Archive:

June 2004, Part 3

Jim Miller on Politics




Pseudo-Random Thoughts



Three Good News Stories From Iraq:  These stories are unrelated except that they all contain good news from Iraq — and none of them is likely to be shown on the major networks.

In southeast Baghdad, the Marines rescued an Iraqi passenger from a bus that had been attacked by terrorists.  The story is accompanied by some dramatic pictures.

A Florida reservist is working to restore services in hospitals and schools.
Hassig, 42, is a part of the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion stationed on the Tigris River in Baghdad.  His job, along with that of five other men in his unit, is to restore essential services such as waste management, medical services, food distribution and education and transportation systems, to the area.  Hassig's unit works with the local government and performs assessments on hospitals, schools and private business development.

"Sometimes it seems like the good news just doesn't get out," said Hassig, who has lived in Blountstown since he was 12. "There is so much good news."
Strange how almost all the soldiers say that.

And Hassig has run into some Iraqis who will never be in a Reuters news story.
But more rewarding to him is the reaction from the hospital's doctors and staff. "When we delivered the equipment, the deputy medical officer was so happy," he said.  "She kept explaining to us that the new equipment would help them service their people better.  This, in turn, really had an impact on me."

But Hassig's favorite projects are the ones that deal with the children.  He said that Blountstown residents have sent donations to Baghdad since his arrival in January and that everything he receives from them goes to the schools.

"My favorite thing is being around the children and hearing them say, 'Thanks, mister,'" he said.
Hassig isn't the only one who thinks Iraqi schools are improving.
After 14 months of U.S. occupation, much of life is unimproved in the poor, Shia neighborhood of Al-Hurriya.  Electricity is often off for more than half the day, leaving the concrete-block houses stifling.  Sewage backs up into the ill-paved streets.
There are gunshots, occasional bombings and, for many, neighbors to mourn.  The musicians killed last month in a U.S. air strike on a reported wedding party near the Syrian border came from Hurriya.

But amid the broken hopes for rebuilding under U.S. rule, parents, teachers and students say the schools have been a relative success.

Proof, said Batul Talib Gharibawi, director of Al-Ziba Primary School, is that, during the year, three of her teachers got engaged to marry.  Teachers' pay, in recent years as little as $3 a month, has been boosted to as much as $200, Gharibawi said.  And it comes on time.  "Now lots of people want to marry teachers because they're getting good salaries," she said.
. . .
According to many Iraqis and scholars, the area of life where that relative optimism is most borne out may be education.  Hussein's ouster may not have made it easier to generate electricity or establish law and order, but it has freed teachers and students in the classrooms.
I like her proof, and I hope some US representatives were invited to the weddings.
- 3:16 PM, 23 June 2004   [link]


Suppose The Senate Democrats continue using the filibuster to block conservative nominees to the courts.  What will happen soon?  Stuart Taylor has an all too plausible scenario.
July 1, 2008 -- With the retirement of 88-year-old Justice John Paul Stevens today, the Supreme Court's membership dwindled to four.  The remaining two liberals (Stephen Breyer and David Souter) and two conservatives (Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas) are almost certain to deadlock on big issues including abortion, affirmative action, gay rights, religion, and presidential war powers.  So any tie-breaking replacement for Stevens would be in a position to rewrite vast areas of constitutional law.

This, in turn, almost guarantees that no nominee in the foreseeable future will have much chance of getting past the Senate filibusters that have blocked all eight of the men and women named by the president since the retirements in 2005 of Chief Justice William Rehnquist and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, at the ages of 80 and 75, and the retirements in 2007 of Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Anthony Kennedy, at the ages of 74 and 71.

No matter who wins the 2008 presidential election, the Senate is once again likely to be so closely divided that senators in the opposing party will easily muster the 41 votes to sustain a filibuster against any nominee who does not pass their litmus tests.  And any nominee who can pass the Democratic test would fail the Republican test, and vice versa.
The use by the Democrats of a filibuster to block judges who would be confirmed if the entire Senate were to vote on them sets a terrible precedent.  Nearly always, when one party gets away with an anti-democratic tactic such as this one, the other party uses it later.   The pro-abortion extremists, such as Senator Maria Cantwell of my own state, are principally responsible for this.  They must know that the same anti-democratic tactic can, and most likely will, be used against them, which shows just how extreme they are.
- 11:15 AM, 23 June 2004   [link]


Campaign Finance Laws Are Needed For Other People, but not for me.   That's an all too common attitude, so it is no surprise to find that Ralph Nader may share it.
Since October, Ralph Nader has run his campaign for president out of the same downtown Washington offices that through April housed a public charity he created -- an overlap that campaign finance specialists said could run afoul of federal laws.

Tax law explicitly forbids public charities from aiding political campaigns.  Violations can result in a charity losing its tax-exempt status.  In addition, campaign law requires candidates to account for all contributions -- including shared office space and resources, down to the use of copying machines, receptionists and telephones.

Records show many links between Nader's campaign and the charity Citizen Works.  For example, the charity's listed president, Theresa Amato, is also Nader's campaign manager.  The campaign said in an e-mail to The Washington Post that Amato resigned from the charity in 2003.  But in the charity's most recent corporate filing with the District, in January, Amato listed herself as the charity's president and registered agent.
Given the likelihood that Nader will hurt Kerry this fall (though he made less difference in 2000 than most think), we may see more stories on his faults.  They are long overdue, since there is much about his operations that deserves criticism.
- 9:40 AM, 23 June 2004   [link]


Seattle Times Editorial Page Editor James Vesely is one of the few remaining moderates at a major newspaper.  In this defense of the opinion pages at the Seattle Times, he makes a reasonable argument that the opinion pages at the Times are not biased far to the left.  On the whole, I would agree with his argument, though there are two details where we disagree (and I'll come back to later).

However, in quoting from the emails he has received, he seems to have forgotten that many readers do not see the separation between editorial pages and news pages that is so important at most newspapers.  When readers attack the newspaper, they often are unhappy not with the editorial pages — Vesely's department — but with the news side, which he does not control.  At some newspapers, the two sides are in open conflict over a wide range of issues; that's been true of the Wall Street Journal for years, as I mentioned here.

That Vesely does not recognize that many readers see the newspaper as a whole, not divided into compartments, explains why he defends the paper by citing their range of endorsements over the years.  But either side of the paper can be fair and the paper as a whole still biased, because of the other side.   Very roughly, that's how I would describe the Seattle Times.  The worst problems of bias, by far, are are on the news side.

That is not to say that there are no problems on the editorial side.  For whatever reasons, the editorial page editors have been willing to tolerate sloppy errors from their left wing columnists (Molly Ivins, Matt Miller, Floyd McKay, et cetera) that they do not tolerate from their conservative columnists.  And recently, the editorial pages have more than once gotten into trouble for a reason I find both amusing and sad: Vesely and the others have believed their own news pages were giving them a reasonably accurate picture of the world — when they clearly are not.  It may be too much to ask Vesely and company to contradict the news side of their paper, but they could improve their product by being a little more skeptical.

There's an obvious example, Dana Milbank.  The Washington Post reporter has erred, over and over, in his coverage of the Bush administration, always in the same direction.  If there is a way to make Bush look bad, Milbank will choose it.  But the Seattle Times continues to use his pieces on their news pages.  (I'm not sure if the Times has even printed all the Post's corrections, and the Post's corrections don't include all that should have been made.)  A Seattle Times editorial writer inclined to believe the worst about the Bush administration (Joni Balter or Lance Dickie) would be unlikely to realize just how bad Milbank's work is.  Even if the writer intends to be fair, they would find it difficult to do so.

Although I have used Vesely's column to make this argument, my conclusion is more general.   Even honest journalists, such as Vesely, will find it hard to be fair to the conservatives, because so much of what they read in the newspapers (or see on TV news programs) is distorted.  And the declining number of honest moderates like Vesely will make that still more difficult in the future.

(I said there are two details on which I disagreed with Vesely.  One is small, and one is large.   Let me take the small one first.  Vesely says that Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman is "a centrist by any definition".  Some definitions, but not "any".  The liberal ADA said he voted liberal on 86 percent of their key votes in 2002 and 95 percent of them in 2001, which would make him a liberal by most definitions.  The National Journal separates its ratings into three categories, economic, social, and foreign policy.  By their ratings for 2001 and 2002, Lieberman is a moderate liberal (scores 70-87) in the first two areas, and a moderate in foreign policy (scores of 51 and 55).

Now for the larger one.  I don't find the mix of endorsements by the Seattle Times as strong evidence of their overall stance as Vesely does, for two reasons.  First, at the Times the publisher takes a strong interest in their main endorsement for president, but less interest in their editorials during the year — on most subjects.  That their publisher is moderate does not show that their editorial page is.

Second, the Seattle Times, like many newspapers, has a pattern of endorsements that I find deceptive.   Let's say that there is a conservative Republican in a safe seat.  The Times will often endorse them, knowing that there is no chance their endorsement will make a difference.  They can use that endorsement, and similar ones, to appear less partisan and less liberal than they actually are.  If the endorsements where they might make a difference almost always go to the left wing candidate, then it is fair to consider the paper's editorial pages liberal, in spite of the other endorsements.  The 2000 election gave an example of that.  The Times endorsed Maria Cantwell, an extremist on social issues (but not economic issues), over Slade Gorton, a moderate conservative.   The election was so close that it is possible that the endorsement made the difference.   That they also endorsed Republican congresswoman Jennifer Dunn, who was going to win anyway, does not show the Times is balanced.)
- 9:15 AM, 23 June 2004   [link]


Worth Reading:  Ralph Peters on al Jazeera and our strange toleration of that anti-American propaganda machine in Iraq.
Imagine if, on D-Day, the Nazis had been allowed to place camera teams on Omaha Beach — with our suffering soldiers forbidden to interfere.  What if, on top of that, the Germans had invented American atrocities against French civilians — and our own officials defended their right to do so in the name of press freedom?

That's the situation with al-Jazeera in Iraq.

Staffed by embittered exiles and pan-Arabist ideologues — the last Nasserites — al-Jazeera is so consumed by hatred of America and the West that the network would rather see Iraq collapse into a bloodbath than permit the emergence of a democracy sponsored by Washington.

Despite his slaughter of a million-and-a-half Muslims in wars and campaigns of repression, al-Jazeera cheered for Saddam during Operation Iraqi Freedom, inventing Iraqi victories.  Its staff reacted with horror to the fall of Baghdad — and suppressed film clips of celebrating Arabs.

Since then, al-Jazeera has glamorized Islamic terrorists (who, were they ever to come to power, would close al-Jazeera and butcher its staff) while portraying the Baathist campaign of murder and sabotage as a noble freedom struggle.

Al-Jazeera is so bigoted and morally debased that its reporters and producers delight in Coalition casualties, in dead Iraqi doctors and engineers and (above all) in dead Kurds.
. . .
When I toured al-Jazeera's studios in January, the lack of interest in objective reporting was startling.  All the staff cared about was popularity and power.  It was unreality TV at its worst.  They bragged about their technology ("Better than the BBC!") and their influence, but never mentioned integrity, veracity or responsibility.  It was the Nazi propaganda ministry on amphetamines.
I thought from the beginning that we should have imposed censorship in Iraq, as we have done in almost all other wars.  As a temporary measure, of course.  I suspect the new Iraqi government is going to do just that — and we should applaud them if they do, assuming it really is temporary.

Finally, one sour thought.  Peters says that Western media are much better than al Jazeera, and I would agree that they are.  But it is also true that many who work for al Jazeera worked for the BBC earlier, and that the two networks have a cooperative agreement, whatever that means.
- 4:27 PM, 22 June 2004   [link]


John Kerry Receives another set of endorsements from foreign leaders.
TRA VINH, VIETNAM -- In the spartan banquet room of the Coolong Hotel, the Communist Party apparatchiks all agree on one thing: Democratic Senator John Kerry is the best candidate for U.S. president.
. . .
"We hope he wins the election.  He is a good man but not a hero. The only real hero is Uncle Ho," says Tra Vinh Governor Tran Van Ven.  He is referring to Ho Chi Minh, the revolutionary leader whose bearded philosopher image can still be seen on billboards throughout Vietnam.
But I'm not sure he'll use these endorsements in his campaign.

(The Globe reporter says that Kerry turned against the war after he served in Vietnam.  I believe that he was opposed to the war while still in college.  And, though he likes to present himself as a volunteer, he joined the service only when it was clear he was about to be drafted.)
- 2:08 PM, 22 June 2004   [link]


Putin Endorses Bush?  The Russian leader may not be familiar with the details of American politics, but he must know that this statement will help Bush.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Friday his government warned Washington that Saddam Hussein's regime was preparing attacks in the United States and its interests abroad — an assertion that appears to bolster President Bush's contention that Iraq was a threat. Putin emphasized that the intelligence didn't cause Russia to waver from its firm opposition to the U.S.-led war last year, but his statement was the second this month in which he has offered at least some support for Bush on Iraq.

"After Sept. 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services ... received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests," Putin said.
. . .
But Putin's relationship with Bush is warm by the accounts of both leaders, and last week he said he has no patience for those who criticize Bush on Iraq.

"I don't pay attention to such publications," Putin said of media criticism of Bush at the end of the Group of Eight summit in the United States, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Putin said opponents who criticize Bush on Iraq "don't have any kind of moral right. ... They conducted exactly the same kind of policy in Yugoslavia."
There are two puzzles here.  First, what intelligence did the Russians pass to us about possible terror attacks from Saddam?  Second, why is Putin supporting Bush with these statements?  I have seen nothing on the first that goes beyond these rather vague statements, not even informed speculation, but I can make some guesses about the second.

Putin and Bush have a good working relationship, but neither man would sacrifice his country's interests to that.  So Putin must believe that, on terrorism and other issues, he can work more effectively with Bush than with Kerry.  Some of his support for Bush may be just the usual European preference for incumbent American presidents, but I suspect Putin also believes that Bush is more realistic about the threat of terrorism.

In the war on terror, a good relationship between Bush and Putin (or between Bush and Pakistan's General Musharraf) is more important than the relationship between Bush and French President Chirac.  I don't know whether John Kerry is too Eurocentric in his thinking to understand that, or whether he is just talking about the conflicts between Chirac and Bush because it is a convenient campaign issue.
- 7:56 AM, 22 June 2004
More:  Pavel Felgenhauer, writing in the Moscow Times, supports my argument.
Putin may have acted in self-interest in supporting Bush.  The Kremlin traditionally prefers Republican administrations in Washington.  But this is a case when Kremlin self-interest coincides with the national interest.  The United States seems to be on track to create a relatively moderate government in Baghdad that will be good for Iraq and good for the world.

The Iraq invasion happened late, but still in time, before Muslim terrorists got nuclear weapons, say, from Iran.  Now, with U.S. forces on Iran's doorstep and with the prospect of U.S. power spreading further in the greater Middle East to impose peace and suppress radicals, it will be much harder for the jihadists to get the bomb in the future.  The greater Middle East cannot be left to itself to solve its own problems -- local moderate forces are simply too weak -- and a massive U.S.-led military presence deserves full support.
And, in the rest of the column, condemns the Western media for their attacks on Bush.
- 2:21 PM, 22 June 2004   [link]


Perhaps CBS News should replace Dan Rather with a professional journalist.   The results might be more interesting than his 60 Minutes love fest with Clinton.
Bill Clinton loses his temper with David Dimbleby during a BBC television interview to be broadcast this week when he is repeatedly quizzed about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

The former American president, famed for his amiable disposition, becomes visibly angry and rattled, particularly when Dimbleby asks him whether his publicly declared contrition over the affair is genuine.
(Actually, Clinton is famous for his private temper tantrums, so "publicly amiable" might be better than just "amiable".)

How tough should interviewers be?  Depends on how weaselly the politician is, I think.  For straightforward politicians, Jim Lehrer's gentle approach will often yield better interviews than Tim Russert's grilling.  The slicker the politician, the more you need a tough interviewer.   Given his sycophantic comments in the past, Dan Rather should not be allowed to do stories on Clinton, much less interview him.  (If you want to see some examples of those comments, check the Media research site.)
- 6:57 AM, 22 June 2004   [link]


Politics And Dating:  Seattle freelance writer Diane Mapes wrote one of those standard why is it so hard to get a date here articles about the Seattle dating scene.
Welcome to the dating doldrums, the Seattle slump, No Man's Land, U.S.A.  Whatever you want to call it, our fair city has gained a reputation among its single women as a certifiable Date-Free Zone.

Outsiders, such as the folks at Sperling's BestPlaces who recently ranked Seattle the No. 5 Best Place to Date, may think the preponderance of coffee shops and uncoupled residents indicates something's brewing in our fair city.  But singleton Katie Kurtz knows better.

"The Seattle dating scene sucks," said this 31-year-old Seattle native.  "I'm professional, creative, college-educated, smart, funny, hip, HWP, whatever, but it's just miserable trying to get a date here.  I swear, there is something in the water."
This inspired the usual follow-ups, which you can see here and here, and one letter from a man so nasty about the available women that I won't link to it.

Meanwhile, law professor Eugene Volokh was trying to help out single men with tips here and here.  They can, according to a woman friend of his, be much more sexy with a little effort.  Unlike single women, they seldom make the effort.

Now both Ms. Mapes and Professor Volokh missed a surefire way for some singles, both men and women, to improve their odds in the dating game.  Since I mostly discuss politics here, you may already sense where this argument is going.

In selecting dates, men and women look for partners who are compatible in many ways, including politics.  Sadly, there is a mismatch between single men and single women, with the men being more moderate than the women.  In 2000, for example, 46 percent of the single men voted for George W. Bush, but only 32 percent of the single women did.  (There was also a difference, though not as large, between married men and married women; Bush won 58 percent of the votes of the married men in 2000 and 49 percent of the married women.)

Putting aside for the moment the ethical problem, suppose that you were simply trying to improve your odds in the dating market.  Obviously, many women should pretend to be more moderate or conservative than they are, and many men should pretend to be more to the left than they are.   Does this happen?  I've seen examples, and I suspect most of you have, too.

Now what about the ethics of this kind of deception?  It's hardly unique to political views; both men and women commonly employ various deceptions to increase their attractiveness.  (One of the more amusing: In Britain, fake cellphones are sold to single men who use them to pretend greater status in bars.  One small study suggested that it works, temporarily.)  And the excuse we commonly make, that after they get to know and like us, we can tell them the truth, is not one I would automatically reject.  What you must keep in mind is that, if this turns into a long term relationship, the other person will almost certainly learn the truth in time.

(Since I mentioned Professor Volokh's advice to single men, I should mention a hazard that he doesn't.  Dressing (or behaving) in ways that please women can offend other men.  In Dress for Success, author John Molloy warned men not to allow their wives (or girlfriends) to choose their clothes, if they were working for a male boss.  On the other hand, he also advised men to allow a woman to choose their clothes — if they were trying to succeed with women.  What pleases one sex may offend the other.

I would say that most women, most of the time, dress for other women.  And when they do not, and dress for men, they often meet with disapproval from other women.

The dangers can be particularly great for men who work in technical fields, where disapproval of anything like fancy dress, or sometimes even ordinary neatness, is very common.)
- 9:15 AM, 21 June 2004   [link]


Should We Be Intolerant In 2004?  That's the question posed by Seattle PI cartoonist David Horsey.
In the politics of 2004, should Americans emulate friends seeking common ground or is tolerance a foolish pretense when so much is at stake?
(Horsey poses a question for readers each Saturday.  The newspaper prints selected answers some days later.

Even if you don't live in this area, you may be familiar with Horsey.   Though once quite good, his work has slipped enough so that he was reprimanded with a Pulitzer recently.)

That Horsey even asks this question shows several disturbing things about our newsrooms.   In a democracy, the parties with a chance to take power must tolerate each other enough to accept the results of elections.  When that did not happen in the United States, in the 1860 election of Lincoln, we had the Civil War.  (If one of the main parties was totalitarian, then there would be good reason to reject the results of elections, should they win.  But it is absurd to think that either the Democrats or the Republicans are totalitarian.)

The assumptions behind Horsey's question are significant.  He believes that "so much is at stake" in this year's election, but never tells us what the stakes are.  Almost certainly, he thinks that policy toward Iraq is one of those stakes.  But what is Kerry promising to change about our policy there?  Very little.  Currently, Kerry is promising to continue the Bush policies, perhaps with more troops and greater skill.  When the difference is that small between the two men's positions, how can the stakes be great?

The only possibility is that Kerry is not being frank about his intentions, that what he says is not what he intends to do.  I am not a big fan of the junior senator from Massachusetts, but I see no reason not to think that, for now at least, Kerry intends to do pretty much what he says he intends, that is, to follow the Bush policies while begging for help from the French and other fair weather allies.

Perhaps Horsey means the stakes are large in domestic policy?  That's hard to believe, since most observers think that the Republicans will retain control of the House and perhaps the Senate as well.  We may have gridlock after the 2004 election, but we are unlikely to see the enactment of large liberal programs.  Even if the Democrats were to win a narrow majority in the House, there is no money available for any large liberal initiative, without a large tax increase.

Horsey also believes that the nation is polarized.
This is an election year when strong beliefs are rampant and, but for a few million voters in the muddled middle, most people know where they stand and look with contempt at those on the other side.
In fact, the voters are not polarized, though the parties are.  Horsey claims to read the New York Times, but he seems to have missed the article that I discussed here.

What do I make of all this?  That David Horsey, Pulitzer prize winner, has become so intolerant of Republicans that he no longer thinks clearly about politics.  He sees great stakes when the differences are small, and polarization in an electorate dominated by moderates.  Looking in his mirror at an extremist, he thinks he sees America.  Is his thinking typical in newsrooms?  I suspect that it is.  His intolerance and ignorance are, I fear, very common there.

The saddest part is what his fears have done to him — and to many others on the left.
At this polarized moment in American politics, I was a little apprehensive about a recent reunion with my four best high school buddies.
Why was he apprehensive?  Because they are Republicans.  Meeting them reassured him about the four, but changed nothing in his general views.
- 7:40 AM, 21 June 2004   [link]


The Open Question Of The Prague Meeting:  Some Czech officials have claimed that the leader of the 9/11 hijackers, Mohammed Atta, met with an Iraqi agent in Prague in April 2001.  The FBI and the New York Times seem convinced that there was no such meeting.

Why are they convinced?  Judging by this article, they have three kinds of evidence.   First, two al Qaeda captives have claimed that the meeting never happened.  This, in itself, means little.  They may not be telling the truth — shocking though that idea may be.   Or they may not have known the truth.  For centuries, it has been common practice in clandestine organizations to compartmentalize, to keep secrets limited to the few that needed to know them.  If al Qaeda was working with Iraq, one would expect much of their cooperation to be hidden, even from most senior al Qaeda officials.

Then there are two pieces of evidence from the United States.
The report cited a photograph taken by a bank surveillance camera in Virginia showing Mr. Atta withdrawing money on April 4, 2001, a few days before the supposed Prague meeting on April 9, and records showing his cellphone was used on April 6, 9, 10 and 11 in Florida.
Neither seems significant to me, though they do to the FBI (and the New York Times).  Before I go on a trip, I almost always withdraw cash, and I suspect most people, even terrorists, do the same thing.  The phone records show that his cellphone was in Florida, not that he was.   Since there are different standards in Europe and the United States, many (most?) cellphones used here will not even work in Europe.  If Atta had one of those, he would have no reason to take it with him and might have loaned it to others in the conspiracy.  We know that in other cases terrorists shared cellphones, so there is nothing implausible about the idea that he left it with another terrorist.

There is even some reason to think that he might have left it in Florida to create a false trail.  To give the devil his due, he was smart enough to know that his cellphone calls might be tracked,  Letting a fellow conspirator (or even an innocent dupe) use it while he has away on a super secret trip would help disguise his movements.

Now I am not saying that the Prague meeting took place.  I am saying that — on the basis of the publicly available evidence — the question is open.  That the 9/11 Commission appears to have concluded otherwise seems unwarranted.
- 5:39 AM, 21 June 2004   [link]


The Bush Administration Told The Truth - New York Times:  You'll have to look in the first pop-up graphic illustrating this article to find that admission, but it is there.
Critics of the Bush administration argue that it falsely created a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks to help justify the war.  Last week, the administration countered that it had never made such an assertion — only that there were ties, however murky, between Iraq and Al Qaeda.  A survey of past public comments seems to bear that out — although whether there was a deliberate campaign to create guilt by association is difficult to say.
"Seems to bear that out." What a weaselly admission, but there it is.  In other words, the Bush administration told the truth, but we think they fooled you anyway.  However grudging, the admission is a step forward.  Perhaps the editorial page editors will read it and rewrite their recent editorials beginning with this this one.
It's hard to imagine how the commission investigating the 2001 terrorist attacks could have put it more clearly yesterday: there was never any evidence of a link between Iraq and Al Qaeda, between Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11.

Now President Bush should apologize to the American people, who were led to believe something different.
And this one.
Mr. Bush said the 9/11 panel had actually confirmed his contention that there were "ties" between Iraq and Al Qaeda.  He said his administration had never connected Saddam Hussein to 9/11.  Both statements are wrong.
That the 9/11 Commission agrees with Bush does not seem to bother the editorialists at the New York Times (or many other newspapers).  For some reason, the Times did not find room in their article for some of Lee Hamilton's sharper critiques of the press coverage.

Finally, I should add that many of the polls, though not the one used by the Times in the first article, were tentative in their questions about links between Saddam and the 9/11 attack, and the answers reflect that.  If someone asked me whether Saddam ordered the attack, I would say almost certainly not.  If someone asked me whether he helped in the attack, I would say possibly.  If someone asked me whether we have definitive proof that he was not involved — as the New York Times editorials assert — I would say no, and we may never have such proof.  Those who say the public was fooled ignore the precise wording of the questions used in many of the polls.
- 11:36 AM, 20 June 2004
More:  An emailer sent me this direct link to the pop-up graphic.
- 4:43 AM, 21 June 2004   [link]


Refugees Are Going Home:  The number of refugees in the world is a good measure of problems.  The trend is good.
The number of refugees and displaced people around the world has fallen by 18% to just over 17m — the lowest level in a decade.

The United Nations refugee agency, which released the figures, said this was due to increased international efforts to help uprooted people.

Afghanistan was the prime example — more than half a million people returned home last year.
. . .
"The statistics are very encouraging," said Ruud Lubbers, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

"Nearly 5m people ... over the past few years have been able to either go home or to find a new place to rebuild their lives.

"For them, these dry statistics reflect a special reality; the end of long years in exile and the start of a new life with renewed hope for the future."

He said the number of people returning to Afghanistan was "phenomenal".

More than half of the 1.1m refugees who returned home last year went back to Afghanistan.  Large numbers also returned to Angola, Burundi and Iraq.
Now who made these "increased international efforts" in Afghanistan and Iraq possible?  The BBC does not say, but they give us a hint in a picture accompanying an article on the return of Afghan refugees.  The picture is captioned, "Afghan President Hamid Karzai needs more money from abroad", but next to Karzai there is an unidentified man, who looks for all the world like President Bush.

The article is titled, "Why millions of Afghans have gone home", but says nothing about the military campaign that made their return possible.  Nothing.  The article lets you know, vaguely, that the Taliban are no longer in charge, but has not a word on how that happened.  A more honest title would be: We won't tell you why millions of Afghans have gone home. Would BBC writers be so partisan as to omit Bush's name deliberately from these two good news stories on refugees?  Apparently.  And it is partisanship, not nationalism, because they don't mention Tony Blair, either, the man who deserves the next largest amount of credit.  At least they didn't airbrush Bush out of the picture, Soviet style.

(How good are the UN statistics on refugees? - editor.  I have no idea, though given the problems at the UN one should treat anything they produce with care.  They are probably right on the world wide trend and they are certainly right about the massive return of Afghans and Iraqis.)
- 8:07 AM, 20 June 2004   [link]


New York Times Reviewer Michiko Kakutani doesn't much like Bill Clinton's book.
Unfortunately for the reader, Mr. Clinton's much awaited new autobiography "My Life" more closely resembles the Atlanta speech, which was so long-winded and tedious that the crowd cheered when he finally reached the words "In closing . . ."

The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull — the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.

In many ways, the book is a mirror of Mr. Clinton's presidency: lack of discipline leading to squandered opportunities; high expectations, undermined by self-indulgence and scattered concentration.  This memoir underscores many strengths of Mr. Clinton's eight years in the White House and his understanding that he was governing during a transitional and highly polarized period.   But the very lack of focus and order that mars these pages also prevented him from summoning his energies in a sustained manner to bring his insights about the growing terror threat and an Israeli-Palestinian settlement to fruition.
And she dismisses Dan Rather's comparison of the book to Grant's memoirs.

Judging by the review, the book does not treat an aspect of Clinton that has fascinated me for years, his ability to get others to cover for his sins, even against their own best interests.  Hillary Clinton is the obvious example, but there are many others, including staffers from his time as Arkansas governor and as president.  The woman who took on the job of dealing with his "bimbo eruptions" did not do herself any favors.

And the journalists who chose, quite deliberately, to cover up his compulsive womanizing did not enhance their reputations, either.  Consider Joe Klein of Time magazine.  He wrote a thinly disguised novel of the 1992 campaign, Primary Colors, which it made it clear that he knew about Clinton's reckless behavior — and chose not to tell his readers about it during the campaign.  Ever since, I have treated everything from Klein with great skepticism.

How did Clinton persuade all these people to act in his interest — and against their own interests?  I do not know, but think it fair to say that we will never learn the secret from Clinton himself.
- 7:16 AM, 20 June 2004   [link]


Worth Reading:  David Brooks' column on John Kerry's "cruel realism" in foreign policy.
The Varela Project happens to be one of the most inspiring democracy movements in the world today.  It is being led by a Cuban dissident named Oswaldo Payá, who has spent his life trying to topple Castro's regime.  Payá realized early on that the dictatorship would never be overthrown by a direct Bay of Pigs-style military assault, but it could be undermined by a peaceful grass-roots movement of Christian democrats, modeling themselves on Martin Luther King Jr.
. . .
John Kerry's view? As he told [Andres] Oppenheimer, the Varela Project "has gotten a lot of people in trouble . . . and it brought down the hammer in a way that I think wound up being counterproductive."

Imagine if you are a Cuban political prisoner rotting in a jail, and you learn that the leader of the oldest democratic party in the world thinks you're being counterproductive.  Kerry's comment is a harpoon directed at the morale of Cuba's dissidents.

Imagine sitting in Castro's secret police headquarters and reading that statement.  The lesson you draw is that crackdowns work.  Throw some dissidents in jail, and the man who might be president of the United States will blame the democrats for being provocative.
Brooks accepts Kerry's own description of his attitude as "realist".
Over the past several months, Kerry and his advisers have signaled that they would like to take American foreign policy in a more "realist" direction.  That means, as Kerry told the editors of The Washington Post, playing down the idea of promoting democracy and focusing narrowly instead on national security.  That means, as Kerry advisers told Joshua Micah Marshall in The Atlantic, pursuing a foreign policy that looks more like the one Brent Scowcroft designed for the first Bush administration.

You can see why Kerry thinks that's a clever shift, after the arduous efforts to promote democracy in Iraq.  With realism, you avoid humanitarian interventions.
I don't.  Consider this list of interventions.
Although he [Kerry] has been critical of American policy in Iraq, he voted for military action there in 2002.

On the other hand he opposed intervention in Central America and made a name for himself by investigating the US role in supporting the Contra rebels in Nicaragua.

He was also against President Bush senior's action to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait in 1991 but he was in favour of military intervention in Afghanistan, Kosovo, Somalia, Haiti and Panama.
A "realist", such as Scowcroft, would have entirely different positions, favoring helping the anti-Communists in Central America and liberating Kuwait in 1991.  The realist would oppose intervention in Somalia, Kosovo, and Haiti.  Panama is a closer question, and it is clear that the Bush administration had mixed feelings about our intervention there, trying hard to get Noriega to leave peacefully.  Many realists were opposed to overthrowing Saddam.  Only on Afghanistan would the realist and Kerry be in complete agreement.

I see a different pattern than Brooks does.  In the past, Kerry has consistently opposed any actions which would offend Communist dictatorships or even Communist movements — as he does now.  There are words and phrases to describe that, but realist is not one of them.

(When I see someone described as a foreign policy "realist", I am reminded of the quip about pragmatism: It's not a bad idea, except that it doesn't work.  Similarly, I think the problem with "realism" is that, in the long run, it is unrealistic, especially for democracies.

The voters in most democracies will not support pure power politics in foreign affairs.   Although most have forgotten this part of the 1992 campaign, Clinton used this effectively against George H. W. Bush, accusing him of being too close to the "butchers of Beijing" and other sins of realism.  Though Clinton almost immediately dropped this upon becoming president, it did have an impact on the election.

And other nations also expect different behavior from democracies, especially the United States.   If we are constantly (and often wrongly) accused of pursuing our interests too strongly, it is partly because so many outside the United States expect more of us than of other nations.)
- 1:51 AM, 19 June 2004   [link]


Sometimes I Think The Photo Editor at the New York Times is a closet Republican.   The photo illustrating this story could have been picked by Karl Rove.  John McCain is smiling at Bush.  On each side of the president is a pretty young soldier, First Lieutenant Jennie Matthews on his right, and Private Mary Stoutner on his left.  But Bush is paying attention to business and looking out at the rest of the soldiers in the audience at Fort Lewis.  Almost perfect.  All that it needs is a flag and the usual multiracial collection of soldiers in the background to make it perfect.

(I heard parts of the speech.  I may be wrong, but I thought that most of the cheers when Bush said that Afghan girls can now go to school came from the women soldiers in the audience.

And there's one detail in the photo that I liked.  Private Stoutner has a great big uninhibited grin; Lieutenant Matthews has an in-control officer's smile.)
- 11:18 AM, 19 June 2004  
More:  If you think I was kidding about the photo editor, look for the print edition of this story on John Kerry.   The net edition crops the picture and puts in color.  The print version shows the back of a man's head, out of focus, on the left side of the picture, and ten faces in the background, all of them looking bored, or even sullen.  Even in the cropped version of the picture, Kerry's head blocks part of the slogan behind him, which says, I would guess, "A Stronger Economy".  It is very hard not conclude that whoever chose the print version was not trying to make Kerry look good.
- 12:55 PM, 19 June 2004   [link]


Michael Moore's most recent movie, Fahrenheit 9/11, gets an unwanted endorsement.
Meanwhile, in the United Arab Emirates, the film is being offered the kind of support it doesn't need.  According to Screen International, the UAE-based distributor Front Row Entertainment has been contacted by organisations related to the Hezbollah in Lebanon with offers of help.
Or is it unwanted?  Michael Moore's hatred for President Bush and Republicans generally seems genuine, but I have never heard him object to terrorist organizations like Hezbollah.  Just after the 9/11 attack, he posted a comment on his web site wondering why the terrorists had targeted places that had voted for Gore.  (He may not be aware that financial organizations, even in New York city, have many Republicans, or that many workers at the Pentagon voted for Bush.)

Moore's thinking in the comment, which was soon removed, seems clear enough.  Terrorism against Republicans — even those who just vote Republican — is at least understandable, but terrorism against Democrats is not.  So, it is not, on the face of it, implausible to think that Moore might hope that terrorist organizations would learn to direct their attacks against those he hates instead of Americans (and Israelis) generally.  This is, of course, crazy, but Moore is not what I would call a careful scholar.
- 6:06 AM, 19 June 2004   [link]


Lee Hamilton, vice-chairman of the 9/11 Commission, was a long serving and widely respected Democratic Congressman from Indiana.  Here's what the 1998 Almanac of American Politics said about him.
Hamilton seems folksy and without urban savvy, and has a strong intellect and capacity for hard work plus a sense of moral imperative.  For a decade until the 1994 election, he was one of the leaders of the democratic House — chairman of the Intelligence Committee in 1985-1987, House chairman of the Iran-contra committee in 1987-88, in which capacity he sternly denounced Oliver North and the Reagan administration, chairman of the Joint Economics Committee in 1989-90, chairman of International Relations in 1993-95.
He opposed the first Gulf War resolution, predicting massive casualties.  He backed Clinton on Bosnia.

He is not, as you can see, a man inclined by background, temperament, or party ties to automatically back a Republican president.  But when the first news accounts came out saying there was a conflict between the administration and the Commission over the links between al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein, he immediately denied that the Commission and the adminstration had different positions.
"The sharp differences that the press has drawn [between the White House and the Commission] are not that apparent to me," Hamilton told the Associated Press, a day after insisting that his probe uncovered "all kinds" of connections between Osama bin Laden's terror network and Iraq.
. . .
But the Indiana Democrat said the press accounts were flat-out wrong.

"There are all kinds of ties," he told PBS's "The News Hour" late Wednesday, in comments that establishment journalists have refused to report.

"There are all kinds of connections. And it may very well have been that Osama bin Laden or some of his lieutenants met at some time with Saddam Hussein's lieutenants."

Hamilton said that while his probe had failed to uncover any direct operational link between Baghdad and Osama bin Laden's terror network in attacks on the U.S., there's no question that "they had contacts."
Newsmax is a partisan news organization, but they are right on this question, and the New York Times, the Washington Post, CBS, and all the rest of the "mainstream" news organizations are wrong.   Is it not obvious that they, too, are partisan?

This failure of the very expensive journalists at such news organizations to get the basic facts right on this part of the Commission report reminds me of a similar failure on David Kay's interim report on the search for Saddam's WMDs.  And Kay reacted in the same way as Hamilton did; he came out the next day and said the accounts were wrong.  But even now you still see news stories that echo the first, incorrect descriptions of Kay's findings — and do not mention Kay's disagreement.  Hamilton's objection to these distorted news accounts will, I predict, be buried, too.

This continuing massive failure of our "mainstream" news organizations to get the basic facts right is one of the most serious problems we have in the war on terror.  In the long term, their declining share of the audience may bring them back to a less ideological, more factual, approach to the news.  In the short term, I plan to do my small part by correcting them when they err.
- 8:17 AM, 18 June 2004   [link]


The Democratic Convention Will Honor Ted Kennedy on July 26, which just happens to be a 35th anniversary of Chappaquidick.
- 7:24 AM, 18 June 2004
Correction:  An alert emailer pointed out my error; July 26 is not the date of Mary Jo Kopechne's death, as I said at first.  It is, however, as the New York Post column said, the date Ted Kennedy pleaded guilty to failing to report the accident.  And it is also, coincidentally, Kopechne's birthday.   Had she lived, she would have been 64 on July 26, 2004.

(Took me two tries to get the correction right,  Sorry about that.)
- 10:45 AM, 18 June 2004   [link]


Sorry, Idaho, Again:  Last year I noted that Dave Postman of the Seattle Times had forgotten that Idaho is in the Northwest.  (Postman admitted I was right, but did not, as far as I know, make a correction.)  Now, Paul Queary and David Ammons of the Associated Press make the same mistake, and add another common mistake.
No Republican presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan has carried the Northwest, where the big population centers around Portland and Seattle — known almost as much for their liberal politics as for their incessant drizzle — tend to overrule conservative voters in the smaller towns and cities east of the Cascade Mountains.
In fact, as I explained last year, Bush carried the Northwest in 2000, since his margin in Idaho was larger than Gore's margins in Oregon and Washington combined.

There's another common mistake in the article.  The division of Oregon and Washington into dry east and wet west sides is so striking that it is easy to conclude that the weather division corresponds to the political division.  But it doesn't.  As I explained in this post, former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro had the best short description of the division in Washington.  The state is divided politically, he often said, between the part of the state you could see from Seattle's Space Needle, and everything else.  That's almost an exact description of the counties carried by Slade Gorton and Maria Cantwell in their very close 2000 Senate race.

Or, I can put it in terms that people elsewhere will find familiar.  The more rural the area (not the drier), the more likely they are to back the Republicans.  The more urban (not the wetter), the more likely they are to back the Democrats.

(Wonder if Queary and Ammons will make a correction and restore Idaho to the Northwest?   Probably not.)
- 6:08 PM, 17 June 2004   [link]


I've Added A Correction And A Puzzle to this post on the New Zealand meteorite, and my spoof conspiracy theory.  I'll post an answer to the puzzle here in a couple of days.
- 4:45 PM, 17 June 2004   [link]


When Did World War II Begin?  While reading this post, I learned about this article by Georgina Taylor, who "teaches Canadian history at the First Nations University of Canada".  Ms. Taylor found it quite amusing that President Bush had said, in a speech to the Air Force Academy graduation:
Like the Second World War, our present conflict began with a ruthless, surprise attack on the United States.  We will not forget that treachery, and we will accept nothing less than victory over the enemy.
Here's how the late historian, A. J. P. Taylor, began the second edition of his wildly controversial book, The Origins of the Second World War.
Most wars begin raggedly.  In the minds of Englishmen 4 August 1914 is unshakably fixed as the date when the first World war began; yet by then France and Germany had been at war for twenty-four hours, Russia and Germany for three days, Serbia and Austria-Hungary for almost a week.  The second World war is vaguer still in its opening; the Russians date it from 22 June 1941, the Chinese from November 1937, the Abyssinians [or Ethiopians, as we now would say], I suppose, from October 1935, and the Americans from 7 December 1941.  The American date is the most sensible.  The war truly became world-wide — much more so than the first World war — only after Pearl Harbor.
(And one can even quibble with 7 December 1941 for the United States.  There was a small undeclared naval war between Germany and the United States in the North Atlantic before Pearl Harbor.)

As a Research Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, head of the Beaverbrook Library in London, and a fellow of the British Academy, I think think it fair to say that A. J. P. had better credentials than Georgina, who merely "teaches Canadian history at the First Nations University of Canada", a fine institution, I am sure, but not equivalent to Oxford.

Better credentials don't prove that A. J. P. Taylor was correct, but I think his argument is more reasonable than Georgina Taylor's sneer.  Wars often begin raggedly, and different nations choose different dates to call the beginning.
- 3:32 PM, 17 June 2004   [link]


Rainier Pictures:  There is still enough snow on the mountain to make pictures, especially pictures taken at Paradise, the main visitors' center, difficult with default camera settings.  My little digital camera, a Nikon 2000, has a setting for snow or beach scenes, but that setting did not always produce better results than the normal setting.   With that apology aside, here are two pictures.  I may have better ones for you when I get my film developed.

First a view of the mountain from the Jackson Visitor Center parking lot:



(Sadly, the Jackson building, which looks rather like a flying saucer, will be replaced soon by a building more suited to the heavy snows.  It's the right decision, I am sure, but I will miss the old building.)

The trails at Paradise were covered with snow, beginning to turn to slush.  Some kids were sliding anyway; most threw snowballs.



(From the west side, which is how most people visit Rainier, some of the best views are from miles outside the park.  There are some fine viewpoints along Route 161, and probably many other places in that general area.  Stephen Harris, author of Fire Mountains of the West, thinks Rainier is "most impressive from the east" and "grandest" from the Sunrise Visitor Center on the northeast side of the mountain.  It takes about the same amount of time to get to either Paradise or Sunrise from Seattle, about 2½ hours.)
- 10:44 AM, 17 June 2004   [link]


If Mt. Rainier Was A Factory, Would It Be Legal?  I greatly enjoyed my trip to the mountain yesterday and will have some pictures to show you soon.  On the way back I amused myself by thinking about how many environmental laws and regulations the mountain was breaking.  I am not sure whether the emissions of sulfur compounds at the top of the mountain are large enough to break any laws, though some years ago another volcano, Mt. Baker, which is near the Canadian border, was putting out more of them for a time than all the factories in the Northwest combined.

But Rainier is breaking other laws.  It dumps rocks, sand, and silt directly into rivers and streams, which is forbidden almost everywhere.  Later in the summer, the streams coming from the glaciers will often turn white from all the silt they carry.  As the summer gets warmer, the emissions of volatile organic hydrocarbons, such as terpenes, from the evergreen forests on the mountain's lower slopes will be higher than permitted from factories.  And the mountain creates dangerous piles of rubble and mud that might go downstream and destroy homes in its path.  In most areas, factories and mines are not allowed to create such hazards.

(The hazards are real enough so that I saw small signs marking some of the roads as volcano escape routes.  Some small communities near Rainier have sirens to alert the residents, in case it becomes necessary to flee.  Mud flows are the biggest danger.   One of the largest, the Osceoloa mud flow, occurred about 5700 years ago.  It buried 125 square miles of lowland and reached as far as Kent, a suburb of Seattle.)

Others who know more about environmental laws could probably identify many more violations, but that's enough to show that, if Rainier were a factory, it would be completely illegal.  Environmental organizations would condemn it as an ecological disaster.  Many environmentalists have a sentimental idea that everything natural is good, and that, in the words of the old missionary hymn, "only man is vile".  Neither is true, as the example of Rainier shows.
- 8:36 AM, 17 June 2004   [link]