November 2003, Part 3
Jim Miller on Politics
Privacy Rules In Public Libraries have never made much sense to me. Since taxpayers are paying for the libraries, taxpayers should be able to see who is using the money, and for what. Libraries are not private places and should not be, as long as taxpayers finance them. The attempt to make them private has led to many absurdities. I have heard, for example, that the Seattle libraries will be installing screens so that patrons—if that is the right word—can download pornography without interruption. This father's tale shows just how silly those privacy policies have become.
One day not long ago, while running too many errands, I ducked into the Olney library to return a stack of books for my daughters, Casey and Emily. The clerk scanned them in, consulted her computer and announced that we still had five books out.As you can learn from the rest of the article, the clerk was following the official policy of library, and that it is the same policy most libraries have.
(I have tried, I really have, to understand the librarians' argument. But I keep bumping up against the fact that is tax money, not private funds, that pays for libraries. Do librarians know that?)
- 8:34 AM, 23 November 2003 [link]
Forty Years Ago Yesterday, President Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald. I had mixed feelings about Kennedy when he was alive, and all that I have learned since then have not changed that. His assassination made him into a martyr and made it difficult to discuss his administration in a balanced way. Now, Christopher Hitchens thinks, enough time has passed so that we may finally be able to have those discussions, which must include the negatives.
The biographers and archivists have done most of the relevant job of reporting and disclosing, and what they have reported and disclosed is a president frantically "high" on pills of all kinds (that's when he was not alarmingly "low" for the same reason), a president quick on the draw and willing to solicit Mafia hit men for his foreign policy, a president willing to risk nuclear war to save his own face; a president who bugged his own Oval Office, a president who used the executive mansion as a bordello, and a president whose name we might never have learned if not for the fanatical determination of his father to purchase him a political career.One of the worst things about his administration was his willingness to use assassination as a tool of foreign policy, notably against Castro, and to accept it against allies like the Diems in South Vietnam. Mark Steyn tells that sad story, which shows how little Kennedy understood Vietnam.
I have long thought that, even if you did not object to assassinations of foreign leaders on moral grounds, you should see that they are almost always a foolish tactic for the United States. As Kennedy's own assassination—and Castro's longevity—show, it is far easier to kill the head of democratically elected government than it is to kill most dictators. (If you want more examples, consider the narrow failures of assassination attempts against Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.) That the Kennedy administration did not see this obvious point shows how far they were from being the "Best and Brightest".
Even Kennedy's largest triumph, steering us through the Cuban missile crisis, is tarnished. We now know that the crisis occurred in part because Soviet dictator Nikita Khrushchev concluded, after meeting with Kennedy, that the young president was weak and inexperienced. That perception led, directly, to a series of crises, including the missile crisis.
Kennedy's assassination did another thing, besides make him a martyr. It greatly increased the distrust of the American government here and abroad. And, the KGB, which had worked with Oswald, fed that distrust for years, planting articles in Western journals and otherwise feeding conspiracy theorists. one of the most famous, New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison, fell for the KGB scam, hook, line and sinker.
These early efforts to implicate the CIA met with little apparent success. But the KGB kept on trying and finally hit the jackpot once a relatively unknown New Orleans district attorney named Jim Garrison took a sudden interest in the assassination in late 1966. The word "dupe" has long been out of favor, but that's precisely what Garrison turned out to be after he arrested Clay Shaw in March 1967 and charged him with conspiring to assassinate Kennedy. Owing to a clever piece of KGB disinformation planted in a Communist-owned Italian newspaper, Garrison came to believe that in Shaw he had apprehended an important "CIA operative." And on the basis of this deception (again, revealed by KGB archivist Mitrokhin), Garrison constructed an entire conspiracy edifice, ultimately arguing that the CIA had plotted the assassination-coup d'etat in concert with the military-industrial complex -- again, because Kennedy was allegedly easing up in the Cold War.As you may already have guessed, the Oliver Stone movie, which convinced so many that there was a right wing plot against Kennedy, was based on the same disinformation. Will Stone every admit he was suckered by the KGB? I wouldn't stay up waiting for that to happen. You can see just how far the KGB story has spread in this Seattle Times article. The Times, a usually respectable newspaper, uncritically recycles all the conspiracy theories, including those devised by the KGB.
Finally, just because it is so absurd, I have to mention this Guardian editorial, which tries to link three events that happened on November 22. They have to strain to link Kennedy's assassination to Margaret Thatcher's defeat 13 years ago. And to explain their attempt to link a third event, one would almost have to conclude that the editors were high, drunk, or otherwise mentally incapacitated. The third event? England's possible victory over Australia in the world championship of rugby. (Americans may need to be informed, that, yes, England did win.)
- 8:04 AM, 23 November 2003 [link]
Three Weeks Ago , in this post, I discussed Senator Zell Miller's almost unprecedented endorsement of President Bush—and the press indifference to the story. Today, the New York Times finally catches up to the story. You can sense how puzzled they are by the endorsement, and by the senator's views. This illustrates my original point, that the Times is out of touch with much of the American public. (I haven't checked to see whether either of the Seattle papers have carried the story, though they had not, the last time I looked.)
- 7:34 AM, 22 November 2003 [link]
Fizz, Fizz, Fizz, Bang! Volcanoes like Mt. St. Helens explode for some of the same reasons that champagne corks pop. Pressure from bubbles builds up until something has to give. Scientists are beginning to understand these processes better, and the seismic signals that can warn when the volcanoes are about to blow. There are strong practical reasons for studying volcanoes; half a billion people live within 60 miles of volcanoes that have been active recently. Here's the New York Times story, which is illustrated with a beautiful picture of the Redoubt volcano in Alaska.
- 2:11 PM, 21 November 2003 [link]
Washington Post Eliminates 5 Million Britons: Dana Milbank fills his article on Bush's trip to Britain with Milbank's usual nasty comments. And, as he often does, he gets a fact wrong, giving the population of Britain as 55 million, when it is actually about 60 million. I wonder. Would the Post tolerate Milbank's frequent errors and consistent petulance if he were pro-Bush?
- 6:24 AM, 22 November 2003 [link]
Our Ignorant College Administrators: Here's the full text of the 1st Amendment to the United States Constitution:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech; or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.Got that? Now you know more than nearly all college administrators. A poll, done for an invaluable organization, FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), shows that college administrators are poorly informed about 1st Amendment rights, especially religion. When asked to name "any of the specific rights" guaranteed by the 1st Amendment, 11 percent of the administrators could not name any and only 21 percent mentioned religion, the first right mentioned in the amendment.
(Technical point: A better phrasing for the question would have made it clear that the person answering should name as many of the rights as they can remember. "Any" suggests that naming one would be a complete answer. They probably chose this phrasing because it had been used in earlier national polls of the public. And how did the public do on the same question, you wonder? Worse than the administrators, but not by as big a margin as you might think. Thirty-five percent of the public could not name any rights.)
A significant minority of administrators, at least 12 percent for each of the rights, did not think the right was essential. A full 26 percent of public school administrators and 33 percent of private school administrators did not think the right to assemble was essential. And 31 percent of the public school administrators agreed somewhat that they could ban a religious club to ensure a "supportive and nurturing campus environment". What they mean by that, if you are wondering, is that they could ban a religious club that taught that homosexuality was sinful.
There's much more in this troubling survey. I'll probably come back to it, and the parallel survey done of students, in a few days. For now, here's a reasonably accurate summary of the religious highlights from the Wall Street Journal.
- 10:25 AM, 21 November 2003 [link]
If You Are Unfamiliar with Hernando de Soto and his ideas about poverty in the developing world, here's an introduction. What the poor in the developing world really need, he thinks, are property rights.
Imagine a country where the law that governs property rights is so deficient that nobody can easily identify who owns what, addresses cannot be systematically verified, and people cannot be made to pay their debts. Consider not being able to use your own house or business to guarantee credit. Imagine a property system in which you can't divide your ownership in a business into shares that investors can buy, or where descriptions of assets are not standardized.Worth reading, especially for those on the left.
- 9:12 AM, 21 November 2003 [link]
What News Is Important To Katie Couric? Out of curiosity, I watched the first part of the Today show and found it even worse than I expected. After the beginning news briefs, Couric gave a full 15 minutes to the Michael Jackson arrest, most of it devoted to defenses of Jackson from his family and lawyer. After that came 2 minutes on the Bush trip to Britain, and then another 2 minutes on the controversy over showing the coffins of American servicemen. The show had promised an interview with the Dixie Chicks, but by that point, I had had enough and turned off the television set. (My impression is that Couric and company think that, since Jackson is a celebrity, he should not be judged too harshly. I hope I am wrong about that.)
Couric is not alone in these news judgments; Today is supposed to be a light program, but Nightline with Ted Koppel is supposed to be be far more serious. I learned from this James Lileks bleat Nightline was split on which story was more important.
The staff was split. Nightline, supposedly the Thinking Person's Late Night Show, was split about whether a repudiation of 50 years of foreign policy was slightly more important than the arrest of a washed-up, crotch-grabbing yee-hee! squeaking nutball who was probably the horrid pedophile everyone already thought he was.These choices show something about how the TV networks view the war on terrorism.
They fear Islamic terrorism, but it's an abstract fear now. Their distaste of Bush is much more tangible and immediate; it's part of the atmosphere in the newsroom. This is his war, not theirs. If it is a war at all.No wonder they would rather cover Jackson.
(Here's the NBC bio of Couric, if you want to know more about her, and here's an extended critique from Media Research.)
- 8:36 AM, 21 November 2003 [link]
Dick Armey Versus The Seattle Left: Yesterday, Steve Scher interviewed the former Republican majority leader on the Weekday program, with results that were either amusing or dismaying, depending on your point of view. Armey, for those not familiar with him, has strongly libertarian views on economic issues. And, coming from North Dakota, he has that thrifty state's objections to receiving handouts. (Excluding farm subsidies for the state, though not for Armey, who opposed them vigorously.) Since he desires freedom so strongly, Armey does not want to be enrolled in the Medicare program. But, since he is turning 65, he has no choice. As he explained, the law does not allow him to opt out of Medicare entirely and buy his own insurance.
These ideas do not seem complicated or foreign to me, but they were to the interviewer, Steve Scher, and to the callers. Armey asked again and again why he could not opt out of the Medicare—and never got an answer. The idea that people might prefer freedom to economic subsidies was so strange to the Seattle left, apparently, that Scher and his callers had no answer for Armey's rather simple question. (Some of the callers, as anyone familiar with talk radio will understand, just used the interview as an opportunity to press their own views.) This ignorance, for that is what it is, hurts the left in many ways. KUOW, and other organizations on the left, would be improved if they were more open to ideas from outside a fairly narrow segment of the political spectrum.
However, if the comment I heard after the interview is any indication, Glasnost will not come to KUOW soon. One of the regulars on Weekday is Carl Elliot, a gardening expert. When Elliot was introduced by Scher, after the Armey interview, he took the opportunity to sneer at Armey as a "know nothing". Scher merely chuckled at this. It is so much easier to call our opponents names than to think about what they say.
(In American politics, there are two possible meanings for "know nothing". It can mean someone who has no knowledge, the literal meaning, or it can mean someone with views like those held by the Know Nothing party, which was important for several decades before the Civil War. Neither applies to Armey. Before he entered politics, Armey had been a college professor, teaching economics at the University of North Texas. His intelligence was one reason he was so effective in the House. For example, Armey was the one who worked out a way to close superfluous military bases, which has save the nation billions of dollars. Armey has a softer side that most would admire, too. When he was blocked by limousine liberals like Ted Kennedy from providing vouchers to the students in the Washington, D. C. public schools, he set up an organization to provide scholarships for them.
The Know Nothing party, as it is usually called, was an anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic party that was strongest from 1850 to 1860. It grew out of secret societies, whose members were told to say they "know nothing" if asked about the societies. Armey has the acceptance of immigrants common to libertarians, has never shown any hostility to Catholics, and favors open debate. Know Nothings were opposed to Catholic schools; Armey had raised money so that poor black kids can go to them.)
- 11:38 AM, 20 November 2003 [link]
Last Week, in this post, I explained why Kennedy lost the popular vote in 1960, a fact known to students of elections for decades, though it has yet to reach the popular culture. Here's John Fund's discussion of the 1960 election, with similar conclusions, but some different details. (I seem to recall reading that the mixed slate of electors was the result of a compromise within the Democratic party, though Fund says they were chosen in a primary. Both could be true.)
Elections have been won in other democracies by parties that have lost the popular vote. I have read that Britain has had two such elections since World War II, one won by the Conservatives and one won by Labour.
- 8:46 AM, 20 November 2003 [link]
So Far, So Good: Three days ago, I predicted here that President Bush's trip to Britain would be a success. Judging by the admission in this Guardian article, that seems to be happening.
For Bush delivered a very good speech yesterday, well-constructed, well-written and, yes, well-delivered - even without the help of autocue. He said what many Britons want to hear from an American president, invoking the internationalist idealism of the last of his predecessors to sleep at Buckingham Palace, Woodrow Wilson.The Guardian's editorial page agreed.
Conscious that he has a bit of catching up to do, George Bush piled on the charm yesterday. The US president lavished praise on Britain, America's "closest friend in the world". He stressed the shared bonds of history, values and belief; the key importance of the transatlantic relationship; and the two countries' common cause in pursuit of global freedom and democracy.I can imagine the grim faces at the Guardian and can almost hear the teeth grinding as they had to admit that Bush, who is, after all, a talented politician, might appeal to his British audience.
- 8:23 AM, 20 November 2003 [link]
World's Smallest Flying Robot: That's what Epson claims they have developed. Here's the press release. Click the diagram at the bottom for more technical details. I wrote "claims" because I know the US Defense Department has been interested in similar technology for many years, and may well have built prototypes of similar robots, but kept them secret.
- 9:45 AM, 19 November 2003 [link]
Routine Anti-Americanism, Example 13: Reuters, a "news organization" that almost never uses the word terrorist, without adding scare quotes, slurs the United States, by comparing us to the Nazis. Yes, the name of the current operation, "Iron Hammer", is the same as a never executed German plan in World War II, but the phrase was not exactly original with the Nazis. Iron working goes back at least two millennia, so a few people must have beaten Hitler and company to iron hammer. The implied argument in the article is as silly as pointing out that both Reuters and the Nazis used typewriters. Or it would be silly if the motive weren't so obvious and so nasty.
I don't blame American planners for not knowing about the name coincidence. I have read a fair amount of World War II history and can't recall hearing about it. (If you are curious about the German plan, here's a description.)
- 9:15 AM, 19 November 2003 [link]
Lip Gloss: That's what Margaret Wente found she really needed to bring on her trip to Iraq.
Before I went to Baghdad I had no idea what to take. Everyone gave me conflicting advice. One journalist told me to take a first-aid kit, a water purifier, and a week's worth of bottled water. Someone else thought I should take a flak jacket, which seemed impractical because by the time you know you need to put it on, it will probably be too late. Finally, I phoned a woman named Suzanne, who had just wound up a lengthy road trip through the boonies. "Hmm," she said when I asked her what to take. "Some nice red wine. It's hard to get red wine there. And also lip gloss. It's very hot and dry. You definitely need lip gloss."Her account of her stay at the barracks being used by part of the 101st Airborne will give you some sense of how our troops are adapting. And, another Wente column, which sketches some ideas in the Iraqi mindset, is worth reading, too. Many Iraqis believe in genies, I learned, which makes them almost as superstitious as the average member of Greenpeace.
- 7:38 AM, 19 November 2003 [link]
Why The Democrats Need Gerrymandering: After the Republicans redistricted Texas, there were many complaints, not all of them from Democrats, about the new districts. I could not take the complaints too seriously, since the Republicans were simply replacing one gerrymander, done by the Democrats, with another. And very few of those who complained about the lines in Texas have made similar criticisms of the districts in, for example, Massachusetts, where the Democrats have all of the Congressional seats, thanks in part to convoluted district boundaries.
Some, after the bitter battle in Texas, are now looking with favor on having nonpartisan boards do the districting, as is done in Iowa, Washington, and, as I understand it, Arizona. This is, I have long thought, the right approach for many reasons. The districts will be more compact, so that campaigning is easier and less expensive. Districts are more likely to coincide with community lines, which makes it easier for both Congressmen and their constituents. There are more swing districts, which either party can win.
Nearly everyone would agree that those consequences would be good ones, but only about half of the country would agree with another likely consequence of this kind of districting. It would help the Republicans.
To understand this, let me review the theory behind gerrymandering with the help of a mythical state, Gerry, after Elbridge Gerry, for whom the gerrymander is named. The inhabitants of Gerry are half Democrats and half Republicans, and are evenly distributed across the state. Partisanship has a simple relationship to geography in Gerry. The chance that a voter will be Republican varies linearly with how far east they are of the state's western boundary. Let's suppose that Gerry has 5 districts. A nonpartisan commission (or computer program) might draw the lines as below:
As you can see, there are two Democratic districts, two Republican districts, and a swing district balanced between the two parties.
Now suppose that we want to gerrymander Gerry. Thanks to the way the voters are distributed, this is quite easy. A Republican would draw the lines as below:
If you do a little arithmetic, you will see that the Democrats will win one district, with 90 percent of the vote, and the Republicans will win four districts with 60 percent of the vote in each. That demonstrates the principle used for constructing a gerrymander when the two parties are balanced in strength. You try to give your opponent a few districts with very large margins, and yourself many districts, with smaller margins.
That's where the Republicans gain an advantage. Democratic voters are naturally concentrated very highly in some areas, specifically the inner cities. Compact districts in places like the south side of Chicago will be 90 percent Democratic, without any help from Republicans. There are enough such areas that, with "fair" districting in the entire country, the Republicans would have, at a guess, an advantage of 10 to 20 seats, or more, in the House of Representatives.
The only way that Democrats can keep even, as long as the parties are balanced in strength, is by gerrymandering the states they control. But they control fewer and fewer, and so that no longer works as it did for so many years. The Democrats need gerrymandering, but no longer have it available in enough states to even the score. I would feel a little sorry for the party had they not abused the districting for so many decades, in so many states.
- 3:10 PM, 18 November 2003 [link]
Amir Taheri describes the strange alliance that will be demonstrating against Bush in London, a mix of "remnants of the Marxist-Leninist Left and militant Islamists". The coalition behind the demonstration was organized in September 2001, just after the attack on the United States, I assume, and their objective is to oppose the liberation of Afghanistan and Iraq. They think anything, even the return of the Taliban and Saddam, is better than the United States. Not only their ideas, but their leaders, will make George Bush look good by contrast.
The coalition has a steering committee of 33 members. Of these, 18 come from various hard left groups: Communists, Trotskyites, Maoists, and Castrists. Three others belong to the radical wing of the Labour party. There are also eight radical Islamists. The remaining four are leftist ecologists known as "Watermelons" (Green outside, red inside).Now you see why the Guardian is nervous. Don't expect the American networks to give much coverage to the beliefs of the leaders of the demonstration, or the support they draw from terrorists. Take a look at this MSNBC "article" and you will see what I mean. There is no mention of the political beliefs of the leaders, something easy to determine, or the support the demonstration is drawing from terrorists. (And I bet that the Iraqi woman mentioned in the article either has connections to the Saddam regime or is on the far left.)
- 11:01 AM, 18 November 2003
More: Here's David Frum's description of some of the protestors.
- 9:31 AM, 19 November 2003 [link]
The Guardian must have been surprised and displeased by this poll, but they report it honestly.
A majority of Labour voters welcome President George Bush's state visit to Britain which starts today, according to November's Guardian/ICM opinion poll.I don't want to exaggerate the findings. More Britons welcome Bush's visit than oppose it, but only by 43 to 36 percent. I predicted yesterday that opinion in Britain will move in his favor because of this visit; we'll soon know whether I was right.
- 7:32 AM, 18 November 2003 [link]
Lack Of Progress Report: The 1600th post is a good time to mention my most complete failure—at least to date. From time to time, I have tried to get journalists on the left to castigate leftwing extremism and declare it out of bounds. For example, it is both factually and morally wrong for leftwing activists to smear President Bush as a "fascist". It is as absurd as calling former President Clinton a communist, something confined to the loony right. When you complain about this, I have found, you will usually be ignored but sometimes placated by an agreement in principle, which is never followed by any visible action.
For example, when I emailed the program manager of the local NPR station, Jeff Hansen, to complain about a guest calling President Bush a fascist, he promised to look into it. and get back to me. The program, "Rewind", was off the air for a while (something completely unrelated to my complaint, I am sure), but is now back, with the same host, Bill Radke. And the guest who slandered President Bush? That would be Knute Berger, editor of the Seattle Weekly, and he has been on both shows, as you can see here. (The other two guests did not add ideological diversity to the program. Susan Paynter is a close-minded leftwing columnist for the Seattle PI, and Judy Nicastro is a close-minded leftwing member of the Seattle city council, who was just defeated for re-election.) Hansen has never gotten back to me, so I think it fair to conclude that slander, when directed at a Republican president, is acceptable at KUOW.
I had a similar experience with Mark Trahant, the editorial page editor of the Seattle PI. He sent me a pleasant note, but who has yet to publish an editorial with a strong attack on this kind of slander. And he has defended Ted Rall's cartoons, even the one accusing Israel of desiring genocide. For Trahant, I have this question: What could Ted Rall do that would be unacceptable? Suppose, for example, he drew President Bush as a Nazi? Would that be too far? I hope that he will answer it in advance, because, after seeing Rall's essay siding with the remnants of Saddam's regime, I think it likely that Rall will soon go even farther beyond the bounds of fair debate than he has before.
Though I have failed so far, I don't intend to give up on this. And I think I have a powerful ally on my side, self interest. Organizations like KUOW, the Seattle PI, and the Democratic party do not benefit in the long run from slandering Bush as a "fascist", or tolerating those who do. It robs them of support and subscriptions, and makes everything else they print or say less credible.
- 6:47 AM, 18 November 2003 [link]
So Much Of The Past is lost to us, and perhaps always will be. A 3,500 year old "sky disk", recently recovered from thieves, and a 3,000 year old gold "hat" give us some hints about one part of the past.
But the sky disk and the gold "hat" are contributing to a dramatic rethinking of the Bronze Age, which lasted from about 2500 B.C. to 1000 B.C. Scholars say these discoveries show that far from being barbarians, Bronze Age Europeans had a sophisticated grasp of mathematics and astronomy. "We're developing a new paradigm in European archaeology now," says Berlin archaeologist Klaus Goldmann. "European civilization goes further back than most of us ever believed."Without written records, though, we may never go beyond speculation about these artifacts and the people who constructed them.
- 1:38 PM, 17 November 2003 [link]
Bush's Visit To Britain: I have a contrarian view on Bush's visit to Britain; I think it likely that he and the United States will gain from the visit. In that, I differ from some on the right, like David Frum, who worries that Bush may have been set up by hostile bureaucrats in the State Department and elsewhere. Frum is right that many in bureaucracy are hostile to Bush and hope the visit will fail, but they, like so many others, have "misunderestimated" Bush.
I think that the visit will be good for good for Bush because it will give him a chance to show British citizens that the bizarre caricature common there is false. As so often in his career, Bush is likely to benefit from low expectations. The visit gives Bush an opportunity to reach around the BBC newsreaders with interviews like this one with David Frost and speak directly to the British people. Those who watch will see a man who is neither a dolt nor an ogre. He has already had similar interviews with supportive newspapers like the Sun and the Telegraph, which will also help. Even the Los Angeles Times, which is no friend of Bush, admits that voters admire Bush's character. Some of the qualities that have made majorities respect him here will help there, as well.
If you look at this itinerary, you can see that the Bush visit is being planned as a political campaign, with a set of events to appeal to different groups. The ceremonial welcome and state banquet will appeal to traditionalists and supporters of the monarchy. Laying a wreath at Tomb of the Unknown Warrior will remind all of our shared battles. Meeting with the British soldiers and some of the families who have lost soldiers will give him a chance to praise the British contribution to the war on terror. Bush is commonly very good in those settings. His formal speech will give him an opportunity to state arguments that do not always make it on to the BBC. The meeting on AIDS will help with those who want the wealthy nations to do more for Africa. And his visit to Blair's constituency will give Britons a chance to see his ease with ordinary people.
Even those events that might seem to work against Bush may aid him, instead. The demonstrations, which are expected to draw 100,000 people, will not be large enough to be dominated by moderates. Extremists are as distasteful to the average Briton as they are to the average American. They are more likely to engender sympathy for Bush than dislike. (At a guess, the BBC will try to show the demonstrators as moderates, and the Sun will do the opposite.) The joint press conference with Tony Blair looks like a trap for the hostile British reporters. The odds are high that one or more of the reporters will ask a question that will strike Britons as unfair. At the very worst, Blair will be there to rescue him, if necessary.
For some time, I have been arguing that President Bush should try to reach around the European journalists to the European people. This visit will give him a chance to begin doing that.
- 12:56 AM, 17 November 2003
More: The Guardian agrees with my thinking on the anti-Bush demonstrations in Britain. As they caution in this editorial, the demonstrations will fail if they are small or violent. Given the high proportion of extremists expected, both seem likely.
- 7:47 AM, 18 November 2003 [link]
When Saddam Was In Power , some peace groups cooperated with his regime in various ways, notably by transmitting his propaganda and muting their criticism of his brutal record. One can make a practical argument that this compromise of principles was necessary to bring aid to the Iraqi people or to prevent a war—though I would not agree with that argument. But what can possibly justify cooperating with Saddam's tools now? The Fellowship of Reconciliation brought women from Iraq to speak in the United States and included two of Saddam's stooges, women who had held positions under th Baathist regime and still have little criticism for Saddam.
These one-time agents of a fascist regime received a warm welcome from the Fellowship.
But as long as al-Khedairy and al-Mufti bashed the Bush administration liberally, and blamed the U.N. sanctions -- but not Hussein's refusal to live within U.N. guidelines -- for the loss of life in Iraq, the audience wasn't going to complain.This is not the first time "peace movements" have preferred brutal fascist (or communist) dictators to elected leaders. And every time they did it in the past, history proved them wrong.
- 7:46 AM, 17 November 2003 [link]
Jindal Loses, Narrowly: Although Bobby Jindal had a lead in the polls at the very end, he lost narrowly to Blanco. I see three possible reasons for the polls being wrong. First, as I have mentioned before, I have seen substantial errors in past polls in Louisiana, and the pollsters may simply have erred. The small sample sizes used in the tracking polls makes errors far more likely, as I am sure you know. Second, as McIntyre from Real Clear Politics says here, Blanco, who has had a long and successful political career, may have timed her attack ads perfectly, soon enough to damage Jindal and too late for him to reply. Third, the polls may not have picked up some hidden racism. In the past two decades, there have been a number of cases in which polls overestimated the white vote for the black candidates. Some whites who plan to vote against a black candidate are not willing to tell that to a stranger over the phone. The explanations aren't exclusive, so there may be some truth in all three.
The defeat is unfortunate both for Louisiana and the nation, but his strong run is still a plus. And he might have won had he been a little older and had some experience in an elective office. I think we will see more of him, and soon.
- 10:39 AM, 16 November 2003 [link]
Gathering Moss: That's what Rolling Stone Keith Richards is doing now. And like many rock stars, his stage image does not fit his current private life. Who would have thought that Richards would be a friend of (former Conservative prime minister) John Major, or that a man who still sings "Under My Thumb" would strongly support decent treatment of women, including his mother, his ex-girlfriends, and his wife, or that a man who wrote "Sympathy for the Devil" is attending religious services?
- 10:19 AM, 16 November 2003 [link]
Americans Are Pragmatic About War, just as they are about business. That's the lesson of a recent poll, which studied American support for the war in Iraq. If the objective of a war has a high value, and the probability of success is high, Americans will accept high costs in blood and treasure. If the war seems to have little value to the United States, or the chances of success look low, then Americans will turn against it, as the costs increase. (Not all Americans feel this way, of course, but majorities do, and the attitude is especially strong among swing voters.)
This has been true over the centuries. McClellan campaigned against Lincoln in 1864 by claiming that the war was a failure. Timely victories before the election refuted that argument and helped Lincoln win re-election. Even individual actions have to meet pragmatic tests. Popular historian Bruce Catton tells how Union soldiers would not put much effort into attacks experience had shown them were unlikely to succeed.
Later wars, notably Vietnam, show the same pattern. Those who opposed the war were able to change public opinion more by arguing that the war could not succeed than by arguing that it was an evil enterprise. Large numbers, especially early in the war, thought we should "win or get out" and shifted toward opposition to the war, after they had decided a victory was not possible at a reasonable cost. Nixon understood this pattern well; Vietnamization was, in part, an attempt to reduce American costs, so as to make a continued effort more acceptable to the American people.
Many opponents of our effort in Iraq understand these same three factors, which is why you see attacks on the value of the objective, the chances of success, and the cost. For now, since most Americans have accepted that success in Iraq would be good for the United States, opponents are concentrating their attacks on the cost and the chances of success. The news media, mostly opposed to the effort to stabilize Iraq—at least as long as Bush is president— will continue to dramatize any American losses and give them as much publicity as possible.
Some opponents of Bush are in the same dilemma as McClellan in 1864. They wish to claim that the war is a failure, but that it could succeed if they were in charge. This is a difficult argument argument to make, though Eisenhower was successful in using Korea against the Democrats in 1952. (And Eisenhower did have a plan, it seems. According to reports since then, Eisenhower secretly threatened the Chinese with massive attacks, and even moved tactical nuclear weapons to Korea—and let them know about the move.) The great attraction of Wesley Clark, for some, is that he might be able to make the same kind of argument. So far he looks more like McClellan than Eisenhower.
Howard Dean, if he is nominated, would be caught in the same trap, but does not have the military credentials to make a claim that he would do better particularly plausible. So far his supporters have been happy to listen to his attacks on the decision to remove Saddam Hussein, but have ignored the fact that he is not offering a substantial change in policy, unless you think apologizing to the French is a substantial change.
(If the survey is available to the public, I may have more to say about it later.)
- 7:21 AM, 16 November 2003 [link]