling with the administration all through the article, which should have been labeled as an editorial.  Unlike the Post, they do not mention one interesting concession by the Democratic vice-chairman of the Intelligence Committee, Jay Rockefeller:
After Kay's afternoon session with the intelligence committee, its vice chairman, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), said he remains cautious about finding "very extensive weapons -- ready for attack -- that we all were told existed." He said he expects that there will be evidence of weapons programs in time, "but signs of a weapons program are very different than the stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons that were a certainty before the war."
In other words, Rockefeller now believes, as I said, that we have found substantial evidence of banned weapons programs and are likely to find even more, so he is raising the bar and demanding actual weapons.
- 12:34 PM, 1 August 2003   [link]


"Defining Deviancy Down" has become literal, Michelle Malkin tells us, as she describes the new fashions in jeans.   One brand even has an innovation that seems intended, in part, to deceive parents.
Upping the ante, or should I say lowering it, the teenage-girl brand Gasoline markets "Down2There" - adjustable low-rise jeans with a built-in bungee cord designed to help the wearer drop her pants to even nastier nadirs.
My sympathies to those, like Malkin, who have to raise daughters in this environment.

(Those younger than I am may not realize that jeans were commonly forbidden as school clothes not all that long ago, or that jeans for men and women were constructed with the zippers in different positions, which was the basis for a popular joke:

How do you tell the difference between men's genes and women's genes?  Women's genes have a zipper on the side.)
- 9:17 AM, 1 August 2003   [link]


Fighting AIDS in Africa has been handicapped by many things, not least the skepticism of South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, about the standard theory of the disease.  Now, the government there is blocking the use of an AIDS drug that reduces the transmission of AIDS from mothers to their babies.  Giving such drugs to women just before they give birth, and to their babies just after birth, has probably been the single most effective medical way to stop the spread of AIDS.  Thousands of babies in South Africa will get AIDS because of this decision, and millions will if it is not reversed soon.  Here's the difficult question for the Bush administration:   Should we send financial aid to help fight the disease to South Africa if they continue this policy?

(For more, here's a BBC story with some background, and a Guardian piece on Nelson Mandela's opposition to the policy.)
- 8:31 AM, 1 August 2003   [link]