Date ►►► August 31, 2006

"The Last Men Standing"

Hatched by Sachi

Progress in Iraq is slow, and sometimes it's difficult to discern any at all. All we hear everyday is that another bomb exploded, killing a few dozen more Iraqis.

So how do we tell whether the overall strategy is working? One way is to see how much of the country is ready to be handed over entirely to Iraqi security forces.

The target goal for new (post-Saddam, post Baath) Iraqi security forces is 325,000. This force will mostly be in place by year's end, according to Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, who, as commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command - Iraq (MNSTC-I), is ultimately responsible for all training in Iraq. This is a remarkable achievment... but even so, training the Iraqi forces has not gone as smoothly as we hoped it would.

David Ignatius, who traveled around Baghdad recently with Gen. John Abizaid, Commander of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), discusses the huge difficulty of this process (re-paragraphed, to make it readable to ordinary humans):

A visit to Iraq leaves me thinking that the right answer is tough love. We don't need radical new plans for federalism, or sharp deadlines for withdrawing American troops, as anxious members of Congress have recently recommended.

Instead, America and Iraq need to agree on a reasonable timetable for the transfer of military control around the country - and stick to it. When provinces meet the schedule, they should be rewarded with more economic assistance. When they miss their deadlines, they should get fewer resources.

For most of the country, that transfer should be possible within six to 12 months. In Baghdad and in Anbar Province, it will take longer. But everyone should understand that America isn't prepared to keep writing a blank check.

Ignatius doesn't pull any punches; there clearly are some areas where the training is making little headway. And throughout Iraq, we're having a tougher time than anyone expected beating some of this thinking into the heads of Iraqis, who come from such a totally different culture than we:

The Iraqi Army was supposed to take control of Qadisiyah and neighboring Wasit Province from coalition forces in September. But that timetable recently slipped to January or February because of worries that the Iraqis aren't yet fully ready. So Iraqi officials here continue to avoid making tough decisions about resources, and local insurgents keep lobbing mortar rounds into the compound where Polish and other coalition troops are working with the United States to maintain order.

Training Iraqi forces has turned out to be not only the most important task, but the most difficult as well. During major combat ops, Coalition forces rolled across Saddam's pathetic military like a Humvee over a sandbox. But taking territory is one thing; holding it is a totally different animal.

The grand strategy of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice has turned out to be the only workable solution: the Coalition cannot stay indefinitely; we cannot write Iraq a "blank check," as Ignatius put it. In the end, only Iraqi forces can hold Iraq and keep it from the terrorists.

But that means that the United States trainers and advisors will have to stay in Iraq long after the regular fighting troops have left. Ignatius continues:

[Lt Gen.] Dempsey tells me that next year he hopes to consolidate [the Iraqi security force], teaching the Iraqis mundane skills such as logistics management that make a modern army work. He quotes what was said of Gen. Ulysses S. Grant on the need for steady nerve in this process: "Now is the time for 2 in the morning courage." He says the timing of transition "is an art, not a science"....

"The chances of success are good, if we give ourselves time to succeed," says Abizaid.

The Iraqi forces are well equipped; we've seen to that. Their level of combat skills are high and growing; already, they're the strongest Arab military force in the world.

So what is holding them back? The main problem is the Iraqi soldier's mindset and his lack of dicipline, and these derive directly from military deficiencies in Arab culture. Some soldiers still don't get the idea that they are Iraqi soldiers, not tribal militiamen, says Army Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard in a CENTCOM press release:

Pittard confirmed that 100 members of an Iraqi battalion had refused to redeploy to Baghdad. The soldiers were part of the 10th Iraqi Army Division, in southern Iraq’s Maysan province....

“The majority of this particular unit was Shia, and… the leadership of that unit and their soldiers felt like they were needed down there in Maysan in that province,” [Pittard] said.

In a way Iraq as a country is fictional... and I mean that literally. Civilization has always existed in Mesopotamia (literally, "land between the rivers"); in fact, it's considered the cradle of civilization. But it existed as independent caliphates for centuries, and independent city-states for thousands of years before that. The Ottoman Turkish Empire crushed the caliphates in the late 13th century and ruled the region for six hundred years, until the Turks' ill-fated decision to side with the Germans in the Great War brought the Ottomans down.

The region that would become Iraq was later cobbled together by the British from three Turkish regions: Baghdad, Mosul, and Basra. In the 1930s, the new country of Iraq was granted limited liberty by the Brits, who then reoccupied it during the Even Greater War. A series of coups d'etat in the 1950s and 1960s culminated with the Baath Party seizing power in 1968.

In 1979, Saddam Hussein murdered his way to the top of the Party. But his rule over Iraq itself was sustained by controlling a number of different tribes (with his own tribe from Tikrit being the boss) via bribes, threats, and the occasional bloody massacre as demonstration.

But many "Iraqis" never really had an identity as Iraqis; rather, they thought of themselves as the Tikrit tribe or the Mosul tribe, and beyond that, as Sunni, Shia, or Kurd. Given this centuries-old culture, it's very difficult for many Iraqis to grasp the concept that the army is for Iraq, not just to protect one's own region. In trying to democratize Iraq, we've run straight into the Bronze Age wall of essential primitivism.

But the good news is that only a few soldiers refused to be deployed. Most accepted the necessity... and that means that our years of training are truly starting to have an effect. Just today, I read another story about a successful provincial hand over:

Iraqi forces will take over security of a southern province from coalition troops next month, and will have control of most of the country by the end of the year, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Thursday

Dhi Qar will be the second province to come under the full control of Iraqi troops. British troops handed over control of southern Muthana province in July....

On Wednesday, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, said Iraqi troops were on course to take over security control from U.S.-led coalition forces within the next 12-18 months "with very little Coalition support."

Because of these transfers of power from the Coalition to the Iraqis, our allied forces, such as Italy's 1600 troops and Romania's 628 troops, will be able to leave Iraq by the end of this year.

So it seems we take three steps forward then two back. But that's not surprising, nor a sign of failure, considering that we're doing something nobody has ever done before: we are actually taking a pre-modern people and wrenching them into the "now" -- by patience, by demonstration, and even by what David Ignatius would call "tough love" over the long haul. The CENTCOM release continues:

[G]eneral (Pittard) said he sees a long-term job for Coalition training teams with the Iraqi forces.

“Our major mission is to help develop and support the Iraqi security forces, and of course to advise them.… U.S. forces will be here as long as the Iraqi government wants us here,” he said.

“But I'll tell you … after the majority of U.S. forces leave, we'll still see some level of advisory teams that'll still be here. In fact, I feel like we'll be the last men standing at the end of the U.S. presence here."

Slowly but surely, we are making progress. It's not as fast as we wanted, but it is happening. We've been amazingly patient for a country in such a hurry as America!

It would be a dreadful shame if the Democrats were to take control, then simply cut and run -- just when Iraqis need us the most to achieve full self-sufficiency.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, August 31, 2006, at the time of 11:50 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

How 2 Fix Soaring Health-Insurance Costs...

Hatched by Dafydd

...in 3 EZ lessons!

Having trashed the liberal-left proposal to "fix" the California health-care system by implementing Canadian, Swedish, Japanese-style socialized medicine, I would be remiss not to offer a counter plan; in fact, it would be Democratic.

("We have none but evidence for the prosecution and yet we have rendered the verdict. To my mind, this is irregular. It is un-English. It is un-American; it is French." -- Mark Twain, "Concerning the Jews.")

So here are my three modest proposals...

1 Encourage high-deductable "patient pays" plans via Medical Savings Accounts (MSAs).

One of the biggest factors raising insurance cost is the overuse of doctors, treatments, hospitals, and especially testing. Necessary medical care is -- well, necessary; annual physicals (or even biannual for older patients) are not only necessary, they actually reduce costs by catching problems early, when treatment is cheaper and more effective.

But running to the doctor for every small cut or sniffle is a luxury; and if you want that, you should pay for it yourself... not pass the cost along to everybody else on your insurance plan. The easiest way to bring this about and make patients think carefully about their treatment is to encourage widespread use of MSAs: tax-deductable savings accounts that can only be used for medical expenses. This way, patients can have a high deductable -- $5,000, say -- and use their $5,000 MSA to pay for increased deductables and for larger co-pays on minor medical expenses (office visits, gynecological exams, prescription drugs).

Since the MSA comprises money that they, personally, paid in, they will likely be more cautious about spending it... since they're the ones who will have to fill it up again.

Counter-intuitively, a huge chunk of insurance cost comes from small payments that would be well below a large deductable. With a high deductable, premiums drop enormously.

I went to the Blue Cross/Blue Shield website and worked through some quotes. Here are three plans, each a PPO (not an HMO). The coverage is more or less the same with one exception:

  • Each plan has a deductable that must be met before major expenses are covered; the deductables are listed on the table below.
  • Each plan requires a co-pay of about 30% for major expenses, up to an annual maximum.
  • Each plan has a total annual out-of-pocket maximum you must pay before the plan takes over competely; this maximum is the annual deductable plus the co-pay maximum (see below) and is shown in the table below.
  • The only major difference is that, with the non-MSA plans, the co-pay for minor expenses (office visits, pap smears, prescriptions, and such) is a fixed amount -- $35 for an office visit or gyno; $10 for generic drugs, $35 for brand-name -- while for the MSA plan, the minor expenses are also subject to the 30% co-pay.

I selected a family of two with no kids for all three plans. The point is not exactly how much the monthly premium is, but rather how the use of MSAs affect monthly premiums:

How MSAs affect premiums
Health-Care Plan Annual Deductable Total Annual Out-of-Pocket Monthly Premium
Shield Spectrum
PPO Plan 750
$750 per individual
$1,500 per family
$4,750 Individual
$9,500 Family
$992.00
Blue Shield Life
PPO Plan 1500
$1,500 per individual
$3,000 per family
$6,000 Individual
$12,000 Family
$914.00
Shield Spectrum
PPO Savings Plan 4800
(MSA eligible plan)
$4,800 per family $3,200 Individual
$5,800 Family
$363.00

Wow, not only is the premium much, much lower with the MSA plan -- but the total annual maximum out-of-pocket expense is much lower, too! All this savings, and the only major difference is that the insurance company subsidizes office visits and prescription drugs much more substantively in the ordinary PPO than the high-deductable PPO coupled with a Medical Savings Account.

Isn't that amazing? In other words, a huge chunk of the money paid out by insurance companies are for those diddling, little office visits and prescription drugs.

The difference in monthly premium between the MSA plan (where you pay for the minor stuff yourself) and even the mid-range deductable plan is $551/month. In a single year, you save $6,612... which is more than your total yearly max out-of-pocket costs with the MSA plan. In other words, you could fill up your MSA with the difference during the first 10 months of the year. Since you're not likely to deplete the entire account every year, you will end up with a very significant monthly savings.

And the most important point is that, since each patient pays for his own medical needs (up to the deductable and co-pay maxima), he has a financial incentive to keep the cost down by avoiding unnecessary visits to the doctor, unnecessary testing, and unnecessary treatment.

So how does the government help more people migrate to MSA plans? By getting out of the way! Currently, businesses can deduct from their taxable income what they pay in insurance premiums for their employees; but the employees cannot deduct what they pay. We need to allow people to deduct from their taxable income all payments into an MSA (up to the max for the plan), even if they take the standard deduction.

No new bureaucracy is required; just a couple of lines on the IRS 1040 form and on the equivalent state tax forms.

2 Reform malpractice tort law to lower physician costs and prevent unnecessary "defensive testing."

There are several elements of malpractice law -- and general tort law -- that are in dire need of reform or elimination, starting with...

  1. Completely eliminate the abomination of the class-action lawsuit: such settlements invariably do nothing but make millionaires of the attorneys, while each member of the class gets $48.65 and a couple free sample boxes of Viagra. There is no good reason that individual plaintiffs cannot combine their lawsuits into a single suit... but it should include only named plaintiffs, and it should not preclude other plaintiffs suing later.
  2. Create a list of neutral, court-appointed, medical expert witnesses: these doctors and medical researchers would be established experts in various fields of medicine, and they will be paid exactly the same regardless of whether their testimony helps the plaintiff or the defendant. When an expert witness makes his living testifying exclusively for plaintiffs' attorneys -- or for hospitals and doctors -- his testimony is irretrievably tainted by financial interest. But as a professional witness, he will be much better able to sway the jury than if he's just a doctor hired by an individual doctor to testify on his behalf. Thus, juries are inordinantly biased by people whose only incentive is to say whatever will win the case for one side or the other.

    Since doctor defendants typically have less money available to fight a lawsuit than the legal firms bringing the lawsuit -- the plaintiffs' lawyers expect to make millions, while the doctor's attorney only gets an hourly rate -- this generally means ruinous judgments against doctors and hospitals on dubious medical theories. Which leads to...

  3. Expunge "junk science" from courtroom testimony: "expert witnesses" of any kind will only be allowed to testify to theories that are the current consensus opinion of the relevant scientific or medical field. No more "power lines cause cancer" and "silicon breast implants cause connective-tissue disease" testimony, unfounded on any scientific study -- yet very persuasive from the mouths of professional witnesses.
  4. A hard cap on non-compensatory damages: pain and suffering, punitive, and so forth. A good cap would be a multiple of the proven compensatory damages; the exact multiple is beyond my competence.
  5. Loser pays: if you bring a malpractice lawsuit and you ultimately lose, or even if you prevail but the award is no more than the final settlement offer of the defendant, then you (the plaintiff and his attorneys jointly and severally) are responsible for all of defendant's and his attorneys' costs associated with the case, including his time, all of his witnesses' time and compensation, and any loss of business associated with the case -- but only that portion that wouldn't have occurred if the settlement offer had been accepted.

Note that all of these steps should be part of a general tort-reform package that would be applied to all civil suits, not just to medical malpractice; but the latter is the subject of this post.

These changes would have two salutory effects on medical costs:

  • Since good physicians will be in less danger of runaway juries socking them with cripping malpractice claims arising from perfectly acceptable care, their insurance premiums will be much less. Since annual premiums for surgeons currently (2001 figures) run from a low of $25,000 in California to a high of $111,000 (!) in Florida, and for OB-GYNs from $48,000 to $173,000 (!!), it's clear that high med-mal insurance costs are driving medical-care costs upward -- and also driving doctors out of business.

    Reduce the risk, and the med-mal premiums drop; reduce the doctor's cost, and the cost of medical care drops. (Also, if you reduce the number of doctors who leave the profession, then you have more doctors; increased supply of any commodity means lower cost.)

  • Doctors who are terrified about being sued for medical malpractice typically prescribe scores of unnecessary medical tests, for no purpose other than to mount as a legal defense in case a patient dies or is injured (despite proper care) and he or his heirs run to a lawyer. Each of these tests costs a bundle... and all that cost is of course passed along to the patient.

    Reduce the fear, and unnecessary testing drops; reduct unnecessary expenses, and medical cost drops.

And again, I call for no new "rights" suddenly discovered; I call for changes to existing law to make malpractice suits more balanced, rather than being so biased towards plaintiffs that in some localities, doctors -- especially OB-GYNs, have completely disappeared.

3 Eliminate government health-care "mandates."

Nearly every state in the United States, plus the federal government itself, mandates that health-care plan include coverage for a large and increasing number of conditions, including mental and emotional problems. Each individual mandate may only be appropriate for one narrow class of people; but the aggregate greatly increases the cost of coverage to the insurance company... and since a company that goes out of business doesn't cover anybody, that means the insurers must raise their premium costs.

That is another major source of high premiums. Eliminate the mandates and allow the market to decide what coverage is offered, and premiums will decline dramatically.

For people whose conditions make them medically uninsurable except for colossal premiums, it's probably cheaper for the government to subsidize those persons than to force insurers to accept them for lower premiums. But if not, then something akin to the "assigned risk" mandate for automobile insurance would likely work better than mandating that everybody receive coverage for every imaginable illness, condition, or emotional turmoil.

Yet a third time, this is a rollback of bureaucracy and government control; no statism here.

And no Democrats here, neither!

So there you go, the Big Lizards Grand Unified Plan for Everything Related to Health Insurance. And note please that not a single one of these suggestions requires the creation of any new federal or state bureaucracies, government programs, or the expansion of any "entitlement" programs. No pork; no earmarks; no opportunities for legalized bribery.

So I reckon it would have no constituency in Congress.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 31, 2006, at the time of 4:59 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 30, 2006

California HillaryCare

Hatched by Dafydd

As anyone who reads Captain's Quarters knows, the California Assembly just approved a bill, SB-840, which was previously approved by the state Senate, to implement "HillaryCare" style socialized medicine throughout California.

The bill was voted out of both chambers on essentially party-line votes, and you can find the complete text as amended here. The next stop is the state Senate again, where approval is pro-forma, and then to the desk of California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger... who is widely expected to veto it, thank goodness.

I'm astonished that there has been so little reporting about this. I live in California, and I had heard nothing about it until I read Captain Ed's piece, which he picked up from SFGate.com, which is the web version of the San Francisco Chronicle. Aside from the Comical:

  • The bill and vote was covered by the Sacramento Bee (Sacramento is the state capital), and it was covered by various other small newspapers;
  • But as of this moment, I can find absolutely nothing on the website of the Los Angeles Times, the largest newspaper by far in the entire state. (I'm sure Patterico is shocked at the utter incompetence of the L.A. Slimes);
  • The San Diego Union Tribune published an opinion piece in favor of this socialized-medicine bill by a representative of the main group that wrote it, Health Care For All - California; but I cannot find any actual news story about its passage;
  • The San Jose Mercury News put a story up yesterday -- under the marvelously opaque headline, Demo bills highlight contrasts. Yeah, that sure makes clear that the subject is socialized medicine!

    The other bill referred to by the Mockery News, just passed by the state Assembly, was -- no, really, I'm not making this up -- a bill to allow illegal aliens to obtain California drivers' licenses. In case anyone here doesn't know or has forgotten, that is the issue, more than any other, that led to the recall of our previous governor, Gray Davis. California Democrats... the gift that keeps on giving;

  • I can't imagine this wasn't carried on AP, Yahoo, and Reuters -- or at least on Agence France-Presse -- but darned if I saw it on any of the feeds I read, and I can't find any reference via Google... except for a press release from another "consumer rights" group that supports socialized medicine, the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, which Yahoo ran on Monday.

It is astonishing how low this bill and the illegal-alien drivers' license bill have flown under the radar. I make no doubt of the reason why: because Californians, while leaning liberal, notoriously despise both HillaryCare and also giving illegal aliens a government ID card they can use to fake legal residency. So no wonder the elite media -- which "has bones in the fight," as a (legal) immigrant friend of mine said a long time ago, when she was still learning English -- are doing their bestest to keep mum about the bills.

The Democrats will happily tout their leftism at the appropriate venues: fund raisers, rallies, and speeches to the nurses and prison-guard unions. No reason to let real voters find out just how radical their own state senators and assemblymen are!

It is absolutely critical that the governor veto this bill.

The following is an e-mail I sent to the Office of the Governor, where I hope it will buck Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger up to veto this monstrosity of a bill (all emphasis added, since the e-mail form used by the Office of the Governor does not allow HTML code, for obvious reasons):

Dear Gov. Schwarzenegger;

I voted for you in 2003, and I intend to vote for you again -- but only if you veto this despicable socialized-medicine bill that just came out of the Assembly, SB-840. It's already been passed by the Senate once, and I'm sure it will be again... but even your opponent, Phil Angelides, opposes it!

It was sponsored by one of the most left-liberal state senators we suffer, Sen. Sheila James Kuehl. I loved her as "Zelda Gilroy" on the old Dobie Gillis TV show; but she's been a walking cat-5 hurricane in the legislature... and this bill is probably the worst thing she has ever foisted upon us long-suffering residents of the golden state.

As I'm sure you know, the bill establishes a "single payer" health-care system (that is, socialized health care)... but you may not have been told that it goes a lot farther: it actually BANS all private health-care plans and health insurance in the state. Don't believe me? This is from the actual text of the bill, pages 1-2:

The bill would prohibit health care service plan contracts or health insurance policies from being issued for services covered by the California Health Insurance System.

In other words, for any type of health care covered by California HillaryCare, my wife and I and every other Californian would be barred from obtaining any private health care plan or insurance. The moment it goes into effect, we're locked in; we lose our Blue Shield coverage and have only the government to turn to.

The bill "guarantees" that we can pick our own doctors and health-care facilities; but once the weenies in the lege gain total control, how long do you think that will last? How long until they decide that "cost containment" requires them to implement Hillary Clinton's original idea of "health-care alliances," which would decide which doctor to assign to each California resident?

This horrific bill -- passed by the Democrats on a party-line vote -- completely repudiates the entire theory of capitalism and competition: with one buyer (the state), we're just stuck with whatever coverage the Democrats think is best for everyone... "one size fits all."

If you happen to have needs not envisioned by the state legislature, tough. If you prefer less coverage in one area and more in another, too bad. You can't shop around, you can't change plans, you'll take what the Democrats give you -- and you'll like it.

Or else maybe you'll just get nothing at all.

Please, Governor, for God's sake, veto this abomination! The last thing California needs, in health care or any other arena, is a big, lumpy dose of Swedish-style socialism. Or does Sen. Kuehl have some wonderful examples in mind where more socialism solved an economic problem?

If you want to insure the poor, fine: insure the poor! Don't take choice away from everyone else in the name of "equality"... unless your idea of solving a problem is the Democratic way: make everyone equally poor and equally miserable -- and equally "socialized."

I am very sure that Schwarzenegger will veto this bill; and there are not enough Democrats in the Assembly, or (it appears) in the state Senate, to override a veto.

According to the story in the San Francisco Comical, the vote in the Assembly was 43 to 30; currently, the California State Assembly comprises 48 Democrats and 32 Republicans, with one vacancy.

Overriding a veto requires 2/3rds of each body, I believe, just as with the U.S. Congress. That requires 54 votes in the Assembly; but there are far fewer Democrats than that -- and not even all of them voted for this despicable bill: even assuming all 30 of the Nays were from Republicans, that means five Democrats (at the very least) abstained or failed to show up. If more than two Republicans failed to vote against SB-840, that means even more Democrats demurred.

Still, however, the main bulk of the Democrats don't want Sachi and me to be able to get the health-insurance plan that we want, but instead want to tell us what we'll get, good and hard.

The state Senate is dicier; but even there, with 40 members, you need 27 Ayes to override... and there are only 25 Democrats. There were 25 votes in favor of SB-804, and I wouldn't be surprised if those two groups, Democrats and Ayes, were coterminous.

Thus, for either body to vote to override a Schwarzenegger veto (assuming he's mensch enough to veto), the Democrats would have to lure some Republicans over to the dark side, to embrace socialism as the solution to our health-care woes, such as they are.

And really, the woes are neither deep nor wide: very few people are unable to find adequate health insurance; considerably more are unwilling... and as I noted in a previous post, given the current system, this may be a rational response for young singles or even married couples with no children and a reasonably high income.

And nobody has made a good argument why consolidating all health-care plans into a single buyer, that buyer being the state government, would make health insurance cheaper. The only pseudo-rationalization is the "argument by repeated assertion" used by the various socialist groups who push "health care for all": that everything will be cheaper because socialism eliminates all the "wasteful competition" you find in capitalist systems.

Yup; and it's worked great in Sweden, Mexico, Canada, Japan, the Democratic People's Republican of Korea, and of course the old Soviet Union, all of which have become absolute economic powerhouses. In fact, the only quasi-socialist countries with strong economic growth that I can think of are China and India... and both of those economies started growing only when they jettisoned much of their Marxist, Maoist, and fatalist socialist systems and embraced a significantly more robust capitalism than you find in the failed European social-welfare states of Scandanavia.

So yeah; brilliant conclusion, Mr. Democrat: let's solve our economic problems by becoming more like the economic basket cases of the world. That makes perfect sense -- to a liberal: if socialism fails everytime you try it, then the natural reaction is to redouble your efforts.

Let's hope that a single man, Arnold Schwarzenegger, a self-made capitalist, can see clearly enough to veto this bill... and the illegal-alien drivers' license bill as well.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 30, 2006, at the time of 4:40 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Patterico Agrees With the Lizard!

Hatched by Dafydd

In my response to Patterico's post on jury nullification, Jury Nullification Or Nullifying the Jury?, I stuck up for the right of juries to, in effect, thwart the clear path of the law on those rare occasions where the law was careering towards a precipice of injustice:

Without the human element, even betimes in defiance of mechanical judgments of guilt or innocence, "justice" becomes a soulless, heartless, senseless steamroller, crushing the individual between the asphalt of necessity and the steel of the Law.

I do not want trial by foolish consistency; I do not want to be tried by computer. I want a judge to be able to hear a jury say "guilty," and to respond, "that's ridiculous; I'm overruling that verdict and finding him not guilty."

And likewise, I want the jury itself to be able to reject what would be a preposterous result and find a defendant not guilty, even when a computer with no higher moral sense would insist he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Patterico continues the conversation here, in Is Jury Nullification Ever Appropriate?... and wonder of wonders, it turns out we agree to a T-square.

He begins by allowing as how "[t]here are few absolutes in this world," but cautions that "[t]hat doesn’t invalidate general principles." Fair enough.

But he gets to the point with this pontification (all emphasis added by moi):

I am against jury nullification. Some have advanced extreme examples that either would never occur in the real world, or where the moral choice is so clear that it would be obvious, except to those blinding themselves to their own humanity for the sake of consistency. [He unconsciously references R.W. Emerson, in his essay on Self-Reliance: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines."]

I would vote to acquit someone charged with the “crimes” of being Jewish, or saving slaves.

Well -- this is my entire point in a nutbag: that there are occasions where jury nullification would be appropriate. But Patterico isn't finished; he finds it important to note the rarity of such instances:

The jury is an important bulwark against the state.

But if a drug dealer is the scourge of a Compton neighborhood, creating a heightened risk of drive-by shootings from rival drug dealers, as well as a generally lower quality of life, the people of that neighborhood should not be subjected to that drug dealer because some wine-sipping libertarian from the Westside decides that, in his opinion, drug dealing is a victimless crime and he won’t convict even if the evidence is overwhelming.

Let the wine-sipper lobby his Assemblyman, or start an initiative. The jury room is not the place to change the law. Juries are not freestanding Legislatures of 12, and to allow them to act as such is to undermine the Rule of Law.

Patterico is absolutely correct to note that jury nullification is not simply for situations where the juror disagrees with a law. Let me take his own example: although I do not sip wine (I guzzle cheap tawny port); and even though the only "Westside" I live on is the west side of a small city east of Los Angeles; and despite the fact that I no longer call myself a libertarian (that label having been hijacked by a disreputable gaggle of egomaniacs and narcissistic nancy-boys in leather spray-ons, who prance about denouncing the NSA al-Qaeda intercept program because it tramples the rights of bloodthirsty savages who would as soon grind the libertarians' bones to make their humus as look at them)... in spite of all these things, I believe that possession and use of all drugs except antibiotics should be completely decriminalized: a free people should be allowed to medicate themselves however they want, except when it would directly jeopardize the lives of others who disagree (hence the antibiotic exception).

But Patterico, I would have no difficulty convicting that drug dealer. I distinguish between a law I merely dislike, and a law that is so flagrantly unjust that it's worth dragging the entire legal world to a halt, just in order to stop its implementation.

To me, jury nullification is such a drastic step that it must be reserved for truly apocalyptic situations:

  • I would have voted to acquit any Japanese of escaping Manzanar, if such a case came to a civilian courtroom;
  • I would have voted to acquit any black of failing to move to the back of the bus, no matter how clear-cut the evidence;
  • And if the BCRA/McCain-Feingold law were extended to say that bloggers couldn't write about candidates within sixty days of an election -- an example Patterico himself has used; and if Patterico makes good his threat to refuse to obey it; then I guarantee you that if I end up on the jury that tries him, he will either get acquitted, or at the very least, a hung jury... for I will not vote to convict him, even if he writes "vote for Mitt Romney on November 4th, 2008!" in big, Crayola letters across the face of his blog, for all to see.

I point at the gaps, while Patterico emphasizes the fills; but we each live in the same universe.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 30, 2006, at the time of 1:14 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 29, 2006

It's Time For Maliki to Sadr Off

Hatched by Sachi

When Sadr arose from the ashes of his failed rebellion of 2004, still sucking air and still in command of a diminished al-Mahti militia in Najaf, many of us suspected he would continue to make trouble. Two years later, we now know he is the trouble.

But first, some good news

Insurgent attacks within Baghdad province averaged about 23 per day during the past week, Caldwell said. He noted that Baghdad’s average daily murder rate dropped 46 percent from July to August.

“And, if you look to just the past few weeks, from the 7th through the 25th of August,” he said, “the murder rate has dropped 50 percent over the daily rate for July.”

Vehicle-bomb attacks also have decreased in recent weeks, up until the renewed enemy improvised-explosive-device attacks that occurred today and over the past weekend, Caldwell said...

Iraqi and U.S. security forces began a stepped-up security campaign across Baghdad Aug. 8 to curtail deadly sectarian violence that had plagued the Iraqi capital city. As of yesterday, Caldwell said, Iraqi troops, with U.S. forces supporting them, had cleared more than 30,000 buildings, found 19 caches, seized more than 700 weapons and detained 70 suspects.

Also the New York Times slipped up yesterday: they actually reported the enemy deaths during the clash between the Mahdi militia and Iraqi troops. The editor must have been asleep at the switch to let this information slip through; but I'm sure a correction will be up on the Times website shortly...

At least 20 gunmen and 8 civilians were killed Monday when the Iraqi Army battled fiercely for hours with members of a militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, in Diwaniya, Iraqi officials said.

The violence, which one Iraqi general said included militiamen executing Iraqi soldiers in a public square, amounted to the most brazen clashes in recent memory between Iraqi government forces and Mr. Sadr’s militia.... [In this case, "recent memory" means less than two years, one presumes]

So how did this start? Often, readers have the mistaken impression that American and Iraqi soldiers simply set out on patrol, and then they're ambushed by the wily militiamen, like the Americans attacking the hapless British during the Revolutionary War. The way the elite media usually (and deliberately) report the encounters, it's not surprising if Americans think that the enemy always sets the operational tempo, always controls the time and place, and that we're just getting shot up for no good reason.

But that's not how it usually happens at all. In fact, it's the Coalition and the Iraqi Army and police that usually force the issue:

General Ghanimi and other Iraqi Army and police officials said several militias were involved, not just the Mahdi Army. But they said the seed of the violence on Monday was planted a week ago when a roadside bomb they believe was planted by the Mahdi Army killed at least two Iraqi soldiers. Two days later, the Iraqi Army arrested a member of the Mahdi Army....

General Ghanimi, a Sunni, denied torturing the Mahdi detainee, noting that Sadr representatives visited him on Saturday and found him healthy. He said they asked for the accused bomber’s release and when the army refused, fighting broke out as the militias sought [unsuccessfully] to free him from custody.

It was in that fighting, initiated by the Iraqi Army's capture of a top Sadr bombmaker, that the Mahdi militia lost twenty men and were driven off without seizing their prisoner back -- a total defeat.

Gunfire riddled the streets from around 2 a.m. to the early afternoon. Polish troops responsible for the area helped Iraqi soldiers encircle the most violent areas, as American helicopters hovered overhead without dropping bombs, according to an American official who declined to be identified because the information is supposed to be released by the Iraqi Army.

This article does not mention it, but I read in a Japanese newspaper yesterday that ten Iraqi troops were killed; this is a ratio of 2:1 in favor of the Iraqi Army; considering that there are "in excess of 267,000" members of the New Iraqi Army and at most 20,000 members of al-Mahdi, this doesn't end well for Muqtada Sadr.

The problem with Sadr and his Mahdi "army" is not really the strength of the militia but the strength of their political machine within the ruling Shiite coalition. This leads to a lack of political will on the part of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of the Dawa Party to confront Sadr -- who is, in fact, his ally against the other major Shiite group, the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, or SCIRI:

With sectarian violence soaring, American generals and the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, say that militias are now the single greatest threat to the stability of Iraq and that the Iraqi government must disband them.

But Mr. Maliki has yet to introduce any new policy, and has refrained from strong condemnations of Mr. Sadr’s militia, the Mahdi Army. Mr. Maliki relies on Mr. Sadr, who is enormously popular among poor Shiites, for political support against rival Shiite politicians. Mr. Sadr controls several ministries and at least 30 seats in Parliament, and he maintains close ties to Mr. Maliki’s political group, the Islamic Dawa Party.

Maliki has objected whenever Coalition troops -- or even the Iraqi Army -- uses heavy force against Sadr and his militia; for example, he denounced the air support we supplied to a raid by the Iraqis on a "Sadr stronghold in Baghdad" in early August.

Yet Mr. Sadr and the Mahdi Army remain an obstacle. Prime Minister Maliki, a Shiite who depends on support from Mr. Sadr’s allies in Parliament, has not confronted Mr. Sadr publicly. Sadr City, a Mahdi bastion, has not been searched or raided in a thorough manner, even though it is one of the capital’s most violent areas.

But his objections are mostly oral and probably for voter consumption. And while he hasn't himself confronted Sadr, he has also not stopped the Iraqi Army from fighting al-Mahdi. There is no indication whether it was Maliki or the Iraqi and Coalition military leaders who have deferred a direct assault on Sadr City until later in the campaign.

Even so, Sadr is still causing problems; and if it turns out that Maliki cannot do it, then perhaps it is time that he should go. But we shall see.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, August 29, 2006, at the time of 4:53 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

The Simple Art of Propaganda, Revisited: Headline Horrors!

Hatched by Dafydd

One of the hardest things for us at Big Lizards is coming up with a post headline that both attracts attention -- and also fairly depicts the content of the post.

We could easily fascinate -- whether in anticipation or horror -- with a title promising explicit photographs of an unclad Nicole Kidman; but you would rebel when the first words of the post were "only Kid-ding!" Likewise, we could have accurately titled a recent post "Lively Discussion of Recent Purchases by Israel of Submarines Equipped to Fire Missiles That Could Carry Nuclear Warheads;" but the MEGO factor would overwhelm any interest in the subject for many readers. We decided that Run Silent, Run Kosher was pithier.

So we've a lot of sympathy for the headline writers at Reuters, who must come up with these things day in and night out. Still, there are times you just have to admit that they missed the other shoe.

Here is an example of the most common mistake: the unintentional ambiguity, or "gremlin":

Annan urges quick end to Israel, Hizbollah disputes

The first thing I (Dafydd) thought when I read that was, "I know that Kofi Annan wants to see a quick end to Israel, but why would Hezbollah dispute that? What, they want a lingering, painful end instead?" Of course, the reading that Reuters overtly intended was that Annan wanted a quick end to the disputes between Israel and Hezbollah. (What Reuters covertly intended is left to the reader's own good judgment.)

By definition, a gremlin can legitimately be read two or more completely different ways. I actually collect such absurdities that made it into print; some of my favorites:

  • Supreme Court Considers Homosexuality
  • Jury Gets Drunk Driving Case Here
  • Allies Push Bottle Up 10,000 Germans
  • McCartney weds with Ringo, Clinton among guests
  • Do-It-Yourself Pregnancy Kit To Go On Sale
  • Include Your Children when Baking Cookies
  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
  • Iraqi Head Seeks Arms
  • Clinton Wins on Budget, But More Lies Ahead
  • Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant

(Some of my best sources are Richard Lederer's Anguished English books, of which there are four: Anguished English, More Anguished English, the Bride of Anguished English, and the Revenge of Anguished English.)

These headlines differ from simple tyops -- Israel Maintains Strangehold On West Bank Cities, Uneasy Clam Settles Over Michigan -- in that there is nothing overtly wrong with them; when the defendant in a shooting case is underaged, who should try him but a juvenile court? Rather, each can be read in more than one way: if nothing else works for an unruly teenager in juvenile court for the umpteenth time, try shooting him!

They also differ from what I call the "duh!" headlines: Plane Too Close to Ground, Crash Probe Told; War Dims Hope for Peace; If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last a While.

But here is another type of headline horror from today's news, the intentional attempt at "humor." See if this one sets you rolling in the aisles (assuming, that is, that your home or office actually has "aisles"):

Long-suffering commuter blows up DC bridge

Now, that certainly gets one's attention; were there any people on the bridge when this mad bomber struck? The first paragraph continues the "joke":

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia (Reuters) - A long-suffering commuter fulfilled the dreams of generations of Washingtonians on Tuesday morning when he blew up a detested Potomac River bridge.

Good Lord, I thought -- Reuters is actually making a folk hero out of a terrorist. This is despicable. Then I read the next paragraph, which set my eyes rolling in exasperation:

Maryland electrician Dan Ruefly won a contest to detonate a section of the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, which carries the Capital Beltway across the Potomac between Maryland and Virginia just south of the District of Columbia. Regional authorities have been building a replacement since 2000.

Oh for heaven's sake; so this is just another "non-news" filler story fluff piece eating up valuable photons that could be put to better use elsewhere. I wonder if the only reason this story ran at all was so that Reuters could have us on in the headline and the first paragraph. Yeesh!

But the headlines that bother me most are those that use undefined but loaded terms in order to create mental images in service to a tendentious agenda:

U.S. data show one in eight Americans in poverty

What image does the phrase living in poverty conjure in your mind? I picture people crouching in corrugated tin shacks in "Hoovervilles," begging on streetcorners, stealing a pint of milk for the children. In this case, there is no mistake: that is precisely the impression Reuters wants me to gather. In the course of the story, they never really tell us what they mean by "poverty," other than reciting the dry definition:

In all, some 37 million Americans lived below the poverty line, defined as having an annual income below around $10,000 for an individual or $20,000 for a family of four.

But this doesn't tell me what it's like. How should I feel about all those Americans living "in poverty?" Why do they live in poverty? What's the best way for them to get out of poverty? Reuters offers exactly none of those answers. Instead, they keep using the loaded word -- poverty -- as a stick to bash their political enemy... who is made clear very early:

In the world's biggest economy one in eight Americans and almost one in four blacks lived in poverty last year, the U.S. Census Bureau said on Tuesday, releasing a figure virtually unchanged from 2004....

It was the first year since President George W. Bush took office in 2001 that the poverty rate did not increase. As in past years, the figures showed poverty especially concentrated among blacks and Hispanics....

The last decline in poverty was in 2000, the final year of Bill Clinton's presidency...

Around a quarter of blacks and 21.8 percent of Hispanics were living in poverty...

Some 17.6 percent of children under 18 and one in five of those under 6 were in poverty...

Major cities with the highest proportions of poor people included....

The message comes through loud and clear: Republicans, especially George W. Bush, cause poverty; Democrats like Bill Clinton relieve poverty. Vote for Hillary!

What Reuters doesn't tell you is that "poverty," as defined in America, includes those living in lifestyles that would be envied by most in the world... and indeed are beyond what the average American lived just a few decades ago. The Heritage Foundation has a few facts that Reuters seems disinclined to share with you:

The following facts about persons defined as "poor" by the Census Bureau are taken from various government reports:

Forty-six percent of all poor households own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as "poor" by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio.

Seventy-six percent of poor households have air conditioning. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 36 percent of the entire U.S. population enjoyed air conditioning.

Only 6 percent of poor households are overcrowded. More than two-thirds have more than two rooms per person.

The average poor American has more living space than the average individual living in Paris, London, Vienna, Athens, and other cities throughout Europe. (These comparisons are to the average citizens in foreign countries, not to those classified as poor.)

Nearly three-quarters of poor households own a car; 30 percent own two or more cars.

Ninety-seven percent of poor households have a color television. Over half own two or more color televisions.

Seventy-eight percent of America's poor own a VCR or DVD player; 62 percent have cable or satellite TV reception.

Seventy-three percent of America's poor own microwave ovens; more than half have a stereo; and one-third have an automatic dishwasher.

As a group, America's poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms. Poor children actually consume more meat than do higher-income children and have average protein intakes that are 100 percent above recommended levels. Most poor children in America today are, in fact, super-nourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

Hm. By that definition, the Lizard Lounge, where the big lizards live, is not as nice as a lot of domiciles inhabited by people mired in "poverty"... and we're certainly nowhere near the poverty line. Using this definition is absurd, since it makes virtually the entire civilized world "poor" except for the United States!

Where does the Census Bureau get its definition of poverty? It still uses the basic formula developed four decades ago:

The poverty thresholds were originally developed in 1963 and 1964 by Mollie Orshansky, an economist working for the Social Security Administration (SSA). As indicated below, she actually developed two sets of poverty thresholds--one derived from the Agriculture Department's economy food plan and one derived from the Agriculture Department's somewhat less stringent low-cost food plan.

What Orshansky did was take the Ag Department's figures -- we have no idea what it considered an "economy" or a "low cost" food plan -- and then she tripled it, on the grounds that food was then estimated to account for a third of a typical low-income family budget. That figure became the "poverty threshold."

Since the current threshold is "around $10,000 for an individual or $20,000 for a family of four," we can assume that the current food budget (economy or low-cost, I can't establish) from the Agriculture Department is $3,333 per year for an individual, twice that for a family of four. This works out to $64 per week for individuals, $128 per week for a family of four.

While it's certainly true that you can eat reasonably well on that amount (assuming you don't eat out), it's certainly not luxury dining. However...

In order to determine whether an individual or family is "below the poverty threshold," the Census Bureau must compare the threshold to the family income; but the income it measures does not include Food Stamps, housing subsidies, or any other non-monetary assistance program (school lunch programs, transportation vouchers, heating or electricity subsidies, and so forth).

And of course, illegal or unreported income doesn't count -- either for the Census Bureau, which counts those living in poverty, or the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) poverty guidelines, which are numerically similar though calculated in a different way and which actually determine eligibility for the programs that aren't counted in measuring poverty.

So in reality, the actual income (counting everything) of most poor individuals is considerably higher than $10,000, ditto for most poor families of four and $20,000. This is why those below the poverty threshold can actually afford a considerably nicer lifestyle than the official definition indicates.

None of this discussion, however, shows up in the Reuters story, or indeed in nearly any story published by the antique media... not even in abbreviated form. Mainstream writers and editors almost never note the actual lifestyle lived by the American "poor," because it wouldn't fit The Story -- and might lead readers to the opposite political conclusion: that perhaps we're subsidizing poverty too much; maybe we're making it so attractive that many people voluntarily choose to drop out of the system and live on government handouts.

In fact, a number of economists argue exactly that: we have pain-free "poverty" in America, and we actually pay people to be poor; what you subsidize, you get more of... hence, the poverty rate keeps rising, even while affluence rises and unemployment remains very low. Perhaps the real solution is to force more accountability from people for their own decisions, at least as it affects themselves.

For example, the Reuters story does manage to mention the classic bugaboo of the scaremongering Left:

The survey also showed 15.9 percent of the population, or 46.6 million, had no health insurance, up from 15.6 percent in 2004 and the fifth increase in a row.

But a very large portion of those with "no health insurance" have voluntarily chosen not to buy it, despite being perfectly able to pay for it. This group mostly comprises young and healthy workers, self-employed or contractors, who see no particular reason to pay a lot of money each month for a service they will likely not have to use for many years. And if they do have some terrible health crisis, they reason, they can always go to the doctor and worry about paying later; if worse goes to worst, they can just declare bankruptcy and get out of paying altogether.

And in fact, a moral variant of this may well be a sound economic and health decision for people in that category: if they buy only catastrophic health care, and if they stick the amount of their premiums into a medical savings account (MSA) -- and if they have no children yet -- then they will likely pay less for the exact, same health care.

Yet they'll still probably be counted among the "uninsured," though I can't be sure unless I can find the exact definition of "health insurance" used by the Census Bureau. Again, none of this discussion is even hinted at in the brief Reuters story, which simply treats this as a terrible and growing problem -- which started the moment Bush took office ("...the fifth increase in a row," which means 2001-2005).

In this story, Reuters makes no mere mistake: they use the story (and especially the headline) to engage in propaganda, pure and simple. Starting with the headline.

(For further study, see our previous post, The Simple Art of Propaganda.)

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 29, 2006, at the time of 3:48 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 28, 2006

Jury Nullification Or Nullifying the Jury?

Hatched by Dafydd

Patterico has an interesting challenge on his site, which he calls a "Question for Those Who Support Jury Nullification." He notes that jurors are required to raise their hands and swear to the following oath, under penalty of perjury, before they can begin hearing a case (here in California, at least; I'm not sure that the wording is exactly the same in other states or venues):

Do you, and each of you, understand and agree that you will well and truly try the case now pending before this court, and a true verdict render according only to the evidence presented to you and to the instructions of the court? [Emphasis in Patterico's original]

Patterico is a deputy district attorney in California, and he is, not surprisingly, very much against the concept of "jury nullification," by which jurors -- even though they believe that good evidence was presented that the defendant did indeed commit the actions that are illegal -- nevertheless vote to acquit... on the basis that the law itself is wrong or is wrongly applied.

(That is what ordinary, intelligent, well-read people understand by the term "jury nullification;" and that is the definition I use throughout.)

An example would be a person who passionately believes that medical marijuana use should not be illegal; so even though he believes that the defendant did actually purchase the weed, he votes not guilty -- because he believes the defendant did so to relieve his nausea while undergoing chemotherapy. (We're assuming this is in a state where such use of marijuana is against the law; I don't want to get into the situation in California, where state and federal law often collide.)

Patterico enunciates this ringing challenge:

To supporters of jury nullification: would you violate your oath to follow the law, given under penalty of perjury, in order to bend the law to your own personal conception of “justice” in a particular case?

If so, what makes you different from a rogue cop who lies about probable cause in order to convict a guilty criminal?....

Would you take the oath, or not? Would you faithfully apply it, or not?

To answer directly, I would take the oath, and I would have every intention of faithfully applying it; but if a situation arose where, in my best judgment, obeying the instructions of the court would directly subvert the dictates of justice and truth, then I would resolve that conflict in favor of the latter... and I would violate my oath on grounds that, when one party has breached an essential element of a contract -- in this case, the social contract -- the other is not obliged to remain faithful to his own side of the agreement. (If Hezbollah refuses to disarm, as they agreed to do, then Israeli is not obliged to withdraw, though they agree to do so.)

I myself do support jury nullification -- in concept; I certainly don't support every case where somebody invokes it. So I think it fair to say that this post is directed to me, among others... and that I should respond and defend my beliefs. So here goes.

The law is a ass, a idiot

We are talking, recall, about a fascinating discussion sparked by Patterico on his site, which you can find here.

There is a bad tendency among nearly all lawyers I know to mistake the law for the more abstract justice or even truth. Good attorneys like Patterico try hard not to let themselves fall into this trap; still, it permeates legal thinking, and I conclude it's almost impossible to fully overcome. I'm sure it's subtextually taught in law school -- I doubt any law school suggests lawyers should evaluate the law and decide whether it serves valid ends before embracing it.

But clearly non-lawyers understand, and nearly all lawyers would agree, if you put it to them so bluntly, that the law is not an end to itself; rather, its purpose, from the preamble to the U.S. Constitution, is to "establish justice" and "ensure domestic tranquility."

Most of us also realize that Jefferson was not wrong when he wrote, in another of our "organic documents," the Declaration of Independence, that "whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

(And taking into consideration the purpose and provenance of that document, no serious person would argue that Jefferson only meant legal means of abolishing a form of government!)

The Devil, of course, is in the details. (And wears Armani, not Prada; but that's a different argument.) Jefferson seems to have been a perpetual revolutionary, and of course you cannot construct a society based upon a violent revolution every twenty years; neither, however, can you make a society on the basis of stasis, where you support it no matter what it does or how far it drifts from its philosophical underpinnings. Each man and woman makes this decision every day, when he chooses to obey or ignore specific laws of the land. The speed limits, for example.

There is a legal adage that "hard cases make bad law." But hard cases must still be dealt with; they cannot be wished away. So let's dive into an example or two and ask, in each instance, what you -- and Patterico -- would do.

Situation: the court's instructions are flagrantly against the law.

Suppose you were a juror in a trial of a man accused of robbing a liquor store at gunpoint. You have listened to the evidence, and you believe he was probably the culprit, but you have doubts that you consider reasonable... maybe it was somebody else.

But then, when the judge gives you instructions, he tells you that you must convict if you believe the defendant guilty by a preponderence of the evidence; that if you think it more likely than not that he did it, you must convict.

Now, you know -- and certainly Patterico would know -- that this is completely wrong! You cannot vote to convict if you have a reasonable doubt, merely because you think the defendant is "probably guilty." So what do you do?

You already took the oath, having no idea that this would come up; so "would you faithfully apply it, or not?" Would Patterico?

You have two options: you can faithfully apply your oath, find the man guilty, and hope to heck that his lawyer is able to get the verdict overturned in the appellate courts. But what if the instruction itself resulted from some collusion between the prosecutor, the judge, and the defense lawyer? What if the defendant is obviously ignorant of his rights? What if nobody bothers appealing, for whatever reason, and the verdict stands, sending the poor schnook to prison for eight years -- or longer, if this is a third strike?

Can you, in good conscience, vote against justice, hoping that somebody else will come along and clean up the mess?

I, myself, would vote not guilty; if asked why I voted not guilty, I would refuse to answer... it may be courageous to stand up to such injustice, but it's grandstanding (and senseless immolation) to spit defiance into the face of the judge.

Situation: the unjust law

In a horrible twist of fate, the Democrats seize back both houses of Congress, and in 2008, Hillary becomes president. There is another terrorist attack in September, 2009; and the Democrats, following the precedent set by their Dear Leader in 1942, enact a series of laws restricting all persons of Arab descent or who are Moslems from assembling in public places or failing to register their whereabouts with the federal government. This law is applied even to American citizens.

Challenges are working their way through the courts; but for some reason, several have already been decided in favor of the Democratic position. You're called to jury duty, and during voir dire, you realize the nature of the case will involve enforcing those laws: "would you take the oath, or not?" Would Patterico?

If you do not, you will be replaced by someone who will, of course. This relieves you of direct personal responsibility in this instance... but it certainly doesn't relieve you of what you see (I would hope!) as the moral duty to fight such outrageous injustice.

Scamping jury duty by refusing the oath -- assuming it doesn't become such a mass protest that it moves mountains (as few do) -- merely means injustice will continue, administered by jurors who either don't care about justice or else agree that all "A-rabs" and "Mohammedans" are wicked and should be jailed on general principles: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," as Edmund Burke is supposed by some to have said.

I myself would take the oath, even knowing there was a good chance that I would eventually be forced to break it; I do not believe that moral judgment can be dodged, but must be embraced when demanded.

Let's suppose you took the oath. You find yourself sitting on a jury trying a defendant, Achmed Mohammed, who has no history of any criminal or violent acts. He is accused of nothing more than using a false name, calling himself Allan Michaels and denying that his parents came from Saudi Arabia in 1958... such behavior being a flagrant violation of the Emergency Arab Isolation and Moslem Suppression Act of 2009.

The charge is conclusively proven; his fingerprints clearly show that he served in the US Marine Corps in Iraq under the name SSgt. Achmed Mohammed, where he earned a minor medal and a Purple Heart. The judge instructs you that if you believe beyond a reasonable doubt that Allan Michaels is really Achmed Mohammed, you must convict. And there is that pesky oath you took to render verdict according to "the instructions of the court."

"Would you faithfully apply it, or not?" Would Patterico? I would not; again, I would break my oath, on the moral grounds that the justice system to which I swore it broke its own unspoken but nevertheless welll-understood oath to operate in a manner consistent with justice.

Situation: the just law applied unjustly

You're asked to serve on a case where a felon was found carrying a concealed weapon. Since you're not a gun-rights absolutist (you don't believe felons have a general right to carry concealed firearms), you agree to serve and you take the oath. Nothing in voir dire makes you at all suspicious.

But as the trial progresses, you discover that the felon is a nineteen year old girl who was convicted of credit-card fraud a year earlier... probably because her then-boyfriend talked her into it. After her conviction, which resulted in her serving a year in prison, she broke up with the boyfriend; and from all the evidence, it appears she reformed herself. She had not been arrested or even suspected in any subsequent crimes, and she pled guilty to the original charge and cooperated fully -- including giving a complete statement to the cops against her ex-boyfriend, for whom an arrest warrant has been issued.

But once she got out of the slam, the boyfriend, who was never apprehended, began stalking her. He repeatedly told her he would kill her. (Yes, I know; you're way ahead of me.) She went to the cops, but they told her that they were already doing everything they could to find the boyfriend; he is an elusive blackguard, and they couldn't guarantee they would catch him anytime soon. (We even assume the cops are entirely sympathetic and really are doing everything humanly possible.)

She moves, and he finds her again. She applies for the right to own and carry a firearm, but it's denied because she is a convicted felon. But she obtains a gun illegally and carries anyway. That crime comes to light because... one dark night, when she's coming home from night school, where she studies underwater welding, the boyfriend roars up in a car with a couple of his cronies and tries to kidnap her. She draws on him, shoots him, and kills him; the other thugs drive away, promptly crash the car into the front door of a police station, and are all arrested.

The girl is not charged with murder, homicide, or even ADW, because the cops thoroughly accept her explanation that she acted in self-defense. However, this being Los Angeles, she is nevertheless arrested for being a felon in possession of a gun and carrying a concealed gun without a concealed-carry permit. The case lands in your lap, as a juror.

Ample evidence is presented that she really did try to do everything legal a reasonable person would think to do before resorting to arming herself. She was terrified; she knew he would try to kill her to prevent her testifying against him... and she was right! He did exactly what she thought he would.

You took an oath to decide per the instructions of the court; the evidence is clear that she is a felon, that she obtained the gun illegally, and that she had no CCW permit. But the evidence is also clear that she had no mal intent (other than to violate those two laws); and you know that the penalty for those crimes would be many more years in prison. Maybe the judge would take pity on her; but maybe he wouldn't. How do you know? Maybe, unbeknownst to you, he's nicknamed "Hangin' Judge Harry" by his colleagues.

So... "would you faithfully apply [the oath you took], or not?" Would Patterico?

My answer is the same as in the other two cases: there is no question in my mind -- it's not even close -- that the law was never meant for a situation like this; I would be utterly compelled to violate my oath under moral law.

The slippery slope

The typical argument against jury nullification is that it creates a slippery slope: soon everyone is just picking and choosing which cases to convict and which to acquit on the basis of psychotic ideas of "justice" or even irrelevant biases. Once people get the idea that they can rewrite the law in the jury room, no one will be safe from runaway juries.

And indeed, there have been such "runaway" juries. Some maintain that the O.J. Simpson jury engaged in it by acquitting "the Juice" despite a mountain of evidence. (I don't believe that's true of most of them; I think they didn't believe the charge because of pre-existing prejudices -- so they violated their oaths for a different reason.) Let's suppose that this is true, that at least one juror believed Simpson did kill Ron Goldman and Nicole Brown Simpson, but he voted to acquit because he believed that "the Man" was always sticking it to the brothers, and it was morally right, and would lead to racial equality, for one of the brothers to stick it back to the Man by acquitting Simpson.

Others point to juries in the Jim Crow South that routinely acquitted white defendants who lynched blacks and Jews; it is not even arguable that such juries didn't exist -- the evidence is overwhelming.

Does this then invalidate the concept of jury nullification? No, because abusing a right does not make the right itself an abuse.

How many people have abused freedom of speech and of the press to pass classified secrets to our enemies via the New York Times and Washington Post? How many people have abused the right to keep and bear arms in order to murder their wives? We do not throw out these babies because they are sometimes surrounded by foetid bathwater.

Let me quote from a fellow I'm reading right now, Francis S. Collins, author of the Language of God (and the head of the Human Genome Project). Speaking about the "slippery slope" arguement in a very different context, Collins wrote:

While there is clear danger in unrestrained forms of "liberal" theology that eviscerates the real truths of faith, mature observers are used to living on slipper slopes and deciding where to place a sensible stopping point.
Collins, the Language of God, 2006, Free Press, p. 209.

Similarly, we do not see a wave of such jury nullification for tendentious or idiosyncratic reasons. We do not see tax resisters routinely acquitted, even though we all hate paying taxes. We don't see racists acquitted, even though we all have some sort of irrational prejudice. We do not even see a wave of hung juries in drug-possession cases. The huge majority of people on most juries is content to accept the law as elucidated by the judge in his instructions. It's a rare reaction -- whether done properly, or even done wrong-headedly.

The Framers of the Constitution demanded that final judgment be in the hands of a jury, if the defendant or prosecutor wants it so; this is because, in the end, we have government by the consent of the governed, and civilian juries are the most direct way to test that in individual cases. This is the "golden thread" that connects the American judicial system to the centuries of English common law from which it arose.

We cannot abandon the role of the jury as the last bastion of common-law justice in criminal cases simply because a few pathetic people are incapable of distinguishing between moral necessessity and personal preference or prejudice; we must govern society by our rules, not by theirs.

This also answers Patterico's question about the rogue cop: I want the police to have some discretion in deciding whether to arrest someone who is clearly guilty of a technical violation; and I want prosecutors to have discretion in deciding who to prosecute, and who to let off. I demand they have such authority, despite the fact that some cops let their friends off, and some prosecutors decide what cases to pursue because of personal bias or ambition.

Without the human element, even betimes in defiance of mechanical judgments of guilt or innocence, "justice" becomes a soulless, heartless, senseless steamroller, crushing the individual between the asphalt of necessity and the steel of the Law.

I do not want trial by foolish consistency; I do not want to be tried by computer. I want a judge to be able to hear a jury say "guilty," and to respond, "that's ridiculous; I'm overruling that verdict and finding him not guilty."

And likewise, I want the jury itself to be able to reject what would be a preposterous result and find a defendant not guilty, even when a computer with no higher moral sense would insist he was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Don't you?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 28, 2006, at the time of 4:19 PM | Comments (19) | TrackBack

Disconnections

Hatched by Dafydd

To most of us, the following two statements seem somehow, you know, connected:

  • Deaths of American, Coalition, and Iraqi soldiers, along with civilians, have risen somewhat in the past week or so;
  • The Iraqi Army, with U.S. air support, initiated a major offensive against the mighty al-Mahdi militia of Muqtada Sadr in the past week or so.

But to elite, new-school journalists, these two observations are completely discrete from each other; there is no connection, and the first is only explicable by concluding that we must be losing (or have already lost) the war. Why, what other possible explanation could there be?

A suicide car bomber killed 14 people and wounded 43 outside the Interior Ministry in downtown Baghdad Monday, police said, a day after an upsurge of violence left more than 50 people dead across the country.

In one of the deadliest weekends for the U.S. military in recent months, the U.S. military said seven U.S. soldiers died between Saturday and Sunday night.

Also at least 34 people were killed and dozens injured in gunbattles between Iraqi troops and Shiite militiamen loyal to a popular cleric in the southern city of Diwaniyah, officials said Monday....

[T]he renewed violence undercut Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's claim that government forces were prevailing over insurgents and sectarian extremists.

Despite the deaths, British Defense Minister Des Browne, visiting Baghdad on Monday, said the situation was improving.

Reuters is no better:

Six American soldiers were among more than 60 people killed on Sunday that challenged assertions by Iraqi and U.S. officials that their forces were gaining the upper hand.

Both these quotations contain the same odd meme: that the measure of whether one is "prevailing" is entirely how many of one's own soldiers died that week. No measure of territory captured or secured, plots thwarted, nor provinces handed over to Iraqi forces; not even a comparison count of the number of enemy killed.

Instead, the antique media offers this simplistic formula: if the number of Coalition and civilian casualties rises one week, that is proof that we're no longer "prevailing" or "gaining the upper hand." (Does that mean if it drops the next week, we're back on course? Then how come the media never report that paradigm?)

Back in the real world, we pajama-clad amateurs (I'm actually wearing acceptable streetwear as I type this) realize that when we embark upon a powerful offensive against enemy forces -- in this case, the Iran-backed militia of Sadr -- we're going to incur more casualties than if we just hunkered down in dug-in positions and didn't show an eyebrow above the trenches. Is this really that difficult a concept to grasp?

Is anybody unaware that we lost far more soldiers during the D-Day invasion of Normandy than we did in 1942; but would anyone seriously maintain that we were doing better right after Pearl Harbor than we were while crashing onto Omaha Beach?

Neither of these two stories, nor any others that I read in the MSM, so much as hint at how many of Sadr's men were killed in the same combat. But surely that is needed for the metric above to make any sense: if we lost seven soldiers over the weekend, but we managed to kill several score of the enemy, wouldn't that change the conclusion of whether we're winning or losing?

Evidently not. Nor does the fact that July saw the lowest rate of U.S. troops dying since the Fall of 2003, except for the aberrant month of March, 2006: only 1.48 soldiers, airmen, seamen, or Air Force-men died per day.

In the previous month, it was 2.10 per day; and before that it was 2.55/day; and before that it was 2.73. So far this month, 51 American soldiers and one British soldier have died in Iraq, over a space of 28 days, an average of 1.86 per day -- higher than July, but still well below the average for 2006, for the last two years, and for the entire war (2.27/day).

Civilian and Iraqi Security Force deaths are also down. In July, there was an average of 41.3 per day; but almost all the way through August, the average so far is 31.8 per day, a drop of 23%.

But all it takes is a single flare-up of deaths, due to an offensive initiated by the Iraqis that aims at driving Sadr out of the militia business -- or failing that, out of Iraq itself -- for the news bureaus to begin shrieking and jumping on chairs as if they just spotted a mouse. ("It takes but a single match to set the woods ablaze!")

Can't we get some older correspondents who at least know the most basic characteristics of war?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 28, 2006, at the time of 5:17 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 26, 2006

Ya Fallow?

Hatched by Dafydd

Extree, extree, read all about it! Now "global warming" makes glaciers grow bigger...!

Global warming could be causing some glaciers to grow, a new study claims.

Researchers at Newcastle University looked at temperature trends in the western Himalaya over the past century.

They found warmer winters and cooler summers, combined with more snow and rainfall, could be causing some mountain glaciers to increase in size.

So let's review the bidding:

  • Global warming is real, man-made, and catastrophic; every scientist who doesn't actually drool not only admits this, he wants to know why Bush hasn't issued an executive order smashing the looms already.
  • We know this because, for one reason, glaciers began retreating and shrinking the very instant the Industrial Revolution really kicked off in the 1940s.
  • Well actually, they began retreating in Africa about 120 years ago, before there was hardly any industrial-created CO2 in the atmosphere; but that's beside the point.
  • And as a matter of fact, glaciers have actually been expanding in New Zealand, North America, and Norway.
  • But coincidentally enough, it turns out that expanding glaciers are also signs of global warming! Mirabile dictu!
  • And while we're on the subject, Greenland has actually been cooling since about 1940 -- having earlier experienced a brief, ten-year spurt of warming in which the annual surface air temperature jumped up between 2°C and 4°C.
  • But that's all right, because cooling is also a sign of global warming; that's why we renamed it "global climate change," dummy!

All right; I think I've got it now.

I think...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 26, 2006, at the time of 9:54 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 25, 2006

Run Silent, Run Kosher

Hatched by Dafydd

MAJOR UPDATE: Commenter Jay Tea of WhizBang notes that the German Dolphin submarines are not boomers at all but fast-attack subs; they can fire torpedo-tube launched Popeye Turbo cruise missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. So ignore all the poetic gunk about boomers (which I don't want to delete, as I kind of like it); but the rest of the post, including the point about nuclear second-strike capability, still stands, I believe!

Israel, alone among all the civilized nations in really taking Iran as seriously as it deserves, has just ordered two more nuclear-capable Dolphin submarines from the Germans.

I do not except even the United States. I believe that George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Donald Rumsfeld truly take Iran as seriously as they ought; but they're not the whole government or even the whole of the Executive. In particular, Congress does not really grasp the enormity of the threat from Iran. And since we are not a dictatorship, the president cannot simply decree an appropriate response.

But Israel lies under such immediate and obvious existential threat, that there is likely not a single member of the Israeli cabinet who does not feel Persian fear in the pit of his stomach. They may disagree over what to do, but that is for the same reason that different bomb-squad members may disagree over which wire to cut: everybody understands how dangerous a bomb is, but nobody wants to snip the wrong wire.

However, there are some things everyone in Israel can agree upon; and one of those is that they desperately need a "second strike" capability. To the extent that the Iranians have any rational survival instinct left, if they believe they would be wiped out by Israeli retaliation, they might think a second time about launching a first nuclear strike, should they manage to obtain (by cyclotron or A.Q. Khan) nuclear weapons.

Hence the Dolphins. You will hear a lot about the "first strike" capability of the German subs; but that's not important. The Israelis already have a first-strike ability via land-based missiles. But under an Iranian nuclear strike, all known or even vaguely suspected Israeli missile silos will be hit many times.

Now the "temple weapons" are buried deep and hard; but it's still possible that several nuclear warheads dropped atop them would crack or seal off the top of the silos, rendering the Israeli weapons completely useless. In fact, it doesn't even need to be true: it's a catastrophe even if the Iranians just falsely think it's true.

But even the most powerful nuclear weapon, hundreds of megatons, has one terrible flaw that spoils everything: you must have at least some idea of where your target is in order to shoot at it! That, of course, is precisely the point of a nuclear submarine.

Subs come in two basic flavors: fast-attack and boomers. The former are tactical weapons: you use them to attack surface shipping, other subs, and maybe even aircraft, depending on their armament. They move quickly, and they spend a lot of time at the surface.

A boomer has but one mission: to get lost. It finds a nice, shady, well-protected spot, then sinks to the ocean floor... and stays there, silent, still, waiting with a terrible patience for the end of the world.

Every so often, it will raise a wire antenna just far enough to be able to communicate in short burst-transmissions with the high command, to find out if they still exist. If they do, off to Davy Jones' locker goes the boomer once more, hibernating until the next contact.

If contact is lost, the captain of the sub has to make a decision that spells life or death not just for the sub (a trivial concern) but for potentially hundreds of thousands or millions of other people.

God forbid a captain guesses wrong -- in either direction.

While the rest of the world plays diplomatic footsie with the mad mullahs, Israel, at least, is trying to drag them forward in time. Not to the present; nobody thinks the Iranians are ready for a twenty-first century world. But at least into the era of modernity... the days of MAD, Mutually Assured Destruction, the geomilitary theory which prevented the West and the Soviet Bloc (and later Red China) from engaging in actual nuclear warfare.

MAD is a deterrant strategy: no bloc can launch a nuclear attack against any of the others, because the attack is certain not to be 100% successful... and the survivors will still have a robust and functional retaliatory capability. Thus, the only certainty is that the attacker will be counterattacked by nukes from a country he just nuked. A country which has already suffered the worst has no reason to shrink from killing tens of millions of the enemy... including as many of the Dear Leaders as they can get.

But MAD is also a quintessentially 20th century strategy; thus, a secondary effect of Israel's move towards a fleet of boomers is that Iran may be dragged, against the will of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his sock puppet, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, at least into the last century... which would be a heck of an improvement from its current 7th-century worldview.

(That has always been my biggest objection to the term "Islamofascist": it fools us into believing the jihadis are more sophisticated than they really are, mistaking them for a 20th-century socialist perversion. We mislead ourselves into thinking that they think like we, when in fact they think like bloodthirsty satraps from the Dark Ages.

(The error may be fatal to our civilization. After "know thyself," the second most important dictum in warfare is "know thine enemy like thyself.")

Let's hope the Israelis have the right idea, and that Persia can be delivered, headfirst and screaming, into modernity, like a squawling newborn shoved from the dark womb into the bright light of the outside world. If so, that's more than half the battle -- because we already know how to deal with a modern, totalitarian dictatorship.

Oh, for the good old days of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 25, 2006, at the time of 6:03 AM | Comments (16) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 24, 2006

Pluto Demoted? What About Mickey and Goofy?

Hatched by Dafydd

From Associated Press:

Pluto, beloved by some as a cosmic underdog but scorned by astronomers who considered it too dinky and distant, was unceremoniously stripped of its status as a planet Thursday.

The International Astronomical Union, dramatically reversing course just a week after floating the idea of reaffirming Pluto's planethood and adding three new planets to Earth's neighborhood, downgraded the ninth rock from the sun in historic new galactic guidelines.

Dear International Astronomical Union:

You can take your demotion of Pluto and stick it up Uranus.

Sincerely,

Mr. Lizard

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 24, 2006, at the time of 5:51 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Gallup Generic Congressional Poll: Not "Mr. Lonely" Anymore

Hatched by Dafydd

When Gallup released its generic congressional poll on Monday that showed the Democrats with only a statistically insignificant 2% lead over the Republicans, we questioned whether it might be just an "outlier" -- a poll that, however well conducted, was not actually representative of the electorate.

One reason was that no other poll conducted around the same time showed such a narrow gap. But today, Hotline, one of the best pollsters around, released a poll taken over the same period as the Gallup poll; and it showed -- wait for it -- Democrats and Republicans dead even on the generic congressional question, 40% to 40%.

Another question we looked at was the Gallup poll's job-approval rating for President Bush:

But I'm somewhat cheered by the concomitant increase found in President Bush's job-approval numbers on the new Gallup poll -- from 40% last time to 42% this time -- because that is similar to the other two polls conducted at the same time, which showed similar increases.

All right; make that four polls that show the identical number for Bush's job approval: 42% from Gallup, CNN, Rasmussen, and Hotline. At this point, the CBS-New York Times poll is clearly the outlier, with Bush at 36% and dropping, and the generic congressional at a 15% advantage for the Democrats and rising. Every other national poll shows better numbers for the GOP and a trend in their direction, the polar opposite of CBS-New York Times.

Hotline is great, because they give you many more "internals" than most pollsters do (at least for non-subscribers, where "subscriber" usually involves paying -- I rib you not -- hundreds of dollars). Let's take a look at a few...

Par-tay!

Here's one you almost never see from other pollsters; Hotline actually gives you the party breakdown of their pool of respondents!

Party ID breakdown: 32% D, 28% R, 40% I/O. W/leans: 38% D, 33% R, 29% I/O.

LV party ID breakdown: 39% D, 37% R, 24% I/O.

That's pretty accurate to current measures of actual party registration, though I still think they're overpolling "independents." But note what happens when "leaners," independents who say they lean towards one of the two major parties, are pushed: they split almost evenly between Republicans and Democrats. That accounts for why independents typically fall between Republicans and Democrats on most issues.

Similarly -- and this is the most important point -- when Hotline looked only at likely voters (typically that means respondents, Rs, with a history of voting who also say they definitely plan to vote), the Rs broke down into near parity again: 39% Democratic to 37% Republican; the independents dropped to where I think they actually are in the country among actual voters. (The "independent/other" category scoops up all the minor parties: Libertarian, Green, American Independent, Constipation Party, etc.)

In other words, Republican turnout is likely to be higher than Democratic turnout, completely erasing the slight advantage the latter enjoys in registration.

Note that "Rs" means respondents to the poll, not "Republicans."

So we know we're dealing with a poll that is not overpolling or underpolling any political party; that makes it much more reliable than, say, CBS, which historically overpolls Democrats and underpolls Republicans, yet stubbornly refuses to weight its sample to bring it in line with the national registration lists or the historical turnout statistics. By the way, from now on, every statistic I cite from the Hotline poll will be of "likely voters," unless I specify otherwise.

A generic Congress - how I wish!

Start with the generic congressional question, since the upcoming elections don't involve the president. The current (August 24th, 5:00 pm PDT) Real Clear Politics average shows an advantage to the Democrats of only 6.8%. This is absolutely remarkable, considering that they had nearly a 20% advantage just a few months ago. That is a huge and unmistakable surge for the Republicans.

If you remove the clear outlier CBS poll from the mix, then the average shows a Democratic advantage of only 4.8%. Considering the built-in Democratic bias of most polls (not Hotline), this is almost parity... which is, not coincidentally, exactly what Hotline found.

Typically, because incumbents have such an advantage in the actual election, you need to see a very big disparity in the generic congressional vote in order to see any significant movement in the House or Senate; for example, in the final polls of the 1994 election, Republicans had about a 10% to 12% advantage over Democrats on the generic congressional poll. If Democrats have a similar advantage in late October 2006, that would be grim indeed for the GOP; but at the moment, the trend is in the Republicans' direction.

(Wouldn't it be amusing if, sometime in September, it was the Republicans who had the advantage on the generic congressional poll? Even if it were statistically insignificant -- 2%, say -- it would be worth it just to watch the "reality-based party" squirm itself into denouncing all polling as meaningless!)

Here is a really interesting question. When Hotline specifically asked Rs whether they would vote to reelect or replace their own representatives, they found parity: 33% to reelect, 32% to replace.

But -- when they broke it down by party, they found something remarkable:

  • Democrats were are parity, with 30% to reelect and 29% to replace;
  • Independents really didn't like their representatives -- only 16% will vote to reelect, while a whopping 30% want to replace him;
  • But Republicans definitely like their representatives: 37% want to reelect, and only 24% want to replace.

I wonder: how does the 29% of Democrats who want to replace their reps break down? How many live in Republican districts -- and how many live in districts represented by a congressional clone of Joe Lieberman? That is, do they want to get rid of some Republican -- or do they want to get rid of a moderate Democrat in favor of a nutroots candidate endorsed by Michael Moore and Howard Dean?

Right track/wrong track for the nation as a whole: 18% right to 72% wrong; but substitute "for your area," and it becomes 54% right track, 34% wrong. Wow. So voters really are saying, "things are fine where I live, but the rest of the country sucks!"

No clear winner for most important issue; nationally, the Iraq war has the plurality, but it's only the most important issue for 28% of Rs. Next up is terrorism at 14% and the economy at 11%. Nothing even reaches 30%; there is no overriding issue dominating the election. In the R's local area, it's even more fractured, with taxes (14%) and the economy (13%) splitting the top slot.

And on the question of whether local or national issues would most affect Rs' votes -- 33% national, 13% local; only a third of Rs say any national issue at all will most affect their votes. And the Democrat's biggest trump card, the Iraq war, is cited by only 15% of Rs.

Big Lizards analysis: the Democrats have failed to nationalize the 2006 midterm elections. Thus, by their own gameplan, they are currently losing.

Bush, Bush, and more Bush

President Bush has a 42% job approval in this poll, as noted; but he still has room for growth, as GOP respondents only support him by 79%, while Democrats oppose him by 87%. As the election looms, I expect we'll see parity between these two measures as more Republicans support the Republican president. With a party breakdown as in this poll, that alone would raise his job approval to 45%.

And this appears to be happening; the percent of Republicans who "strongly approve" of Bush has risen from 33% in May to 40% now; if it heads back to the normal 46% to 47%, that would likely mean that Bush's approval among the GOP would rise to about 88% to 90%, as the ratio among Republicans who approve of Bush has been pretty steady: half approve strongly, half approve moderately.

Bush gets low marks by all likely voters on the Iraq war, 38% support and 58% oppose; in this case, it's mostly because of Republicans, who only support him by 72%, while Democrats oppose him by 90%. But an issue question later found that of the 28% of people for whom the Iraq war is the top issue, more than a fifth support the war. If we assume that nearly all of those are Republicans, then of the 24% of Republicans who disapprove of Bush's handling of the war -- likely well over half of them support the war himself, hence they probably think Bush isn't fighting the war hard enough.

These Republicans are likely not "Ned Lamont" voters. Thus, Big Lizards does not believe the Iraq war will be much of a drag on the GOP vote in November.

Jots and tittles, dribs and drabs

  • Joe Lieberman has a 10-point lead over Lamont, but more than 20% are still undecided; this is anybody's race.
  • In the McCain/Hillary favorability matchup, McCain kills with 59% favorable, 22% unfavorable. Hillary Clinton, despite many months of trying to please all sides, remains mired exactly where she was a year ago: split dead even, 46% to 46%. She cannot win the general election with a 46% disapproval rating; and Big Lizards stands by our earlier prediction that she will not even be the nominee in 2008. (If she doesn't get it in 2008, she has no chance of ever getting the nod.)
  • Asked whether Rs think we are safer or less safe today than we were before 9/11, likely voters said "safer" by a margin of 50% to 21% less safe, with 23% saying we're about the same. Asked whether Bush's policies have made us safer, it drops to parity: 38% safer, 36% less safe, 24% the same. Methinks thar be some poly-ticking going on hereabouts...!
  • If the Democrats controlled Congress, we would be safer (23%), less safe (29%), the same (38%). This reverses for the question of a Democratic president: 29%, 24%, 38%.

    If John Kerry were president, it flip-flops right back: 25% say we would be safer, 37% say less safe, and 28% think it would be the same. And if Algore were president, he splits the tank: 35%, 33%, 23%.

  • If Hillary Clinton were president, only 25% of Rs say we would be safer, while 39% say less safe (28% the same). Hillary is considered a worse candidate for national security than even John Kerry! Note that every single specific Democrat underperforms the generic Democratic president.
  • Contrariwise, John McCain, the only specific Republican presidential candidate mentioned, slightly outperforms President Bush, but only if you take the "less safe" and "just as safe" answers into account: 34% safer, 15% less safe, 40% the same.
  • By a significant margin, Rs see the Iraq war as "part of the global war on terrorism," 53% to 42%. Even among Democrats, 34% see it as part of the GWOT (60% do not); among Republicans, it's 79% to 17%; and independents split, 45% o 48%.
  • Finally, when asked what is the best way to protect us from terrorism, Rs voted to "implement 9/11 Commission's recommendations" over "withdraw troops from Iraq" by a whopping 53% to 22%. Among all registered voters, it's still 46% to 26%. Among Democrats, an astounding one third prefer the former over withdrawing from Iraq, and only 41% think cutting and running is the best option. Bizarrely, 12% of Republicans think the best thing to do is to pull out. Yeesh!

All in all, this is a very, very good poll for the GOP; if it remains this good to the election, then there is no question that the Republicans will hold both houses -- and may not even lose as many seats as many feared.

But if the current trend continues, and if it lifts the numbers in individual races at the same pace that the generic GOP numbers are rising... then they might not lose any seats at all. In fact, they could even see a net increase... which is exactly what happened in 2002, the last midterm election.

At the moment, Big Lizards does not endorse the rosy scenario; but we do predict that the GOP holds both houses, and I (Dafydd) predict that the losses will be no more than a net 9 seats in the House and 2 seats in the Senate.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 24, 2006, at the time of 5:25 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Read All About It! (Just Not In the MSM...)

Hatched by Sachi

The training of Iraqi security forces, both the New Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police, seems to have fallen off the front pages of the antique media. There is a good reason for this: it's going very well.

"If it bleeds, it leads;" but that means that if it's good news, newspapers, magazines, and broadcast news just aren't interested. Don Henley was right: it's "give us dirty laundry!"

But if you hunt hard enough, you can actually find out what's going on around town... kind of like finding a really good movie hidden among all the theaters showing Snakes On a Plane. Fortunately for you, Big Lizards does the theater-crawling so you don't have to. Here are four great stories about Iraq, all of them very, very good news: one from the Department of Defense's website; one from the website of the Multi-National Force -- Iraq; one from Captain's Quarters (yet another obscure site!); and one from, of all places, USA Today. Enjoy.

Baghdad is still a dangerous place. Just the other day, a group of gunmen open fired on a large crowd of Shiite worshipers, killing 20 and wounding 300. But a quick response from the Iraqi security forces controlled the situation, demonstrating their improved capabilities:

“This was a tremendous demonstration of the increased capabilities of the Iraq security forces and the leadership of the government of Iraq,” Army Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell IV, a spokesman for Multinational Force Iraq, told reporters during a Baghdad news briefing....

Iraqi security forces quickly responded to these attacks, controlling the situation and killing six of the terrorists and detaining 19 others, Caldwell said....

Iraqi and coalition forces continue to pursue people intent on using violence to impose their beliefs on others. For instance, operations by Iraqi and coalition forces over the past week resulted in the capture of more than 100 known and suspected al Qaeda terrorists and associates and multiple weapons caches....

Iraqi and coalition forces also continue to target death squads. There have been 20 different operations just in the past week conducted specifically against these groups, he said.

Iraqi police forces have had a lot of problems, as we all know. But many months of US training have started to pay off. The first full Iraqi Army division will soon be operating without the mentoring of U.S. advisors, a U.S. Army official who oversees Iraqi security forces’ training; and for the first time, we're seeing the same sort of improvement in the Iraqi police that we saw some time ago in the Iraqi Army:

Brig. Gen. Dana J.H. Pittard discussed the formation of the Iraqi National Police and security concerns throughout Iraq in a briefing to reporters....

The INP is a relatively new command in the Ministry of Interior force structure. It was formed from the Police Order Brigade and Commando Brigade.

To become an officer in the INP, a candidate must successfully complete the initial 10-week training program and then train an additional four weeks of follow-up training.

Pittard looked back on his first deployment in Iraq as a point of reference for the Iraqi security forces’ progress, and commented on how much better they are doing now.

“The Iraqis fight and fight well,” he said. “It’s not the same as it was at all two years ago.”

Pacifying Baghdad is still a dangerous job. Policemen are often targeted by both terrorists and radical militiamen. But the Iraqi police department has no shortage of recruits:

More than 500 Iraqi men have joined the police in restive Anbar province -- a focal point of the Sunni Arab insurgency -- in the most successful recruiting drive in the region by U.S. and Iraqi forces, the U.S. military said Tuesday....

U.S. Marines screened thousands of applicants earlier this month in various regions along the western Euphrates River valley before shortlisting the recruits for the Anbar police force, said a statement by the U.S. command…

To combat the insurgency, and sectarian and criminal violence in Baghdad, the Iraqi government and Coalition announced Operation Together Forward. USA Today provides a simplified breakdown of the operation. "The offensive is planned in stages and is designed to avoid an all-out attack. In the first phase, launched July 9, Iraqi security forces positioned checkpoints throughout the city. In the second phase, launched last week, Iraqi forces supported by U.S. troops began isolating and clearing parts of the city block by block. Iraqi security forces will remain to provide security once areas are cleared. When areas are stable, the government will bring economic assistance into blighted neighborhoods." This strategy is essentially what the Marines call the "3 Block War."

Operation Together Forward is focusing on four of the most violent neighborhoods of Baghdad: Doura, Mansour, Shula and Azamiyah. These are neighborhoods where the sectarian violence has been at its worst. Coalition forces have begun operations in Doura and Ameriya. In both cases, the neighborhoods were cordoned off, and each building was searched. "Kilometer after kilometer of barriers emplaced, building what some may call the semblance of a gated community, affording them greater security with ingress and egress routes established and manned by Iraqi security forces with coalition forces in support," as the Multinational Forces - Iraq press release describes the operation in Doura.

A similar strategy of cordon, search, secure and rebuild was successfully executed in Tal Afar, and is currently being executed in the Sunni insurgent stronghold city of Ramadi. Tal Afar, with populations of 170,000 was secured in less than a month, while Ramadi, with a population of 400,000 is still up for grabs.

And here is the new face of the Iraqi police:

The Humvee has barely rolled to a stop, and Iraqi army Col. Talib Abdul Razzaq is already out of the vehicle.

He moves like a politician, stopping on the sidewalk to playfully cuff a young boy on the head and joke with a man selling shoes. He quizzes several people about violence and militias in the neighborhood. Most say the streets have been quiet.

"I'm trying to make people believe in the Iraqi army," Razzaq says at the next stop, where a sidewalk vendor gives him a complimentary sandwich from his cart. "They will feel more safe." Razzaq hands the sandwich to an aide and keeps moving.

Twice a day, Razzaq patrols the troubled neighborhoods in his battalion's sector of Baghdad. He's checking on his troops, who have set up checkpoints in the area. And he's listening to what merchants, local leaders and ordinary people have to say about security in their neighborhoods.

"I am an officer, but my job is like a tribal leader," says Razzaq, who in this polarized society refuses to say whether he is a Shiite Muslim or a Sunni.

So there you have it; we promise, we deliver. I wonder -- how many of these stories made the front page of the New York Times or the Washington Post? Maybe they were too busy telling us how Iraq was a lead-lined catastrophe, an utter disaster, how it has collapsed into a full-blown civil war "by any definition" (just like 1864!); so we should just declare defeat and redeploy over the horizon... say, in the Philippines.

I guess tales like these just don't fit The Story.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, August 24, 2006, at the time of 4:56 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 23, 2006

Toby Keith Sneaks a Peek

Hatched by Sachi

Country music star Toby Keith has been entertaining American troops all over the world, including in dangerous war zones such as Afganistan and Iraq. But recently, Toby took his love for the troops where no star has ever gone before: he actually premiered his new movie in the Middle East and South Asia for the US troops, before any civilian audience got to see it:

Country star TOBY KEITH gave US troops serving in the Middle East a sneak preview of his movie acting debut after airing BROKEN BRIDGES in Kuwait, Afghanistan and Qatar last weekend (11-13AUG06). The film, in which Keith plays a forgotten singer/songwriter, hit makeshift desert cinemas a month before the film premieres in the US. The movie also features JOHN TRAVOLTA's actress wife KELLY PRESTON as Keith's love interest. Keith has been a regular visitor to troops overseas - he spent the Memorial Day weekend (27-29MAY06) in Germany and the Persian Gulf on his fourth United Services Organisation (USO) tour.

Keith's USO tour covered four continents, with multiple performance in Iraq. He has performed over 70 concerts for the troops and their families all over the world during the last four years.

Meanwhile, Keith's "mortal enemies," the Ditzy Chicks -- whose concert ticket sales continue to limp -- gave up promoting their own tour; instead, they've begun to push their whiny new movie, Shut Up and Sing... which will also debut in foreign climes: Canada, of course. (Europe and Canada are Chicks-istan.)

A documentary about the firestorm that greeted the Dixie Chicks' anti-Bush comments will make its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. "Dixie Chicks -- Shut Up and Sing," from Oscar-winning director Barbara Kopple ("Harlan County," "American Dream") and Cecilia Peck, will receive a high-profile gala screening.

It's a very one-sided battle: the Chicks constantly assail Toby Keith, but he never bothers to respond.

Laura Ingram, who coined the phrase "shut up & sing," said she would love to promote her book at the concert. But somehow, I don't see her getting a backstage pass.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, August 23, 2006, at the time of 9:17 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Embryonic Stem Cells: Static Analysis Strikes Out Again

Hatched by Dafydd

Nobody that I've read or heard has a political objection to adult stem-cell (ASC) research, nor even placental stem-cell (PSC) research; many people have a gigantic objection to embryonic stem-cell (ESC) research -- but the only objection I've seen is that, using traditional stem-cell techniques, a five day old embryo is actually killed to get at the hundred or so stem cells it contains.

But once again, the march of technology has demonstrated that it always has the ability to grab the cards off the table and reshuffle them, even right in the middle of the hand:

In an innovative move, a biotech company has found a new way of making stem cells without destroying embryos, touting it as a way to defuse one of the country's fiercest political and ethical debates.

Some opponents of the research said the method still doesn't satisfy their objections and many stem cell scientists and their supporters called it inefficient and politically wrong-headed.

But a spokeswoman for President Bush, who vetoed legislation last month that would have allowed federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, called it a step in the right direction.

And Robert Lanza, an executive with Advanced Cell Technology, which created the new stem cell lines, said: "This will make it far more difficult to oppose this research."

I do object rather strongly to that last sentence; not because it's not true -- it is -- but because Lanza's clear implication is that opponents of ESC aren't really sincere, they're just looking for some excuse to stop research. But I think Macaca just clumsily worded what he meant to say.

So what are the objections from both sides? They're pretty ludicrous and illogical, and I doubt that either represents more than a tiny fraction of each faction. First, the objection of some of those opposed to ESC:

Meanwhile, hard-line opponents of stem cell science argue that the technique solves nothing, because even the single cell removed by the new approach could theoretically grow into a full-fledged human. Some also object over the possibility the procedure could harm the embryo in an unknown way.

The method "raises more ethical questions than it answers," said Richard Doerflinger of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

(That second objection, that it "raises more ethical questions than it answers," is such a cowardly shuck that I won't even bother responding.)

The idea that a stem cell "could theoretically grow into a full-fledged human" would be equally true for individual adult and placental stem cells; do these same people oppose research on those, too? And theoretically, if the science of human cloning advances, a stray cell in saliva or a drop of blood (which contains leukocytes) "could theoretically grow into a full-fledged human." Should it be against moral law to spit or bleed?

The silliness factor is that individual cells are already removed from embryos for testing purposes, to check for various genetic disorders; it's called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). In fact, that is where the procedure under discussion arose. During any in vitrio fertilization, doctors can extract a single cell from any (or all) of the developing embryos for testing purposes; this is done about 1,000 times a year anyway, to check for fatal genetic conditions.

What Advanced Cell discovered was that if the doctor allows each of the extracted cells to divide once before testing, and then tests only one of the two cells of each pair, the other can be encouraged to grow into a stem-cell line.

None of the developing embryos is harmed, and no extra embryos are created in order to get stem cells.

Note to forestall a possible objection: the mere fact that a cell divides -- that's what all cells do! -- does not mean that it would suddenly turn into an embryo. You skin cells divide, but they never turn into little fetuses hanging off your body like fruit on a tree. The cell that is removed could divide many times, but it would not spontaneously turn into another embryo.

In theory, such testing could also be done on embryos in the womb; I don't know if we can do that today, but if not, we will be able to fairly soon.

At the moment, if doctors find fatal or severe genetic disorders when they test the other cell in the pair (not the one making a stem-cell line), the usual "treatment" is to destroy the embryo; but that is changing, as more and more conditions can be corrected in utero, leading to a healthy baby. And this ability will only increase, as microsurgery and better gene replacement therapies allow us to, e.g., cure Cystic Fibrosis in the womb before the baby is even born... and without killing any babies.

Does that mean that the same people who object to ESC that does not kill the embryo will also object even to removing a single cell from a high-risk embryo to test for the CF gene, simply because in theory, that single cell might, if implanted in a uterus and given certain stimulation, be coaxed into developing into an embryo?

In any event, extracting an embryonic stem-cell line neither increases the number of embryos nor does it make it any more or less likely that a particular embryo, either in utero or in vitrio, will be aborted. Growing an ESC line from those embryos does not appear to affect their fate in any way.

Religious opposition on the grounds that an extracted cell "could theoretically grow into a full-fledged human" is pure insanity, in my opinion. It's like saying that we mustn't perform organ transplants because there's always a faint chance that the donor, if frozen, could be revived and brought back to life in the future.

The Catholic Church has other objections:

Though the new procedure may satisfy the president's objections to stem cell research, it does not meet the ethical standards of the Roman Catholic church, which opposes both PGD and in vitro fertilization.

If the procedure could be done in utero, that would eliminate the Church's objection on the basis of their condemnation of in vitrio fertilization. That leaves only their objection to PGD itself... but that, then, is nothing more than the objection above to testing on the ludicrous grounds that theoretically, the extracted cell -- which is not an embryo -- could be turned into an embryo.

I suspect that the Catholic objection to PGD is entirely because it's normally done in the in vitrio environment, where a bunch of embryos are created in order to implant one or two, with the rest slated for destruction. If PGD were done on a single embryo in utero, and if that embryo were not subsequently aborted, I think the Church's objection to PGD would fall.

But what about the small fringe on the other side? What's their problem with this new technique? Amazingly, it's even stupider than that above:

Some stem cell researchers complain that the new approach, though it may hold future promise, simply isn't as efficient as their current method of creating stem cells. That procedure involves the destruction of embryos after about five days of development, when they consist of about 100 cells....

President Bush has said that he personally opposes any research that sacrifices embryonic life, even to save an existing person. In August 2001 the president limited federal funding to research on a few dozen stem cell lines that had been created up to that point.

Scientists complain that the decree has severely crippled progress in the field. But recent developments have moved them toward their twin goals of attracting non-federal money for stem cell research and overturning the restrictions.

Several states, including California, New Jersey and Illinois, have set up ways to fund the research. A number of Democratic candidates in this year's congressional elections are focusing on the issue.

The research at Advanced Cell Technology subverts those efforts, [Glenn] McGee said. [McGee is director of the Alden March Bioethics Institute in Albany, N.Y.]

In other words, McGee objects to this procedure because, by making it possible to create ESC lines without destroying embryos, it therefore makes it politically harder to get funding to destroy embryos! The only conclusion I can draw is that for Glenn McGee, the most important goal is killing embryos -- not creating stem cell lines.

This imbroglio illustrates something I have been saying for (literally) decades: the single safest prediction you can make is that in a modern, civilized society, the future will be very different from the past.

This was not always true; in the Middle Ages, for example, it was a good bet that the life of an ordinary person, whether prince, peasant, or merchant, would be almost exactly the same in A.D. 600, A.D. 700, and A.D. 800. Oh, his country's allies may change, and the wars might be against different enemies; but his day to day life would be just the same as in his great8-grandfather's time.

Similarly, in many countries today that are not "modern civilized societies," such as Afghanistan, the life of a peon still hasn't changed much. Maybe they use a tractor instead of a bull to pull the plough... but probably not.

Nor is the prediction simply a tautology; we don't simply define a "modern, civilized society" as one in which the future differs from the past. There is certainly a feedback loop; but there are very identifiable differences in thinking long before there are widespread advances in technology: technology may influence thinking, but it was created by the mind of Man -- and that mind had to be a modern, civilized mind before it could create a different future.

The change in worldview comes first.

Ignoring this reality, acting as if the march -- at times, the sprint -- of technology will not affect the "great moral issues" of the day, ignores the fact that no moral quandry is pure... all must exist within the framework of the contemporary "now." Ignoring the advance of technology when prognosticating the future is the ultimate in "static analysis," and it's a prescription for quick humiliation.

Few remember, but it was an enormous moral quandry when Nicholas Copernicus and Galileo Galilei asserted that the Earth revolved around the sun, rather that the other way 'round. In fact, it even shocked the moral senses when Galileo announced that Jupiter had moons... since if some heavenly bodies could orbit something other than the Earth, than any of them could -- including the Earth itself.

The reaction among some theologians was even more hysterical than the reaction to the well-proven theory of evolution by natural selection is today. But within a relatively short period of time, the telescope was ubiquitous... and that meant that any educated person likely knew somebody who had access to a telescope; and each could see for himself that Jupiter did, indeed have moons, and that our own moon did indeed have impact craters, and so forth. Eventually, evidence reached a tipping point where the Church could no longer deny what everyone could see with his own eyes.

The advance of technology rewrote the moral dilemma: rather than insist that believers must reject the Copernican system, theologians were forced instead to integrate the new scientific knowledge into theology (which of course they managed to do without destroying belief). This time, technology threw the game to the scientists, against (some of) the theologians (the Jesuits never had any real objection to Copernicus or Galileo).

The moral quandry of abortion might be blown wide open by a relatively "evolutionary" development: the abillity to transfer an embryo or even fetus from one woman's womb to another with no more inconvenience than an abortion. My buddy Vic Koman wrote presciently about this in his novel Solomon's Knife. If it were just as easy to donate an unwanted fetus to a couple who could not conceive but desperately wanted a child, the entire abortion question would shift on its axis -- because there would no longer be any argument in favor of abortion, except in the most extraordinary cases.

Want the baby out of your body? Fine; it's gone. Oh, wait, you insist that it be killed? Sorry, but once you choose to give it up, you give up all rights to control what happens to it after it leaves your womb. This time, a likely advance in techology will, in the near future, toss the game to the theologians; the big losers will be secular feminists, who really have no other catechism left besides the legality of abortion.

And now, in real time, we're seeing the moral dilemma of embryonic stem cell research being blown wide open by a company that developed a method of extracting ESCs without damaging the underlying embryo. Is it perfect? not yet. So give it a couple of years; perhaps by then, it will be possible to do the procedure in utero. The point remains: whether in 2006 or 2008, the moral objection goes away... due to a technological advance.

We live in a world where a science-fictional mentality is mandatory; "realism" demands it.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 23, 2006, at the time of 4:21 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 22, 2006

Polling Keeps a-Leaping

Hatched by Dafydd

Commenter Terrye tipped us to an incredible new poll out from Gallup, written up by their partner USA Today (Terrye hat-tips "AJStrata" at the Strata-Sphere).

As you know -- or as you should know, if you've been conscientiously reading Big Lizards -- the so-called "generic congressional poll" has been running pretty grim for Republicans lately. But in a Gallup poll taken from August 18th through the 20th, 2006, both the generic congressional poll and also Bush's job-approval have taken a sharp turn upward:

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday, support for an unnamed Democratic congressional candidate over a Republican one narrowed to 2 percentage points, 47%-45%, among registered voters. Over the past year, Democrats have led by wider margins that ranged up to 16 points.

Now 42% of Americans say they approve of the job Bush is doing as president, up 5 points since early this month. His approval rating on handling terrorism is 55%, the highest in more than a year.

Note that according to Polling Report, among "regular voters" (which I reckon means respondents who vote regularly), the generic congressional question was a dead-even tie, 48 to 48. That is superb! Of course, USA Today found no occasion to mention that datum.

So how does Gallup and USA Today explain the sudden jump? They see it as the reaction by the American people to the exposure of the London airplane bombing plot:

The arrest of terror suspects in London has helped buoy President Bush to his highest approval rating in six months and dampen Democratic congressional prospects to their lowest in a year....

The boost may prove to be temporary, but it was evidence of the continuing political power of terrorism.

“The arrests reminded people that terrorists were out there, and this is his strong suit,” says political scientist Gary Jacobson of the University of California, San Diego. Now, as in 2002 and 2004, Bush and GOP congressional candidates argue that they can be better trusted to combat terrorism.

The alleged plot to bomb flights to the USA “also changes the subject of public discussion from the war in Iraq, which people are not very happy about,” says Christopher Gelpi, a political scientist at Duke University.

Interestingly, Mort Kondrake was crowing about (and Fred Barnes was lamenting) the fact that the shattered terror plot was not having any effect on the electorate; Mort said something about how terrorism was clearly no longer the dispositive factor in national elections (he didn't use the word "dispositive"). Well, the crower can eat crow on Saturday.

But now, some obligatory words of warning; being a math guy, I can hardly stop myself:

  1. Gallup has a history of not weighting its sample for party affiliation; while ordinarily, this results in too many Democrats (which is controlled by where and when polls are conducted), occasionally they manage to oversample Republicans or Independents. If they did so this time, then of course the poll would show much better numbers for Republicans than would actually be the case in a perfectly sampled poll.
  2. Even if the poll were conducted flawlessly, there is always the chance that the particular batch of people polled were less representative than usual.

Polls are typically reported with what is called a "margin of error" attached, and this one is no exception: "the telephone survey of 1,001 adults has a margin of error of +/-3 percentage points." That means is that there is a 95% chance that this poll accurately reflects the current opinion of American adults within a -3% to +3% range.

Looking only at registered voters would increase that range somewhat, perhaps to ±3.5%. But even so, the important number is the 95%: by definition, 5% of well-conducted polls will nevertheless be outside that ±3.5% range; such polls are called outliers, and they are wild cards that cannot be predicted nor prevented.

The only way to tell whether this is an outlier, and if so by how much, is to watch other polling on the generic congressional question. Alas, no other pollster has polled over a similar range; the only one polling in this period of time, CNN, last polled in June (they saw a 6% gap in June and a 9% gap now)... so there is no comparable case.

PRE-POSTING UPDATE: a late-breaking CBS-New York Times poll, reported in Polling Report but nowhere else as of this moment, shows the Democratic advantage much wider (15%) and climbing. But they also include a choice of "Depends," in addition to Republican, Democratic, Other (which would scoop up the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, the Beer-Drinker's Party, and so on), and Unsure; Depends sucks up 12% of the response, and we have no clue how to allocate that.

As far as I'm concerned, from a polling perspective, the extra weasel-option invalidates the entire poll. No other pollster adds "Depends" as a choice, so you cannot compare the CBS/NYT poll to any other. (I wouldn't even include it on the Real Clear Politics average, though I suppose they probably will.)

But I'm somewhat cheered by the concomitant increase found in President Bush's job-approval numbers on the new Gallup poll -- from 40% last time to 42% this time -- because that is similar to the other two polls conducted at the same time, which showed similar increases:

  • CNN went from 40% at the beginning of the month up to 42% now;
  • Rasmussen went from 40% to 43%;

This tells me that they probably didn't have a "runaway population sample;" they're in line with other sampled increases.

In any event, the current Real Clear Politics average for the generic is 8.0% in favor of the Democrats; without the new Gallup poll, it would be 10.5%. But the average for the entire month of August, not including the most recent Gallup or CNN numbers, is 51.0% Democrat, 37.8 Republican, for a gap of 13.2% in favor of the Democrats.

This represents a huge leap forward by the Republicans, an improvement of 39% over the early part of the month. If this polling turns out not to be an outlier, then the trendline is moving towards completely erasing most of the electoral gains the Democrats anticipate for this fall. But there is, naturally, a third caveat:

  1. As they say in the financial biz, past performance is no guarantee of future results. It's still possible that something could happen to dramatically boost the Democrats' chances in November, which could throw all these careful weighing of averages into a crockpot.

Of course, it's more likely that things will continue happening to help the Republicans, as with the London terrorist plot. If we can believe Gallup's own explanation for the strong movement towards the GOP -- a response by the American people towards a reminder of the terrible danger we face from terrorist attack -- then that itself is likely to happen several more times between now and the election.

Too, per an earlier post, the situation in Iraq is likely to improve between now and election day, and we might even begin bringing troops home. Since Iraq is the biggest drag on both Bush's job approval and the generic congresssional numbers, an improvement in voters' perception of how the Iraq war is going can have a stunning impact on how they vote on November 7th.

It's still anybody's game; but prospects are definitely looking up for the Republicans now.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 22, 2006, at the time of 6:30 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Peaceful, Easy Baghdad Feeling?

Hatched by Dafydd

Has anybody else heard anything about this before today? Or on any other news service besides what we used to call "al-Reuters?" Reuters reports that Baghdad has seen a marked decline in deadly violence in the past fortnight:

Violence in Baghdad has declined in the past two weeks and all but ended in some formerly deadly neighborhoods, the U.S. military said in a cautiously upbeat report on Tuesday on a major security clampdown in the city....

A day after President George W. Bush said he was concerned about civil war and was not about to withdraw U.S. troops, the chief military spokesman in Iraq said he saw no sign of such a conflict but U.S. forces were focusing on breaking sectarian "death squads" from both Shi'ite and Sunni Muslim communities.

Twenty-two raids in the past week against such groups in the capital had led to 37 arrests, Major General William Caldwell told a news conference. He presented statistics showing a 16 percent drop in the daily average of attacks in Baghdad since August 7, at 21 compared to 25 in the preceding two months.

"What we have seen in August is a downturn," Caldwell said, two weeks after beefed up U.S. forces and thousands of Iraqi troops and police launched a new phase of what Iraqi and U.S. leaders have called a make-or-break operation to pacify Baghdad.

The decline is specifically in those areas that were hardest hit by horrific attacks:

Attacks in Dora had dropped to virtually none from 20 to 30 a day, [Caldwell] said, after U.S. and Iraqi forces flooded the area, forcing out militants and sought to win over people with offers of cash and help with municipal projects like collecting trash.

"Most of the shops are still closed," 30-year-old laborer Sabah al-Shujairi said of his part of Dora. "But security is getting better. Before, we used to hear gunshots all over but now you rarely notice a thing. There is a relative calm."

And for those still believing that the perennial leakers of classified information are merely public-spirited whistleblowers with no political axe to juggle, let's read between the lines here:

Figures leaked from the Pentagon last week indicated that the number of bombs planted to hit troops or civilians in July was almost double that in January, a record since the invasion. But Caldwell said there had been a decline since last month.

I notice that the leakers rushed to let news organizations know that July was the bloodiest month in some time, with a death rate that exceeded 100 Iraqi civilians per day; but those same leakers -- still unlocated, still with the same access to new figures -- found no particular urgency in leaking figures showing a significant decline in the death toll this month.

I wonder why not?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 22, 2006, at the time of 3:39 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

The "Curious Omission" Gets Curiouser and Curiouser

Hatched by Dafydd

Three days ago, we noted a curious omission from the New York Times and the Associated Press stories about Israel's commando raid deep into the Bekaa Valley Saturday: while both of those two media sources, as well as the Reuters account, all found occasion to quote chief U.N. envoy to Beirut Terje Roed-Larsen pronouncing Israel's raid "a clear violation of the ceasefire," only Reuters added a second quotation from Mr. Roed-Larsen: that if it were true, as the evidence clearly demonstrates, that Hezbollah were attempting to rearm in Lebanon... then that too would be a violation:

Israel said the operation, in which commandos were airlifted into the area by helicopter, was defensive and was designed to disrupt weapons supplies to Hizbollah from Syria and Iran.

It denied it had violated the resolution, which allows it to act in self-defense, and accused Hizbollah of doing so by smuggling weapons. Roed-Larsen said that if the guerrilla group was [sic] found to have smuggled weapons, it would indeed be in breach of the truce.

Well, here it is, 72 hours later... and now it appears that even Reuters has forgotten that vital piece of information. In a new article, Reuters -- perhaps having been teased unmercifully by its playmates for its unseemly faux pas -- repeats the point that the UN condemned Israel's raid as a violation... but they make no reference whatsoever to the fact that the same UN representative likewise condemned Hezbollah's provocation. Exhibit A:

"From Israel, we expect a renewed effort, this time truly binding, to respect the ceasefire," [Italian] Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told La Repubblica newspaper.

"It's fair to expect that Hizbollah put down their weapons, but we cannot send our troops to Lebanon if the (Israeli) army keeps shooting."

The U.N.-backed truce was shaken by an Israeli commando raid in eastern Lebanon's Bekaa Valley on Saturday, which the U.N. deemed a ceasefire violation.

Exhibit B:

Israel says Saturday's raid was a defensive action and, as such, does not constitute a breach of U.N. Security Council resolution 1701, which brought the war to an end.

The Jewish state has accused Hizbollah of violating the resolution by smuggling arms from Syria and has said its jets need to fly over Lebanon to counter such activities.

So on the left hand, we have the fact that "the U.N. deemed" Israel's raid violated the ceasefire; while on the right hand, we are told only that "Israel says" they were responding to an earlier violation by Hezbollah, which is merely an "assus[ation]" by (of course) "the Jewish state." Darn those Jews! Cheating again!

But on the third hand, Reuters itself, in the earlier article, admitted that it was not just Israel that considered rearming a violation; the U.N. itself agreed (conditionally), in the person of the rude Mr. Larsen -- I'm sorry, I meant Mr. Roed-Larsen -- an official U.N. spokesman. (The condition was that if Hezbollah tried to rearm, then that would be a violation; Roed-Larsen had not personally investigated whether that was true or not.)

As Sgt. Garcia says in yet another episode of Zorro -- see what I mean about that television show being the font of all wisdom? -- "have you not heard it said, never let your right hand know what your left hand is doing?"

(Cpl. Reyes: My left hand isn't doing anything.

Sgt. Garcia: Neither is your head, baboso!)

So the omission just got, to quote Alice in Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, "curiouser and curiouser."

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 22, 2006, at the time of 3:17 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 21, 2006

How to Read Polls 101

Hatched by Dafydd

Some interesting and encouraging electoral news comes from perennial doom-and-gloomer Larry Sabato, who consistently (and dolefully) underestimates Republican performance in elections. But you have to think a second time to realize which way it actually cuts.

In the last midterm elections of 2002, Sabato and his famous and invaluable Crystal Ball report predicted that the final makeup of the Senate would be 51 to 49 in favor of the Democrats; in the actual vote, Republicans ended up controlling the Senate by the same margin instead, 51 to 49.

And in the House, Sabato predicted a GOP gain of 4, but it was actually 5 -- not a big difference, but again he underestimated Republican electoral strength. Among governorships, he predicted a Democratic gain of 5, to give them the majority; but in fact, they only gained 3, leaving the Republicans with a slim majority.

In 2004, he accurately predicted a GOP gain of 3 seats in the House and that governorships would likely stay the same at 28 GOP, 22 Democratic; but he predicted a gain of only 2 Senate seats, for a GOP majority of 53-47; in the actual election, they gained 4 seats for a strong 55-45 majority.

Now we shift to the present. In the August 3rd update to the Crystal Ball "bottom line" predictions, Sabato and his team see a Democratic pickup in the House of 12 to 15 seats, and in the Senate of 3 to 6 seats.

Now, that may sound grim; but let's take a second look:

  • Only at the far end of his predictions for the House and Senate would the Democrats take either house, in each case by a single seat; that is, every single thing would have to go right for the Democrats, and also the Crystal Ball would have to be less pessimistic than normal. Anything less, and the GOP retains both houses... which must be considered the "victory conditions" for the Republicans in this midterm -- in fact sixth year -- election.
  • Bush's approval rating, which Sabato agrees is driving most of the GOP's electoral woes right now, has been rising: in May, his average job-approval rating was 35.3, with 60.1 disapproving for a 24.8% negative rating; in the first half of May, it was 34.6 positive, 61.2 negative, for a gap of 26.6%.

    But so far this month, his average has been 38.5 approval and 57.7 disapproval, for a negative gap of 19.2%. If this trend continues to election day, Bush could be at 42% approval, with a gap of only 12%. While still bad, this is much better than it looks today; even a shift of a few percent of the vote from the Democrats to the Republicans might swing some of the five Republican open House seats that the Crystal Ball sees as "toss-ups."

  • Republicans are now out-fundraising Democrats -- often a good indicator of enthusiasm among political action committees and ordinary people. Until now, the enthusiasm has seemed to be all on the Democratic side; but this is a counter-indicator.
  • One current big drag is the Iraq war; but at the moment, the public is far more pessimistic about it than are the soldiers actually there fighting.

    If the soldiers turn out to have the more accurate assessment, then there could be significant good news between now and the election... for example, a draw-down of American troops and a lessening of the violence -- though of course the anti-American forces are watching the U.S. election closely, and they will want to ramp up the violence to try to "Madrid" the United States in November.

    But they may be unable to succeed, depending on facts on the ground largely outside their control (mostly the abillity of the Iraq Security Forces, army and police, to quelle violence in Baghdad).

  • Finally, one fact that has not changed: the Democrats are still Democrats.

    The assault on Joe Lieberman is more indication that the Nutroots are seizing more and more of the party from the (slightly) more moderate members; and if the American people start to understand that Democratic control of Congress means (a) we immediately cut and run from Iraq, (b) raise taxes on working Americans by rejecting making the tax cuts permanent, and (c) devote the next two years to trying to impeach George W. Bush, enough undecideds may shift decisively to the Republicans to assure continued GOP control.

By and large, I believe all the "bad news" against Republicans has already come out and been factored in: there has been nothing really new in the past couple of months, nor have the Democrats started doing better in the polls.

But there is still quite a lot of potential GOP "good news," along with "bad news" against the Democrats (such as the realization that they are already gearing up to run the "investigation Congress"), which has not been reported by the elite media... who are, as usual, in bed with the Democrats.

I can't say for sure whether the news has successfully been suppressed, or whether it has simply not been internalized by the voters; but it can't be sat upon forever. As it trickles out, the Republicans will start doing marginally better.

Elections are won and lost on those tiny margins. And it's still the case that most folks don't really start paying any attention to electoral politics until after Labor Day, which is not until September 4th. (This is an explanation for why nearly every serious poll-watcher believes that "the polls will tighten" before the election... but if they tighten even the least bit, then the GOP retains both houses of Congress.

Thus, before either panicking (Republicans) or rejoicing (Democrats), we'd better wait until the September polling starts a-rolling.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 21, 2006, at the time of 5:59 PM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

The Glozone Layer

Hatched by Dafydd

Beginning 28 years ago (starting with Sweden in 1978), the hysterical fear-mongering du jour were a pair of rapidly expanding "holes" in the ozone layer high above the Earth, one above each pole in the stratosphere (10 km to 50 km altitude, or 33,000 feet to 164,000 feet). The ozone holes -- actually, areas of somewhat decreased ozone concentrations, not the absence of ozone -- would let in too much ultraviolate radiation (UVR), which would lead to skin cancer, genetic damage, and the destruction of life on this planet.

The primary culprit for ozone depletion (this is actually correct) was found to be manmade refrigerants, propellants, cleaners, and fire extinguishers, nearly all based upon chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and bromofluorocarbons (BFCs). In an orgy of enviro-mental disorder, virtually every civilized and semi-civilized nation on the planet rushed to eliminate CFCs, substituting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) for the dreaded CFCs.

But now it turns out, with an irony thick enough to spread on a muffin, that the wonderful chemicals we've shifted to using, in order to allow the "ozone holes" to "heal," are themselves very powerful greenhouse gases... and they're significantly contributing to supposedly human-induced global warming:

The chemicals that replaced CFCs are better for the ozone layer, but do little to help global warming. These chemicals, too, act as a reflective layer in the atmosphere that traps heat like a greenhouse.

That effect is at odds with the intent of a second treaty, drawn up in Kyoto, Japan, in 1997 by the same countries behind the Montreal pact. In fact, the volume of greenhouse gases created as a result of the Montreal agreement's phaseout of CFCs is two times to three times the amount of global-warming carbon dioxide the Kyoto agreement is supposed to eliminate.

The international association of the perpetually aggrieved now laments the fact that nobody appears to own the earth's atmosphere... hence, there is nobody to be sued:

"But now the question is, who's going to ensure that the replacements are not going to cause global warming?" said Alexander von Bismarck, campaigns director for the Environmental Investigation Agency, a nonprofit watchdog group in London and Washington. "It's shocking that so far nobody's taking responsibility."

"A massive opportunity to help stave off climate change is currently being cast aside," he said.

Environmentalists now demand that those countries that spent themselves into recessions replacing CFCs with HCFCs and HFCs do it all over again, this time substituting for the substitutes:

The U.N. report says the atmosphere could be spared the equivalent of 1 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions if countries used ammonia, hydrocarbons, carbon dioxide or other ozone-friendly chemicals, rather than HCFCs and HFCs, in foams and refrigerants. Such alternatives are more common in Europe.

And of course, most of the international enviromentalist organizations are -- European! What a lucky break for countries of that continent.

Of course, the only other problem (besides prohibitive cost) is that the alternatives don't work very well, if at all. But that's a small price to pay for the priviliege of being on the cutting edge of chemical conscientiousness.

What has always struck me as hilarious is that the folks who are most exercised about global warming nevertheless recoil from the single most effective method of redusing carbon and carbonoid emissions: a massive program to replace all oil- and coal-based powerplants with clean, modern, and safe nuclear fission reactors, using new technologies. As Big Lizards discussed back in December:

But there are many methods of producing energy that do not require burning anything... the most effective of which, in the short-to-medium term (0 to 50 years), are hydroelectric generators and nuclear power plants. Since the former are limited by the number of rivers you're willing to dam (which causes rather significant environmental change, to say the least!), we should probably concentrate on the latter. Recent radically improved technologies for nuclear fission, including Pebble Bed Modular Reactors (gas-cooled) and Integral Fast Reactors (liquid-metal cooled), already exist in prototype but lack either funding or a favorable political climate for wide-scale development.

That last void is courtesy the environmentalist movement, which demands we solve a problem while nixing all possible solutions.

But hey, what do I know? I gloriously wasted my youth studying real mathematics and logic.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 21, 2006, at the time of 4:49 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Politics by Other Means

Hatched by Sachi

Bill Roggio at Counterterrorism blog outlines how al-Qaeda in Iraq is trying to win the hearts and minds of Sunni Iraqis by bribes and threats.

The late Musab Zarqawi tarnished the image of the terrorist organization al-Qaeda in Iraq by killing too many innocent Iraqis... and often personally cutting off the heads of victims. Even Sunni Iraqis, who had seen Sadam Hussein's treatment of the Shia, were nauseated by the brutality of al-Qaeda.

Zarqawi's successor -- Abu Ayyub al-Masri -- has recognized that killing innocent Iraqis does not gain popularity for al-Qaeda. Recruitment for suicide bombers is not meeting the quota; although they can kill people by the bus load, threats alone are not enough to control the Iraqi people. In order for them to turn Iraq into terrorist haven, they need support from the local community.

In other words, al-Qaeda in Iraq has decided to enter politics. Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, spokesman for multi-naitonal force, explains:

The sectarian violence in and around Baghdad defines the framework of the ongoing conflict in Iraq. Within Baghdad, death squads and terrorists are locked into a mutually reinforcing cycle of sectarian strife, with Sunni and Shi'a extremists portraying themselves as the defenders of their respective sectarian groups.

In regards to al-Qaida in Iraq, their leadership has outlined the end state towards which their propaganda efforts are currently working. Specifically, as given to us by those who have been detained over the last two months, they seek to portray al-Qaida in Iraq as a legitimate political organization to be viewed as the alternative to the legitimate, duly-elected government of Iraq.

Their primary goal in discrediting the government of Iraq is the expulsion of the U.S. from Iraq in order to remove support for the government of Iraq and impose themselves, al-Qaida in Iraq, as the power.

This is yet another reason why it is critical that we stay at least long enough to build up not only the New Iraqi Army (already ready to assume complete authority in 16 of Iraq's 18 provinces), but also the Interior Ministry forces -- the Iraqi police. Once both these groups, plus the national government, are able to function entirely on their own, we can pull most of our troops out, leaving only a small force to assist the Iraqis if need be and also to serve as a platform from which to strike elsewhere in the region.

In mirror-image form, it is equally critical for al-Qaeda to boot us out before the job is done. But aside from influencing the Democratic Party with predigested propaganda distributed through the elite media, how exactly does al-Qaeda plan to acheive this goal?

Al-Qaida in Iraq is making a concerted effort to gain legitimacy by marketing itself to the Iraqi people as a credible, helpful organization that appeals to Iraqis in desperate social and economic situations while projecting a civic-minded image. [That is, by doing in Iraq exactly what Hezbollah does in Lebanon: replace government assistance with their own, so that Iraqis will come to think of al-Qaeda as their "tribe."] They have produced propaganda that blames coalition forces and the Iraqi government for problems such as unemployment, security, government corruption, gas prices and the lack of power, in hopes that this will empower them to take on the role as their protectorate....

In regard to recruitment, al-Qaida in Iraq offers money, cell phones and vehicles to prospective recruits. These items appear somewhat attractive to young men. However, placement and access into the inner circles is won through personal associations, demonstrated loyalty and vetted experience. Key personalities are known associates of trusted members. Abu Uzman (sp) stated that his recruiting plan for the Umar (sic) Brigade relied on his associates talking with people they knew, who then talked to others and so on.

Americans and Coalition forces by and large destroyed the Sunni "resistance" movements against the occupying forces; however, new sectarian violence, instigated by al-Qaeda and fueled by Muqtada Sadr and his al-Mahdi "Army," cannot be so easily wished away.

To create a stable Iraq, we need the support of Iraqi Sunnis, as well as the Shia; Iraq cannot be seen by the Sunnis as a sectarian State. Too, we must be vigilant against al-Qaeda propaganda, and we must purge Shiite extremists; in other words, Sadr must die and the Mahdi Militia be obliterated. Maj. Gen. Caldwell concludes thus:

However, Iraqi security forces, with coalition forces in support, continue to degrade the al-Qaida in Iraq network by removing key to mid-level leadership and aggressively targeting the internal foreign fighter facilitator networks.

As al-Qaida in Iraq attempts to recover from this degradation, they continue to be a primary instigator of sectarian violence in Iraq. A significant portion of detained terrorists are providing clear, actionable intelligence for Iraqi and coalition forces to continue the methodical, deliberate efforts to eliminate terrorism here in Iraq. Iraqi and coalition forces will continue to work closely with each other and with the Iraqi citizens to establish peace and security throughout Iraq.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, August 21, 2006, at the time of 4:00 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 19, 2006

Israeli Commando Raid: the Case of the Curious Omission

Hatched by Dafydd

It's clear from reading the accounts in various antique-media sources what the Israeli raid into the Bekaa was all about: Iran has been trying to rearm Hezbollah through Syria; the Israeli commando raid sought to disrupt that rearming, and in addition, capture a high-value Hezbollah target.

The raid took place in "the village of Boudai west of Baalbek in eastern Lebanon, about 17 miles from the Syrian border," according to AP. It was disrupted by Hezbollah fighters -- whether before or after it achieved its objectives depends upon whether you believe Israel or Hezbollah -- and a firefight ended up killing one Israeli soldier and three Hezbollah, and wounding a further two Israelis and three Hezbollah soldiers.

Beyond that much, the details are murky. But a couple of interesting tidbits remain. First, for those who insist that George W. Bush, the most pro-Israel president since Lyndon Johnson, threw Israel under the bus, here is an interesting counter-argument: according to every news account, we've still got Israel's back even now. Associated Press:

The White House declined to criticize the raid, noting that Israel said it acted in reaction to arms smuggling into Lebanon and that the U.N. resolution calls for the prevention of resupplying Hezbollah with weapons.

"The incident underscores the importance of quickly deploying the enhanced UNIFIL," White House spokeswoman Jeanie Mamo said.

Reuters:

Washington, Israel's chief ally, said it had noted the Jewish state's position.

"The prevention of the resupply of weapons to Hizbollah by Syria and Iran is a key provision of the U.N. Security Council resolution 1701," a White House official said.

Whether we encouraged Israel until it flaked out on us, or whether we prevented the Jewish state from finally securing its own defense, is actually a very important question. The commentariat, both in the blogosphere and in the news media, divides neatly into two groups:

  1. Those who think Israel ran a feckless and infantile "pseudowar," and that the United States salvaged what little it could with UN Security Council Resolution 1701, the ceasefire agreement;
  2. Those who think Israel was right on the brink of annihilating Hezbollah, when the US stuck out an invisible foot to trip them up, then dragged them, kicking and screaming, to the ceasefire.

Big Lizards is in Camp 1; the Center for Security Policy is clearly in Camp 2. But groups in the latter camp have never quite explained why, given a month of latitude, Israel itself didn't simply send in a strong enough force to get the job done (Camp-2 spokesfolks tend to mutter darkly about Israel being held back and prevented from fighting by mystery orders from Washington that are, alas, so secret that nobody has seen them).

The fact that we are still, today, championing Israel's right to conduct this commando raid while the ceasefire is in effect, that we refuse to characterize it as a violation, speaks volumes about which camp is correct: it seems rather unlikely to me that we would "force" Israel to stop and force them to agree to a ceasefire that leaves Hezbollah intact -- and then blithely tell them they can go ahead and raid deep into the Bekaa Valley against Hezbollah. Frank Gaffney will have to explain that one to me.

But there is a more interesting (to me, at least) media point: the fact that, while the Bush administration still backs Israel in this war against Hezbollah, some of the elite media definitely seem to have shifted to their more usual support for the terrorists. In discussing the legality of the raid, vis-à-vis the ceasefire agreement that Israel signed, all three stories above quote the senior United Nations envoy in Beirut, Terje Roed-Larsen:

The New York Times:

A high-ranking United Nations official, Terje Roed-Larsen, told Lebanese television that he could not independently confirm the details of the raid. “But if wat has been reported is correct,” he said, “it is of course a clear violation of the ceasefire.”

Associated Press:

Before departing for Israel, Roed-Larsen said if the report about the Israeli commando raid was true, the incident would be "a clear violation" of the U.N.-imposed cease-fire agreement.

"And it is also unhelpful in a very complex and very fragile situation," he said in an interview with the Lebanese Broadcasting Corp.

Reuters:

"We had no independent means to verify...what has happened," envoy Terje Roed-Larsen told Lebanon's LBC television. "But if what has been reported is correct, it is of course a clear violation of the cease-fire."

This makes it quite clear that the United Nations officially considers such raids to violate the ceasefire: Israel is cheating -- again!

But only the last source, Reuters, added a second quotation from Mr. Roed-Larsen, one that responds to the Israeli claim that they were trying to prevent Hezbollah from being rearmed by Iran:

Israel said the operation, in which commandos were airlifted into the area by helicopter, was defensive and was designed to disrupt weapons supplies to Hizbollah from Syria and Iran.

It denied it had violated the resolution, which allows it to act in self-defense, and accused Hizbollah of doing so by smuggling weapons. Roed-Larsen said that if the guerrilla group was [sic] found to have smuggled weapons, it would indeed be in breach of the truce.

Neither AP nor the Times noted that the very same UN envoy they all quoted condemning Israel likewise condemned Hezbollah... incidentally buttressing Israel's position that the raid was not a violation, since Israel was responding to a flagrant violation by Hezbollah.

To show that this is no accident, consider this comic exchange in the New York Times story:

The success of the effort was a matter of dispute. One Israeli special operations officer was killed and two commandos were wounded, one seriously, but an Israeli Army spokesman in Jerusalem said the mission’s “objectives had been attained in full.”

Villagers said otherwise. “They failed completely,” said Sadiq Hamdi, 36, a scrap-iron dealer. “They were still on the road when the Hezbollah came upon them. They did not take 1 percent of what they were trying to do.”

Ah -- so according to the Times, a "scrap-iron dealer" has the same credibility as an Israeli Army spokesman! Actually more; recall what I wrote in The Simple Art of Propaganda (I warned you to take careful notes, as this would be on the test):

I changed the font sizes above to indicate the propagandistic effect of "call and response." This occurs (in both print and broadcast media) when Party A makes a point, and the writer (or host) then allows Party B to have the resounding response.

You see it in operation here... and again, as in the Propaganda post, Israel gets the short end of the horse: the Israelis insist the raid was successful; but our resident expert, a scrap-iron dealer and Hezbollah supporter, puts the lie to that absurd claim!

We do know (via AP) that the Israelis destroyed a bridge; if that were a major bridge on a road used by arms smugglers, then the raid indeed may have been at least partially successful; and if the Israelis seized Sheik Mohammed Yazbeck, who lives in Boudai, then it may have been completely successful.

So don't ever forget and please always remember: the subtext between the lines is often more interesting and informative than the printed words themselves. The United States still backs Israel in its actual warfare against Hezbollah (contrary to those folks in Camp 2, who cannot let go their charming fantasies about almighty Israel) -- and the mainstream media still supports the other side.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 19, 2006, at the time of 3:03 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 18, 2006

SF Strap-Ons

Hatched by Dafydd

The Predator vs. the Eagle... sounds like a new series from Marvel or DC. But really, we're talking about the great divide among Air Force brass over whether it's better to put more emphasis on actual warplanes, such as the F-15 Strike Eagle or the F/A-18 Hornet, or pour more resources into unmanned Predator drones, flown in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, but piloted (according to Robert Kaplan) mostly from trailers at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas (subscription required to read this link, which costs $1 million, I think).

In this case, the "SF" in the title stands not only for Special Forces but also for science fiction, because this story is really about both: science fiction become reality for use by Special Forces in the war against jihadi terrorism.

In the Drone Wars, there are clear advantages to each competitor:

  • Human pilots are actually present in the cockpit with the real attack planes, which always gives them an advantage in perception: they know what's going on better than does a pilot flying remotely. They can not only see better, they can hear and feel, or sense, the progress of the engagement.
  • But that also means they are in danger themselves, obviously; and less obviously, the ability of the plane is held back by the limitations of the human body. It's easy enough to design a plane that can make a 14-G turn; but it's impossible to locate a pilot who can do the same.
  • The drones (unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs), besides the obvious advantage that they don't risk an American life, also have the advantage of being much, much smaller than an airplane, which must be big enough to house one or two human beings; thus, the Predators are virtualy invisible on radar and hard to spot even with the naked eye.
  • However, they're also slow; they fly by propeller, not jet, and it can take them a long time to get where they're going.
  • Plus, being so much smaller, they cannot carry as many armaments as a full-sized plane can -- only a couple of Hellfire missiles or JDAM-equipped bombs, in the case of the prevalent MQ-1 Predator.

    By contrast, the A-10 Thunderbolt II "Warthog" carries up to eight missiles or bombs, plus the devastating 30mm Avenger Gatling gun, which can fire depleted Uranium shells at a rate of up to 70 rounds per second (after the first, somewhat slower second)... that would be 4,200 rounds per minute, except that it only carries 1,350 rounds. Even so, that is considerably more armament than any UAV carries.

So the argument rages: Man, or machine? But as often happens, the philosophical debate is about to be smashed wide open by a technological advance: a German company, ESG, has developed monofiliment strap-on wings. Holy bat-wings, Batman!



Bat Wings for Special Forces

Glidertroopers of tomorrow's war

Airborne units can use these wings in conjunction with a normal parachute to leap out of an airplane and glide for up to 120 miles before pulling the ripcord. In addition, the wings double as storage lockers, allowing the paratrooper to carry 200 lbs of gear to a safe landing.

Elite special forces troops being dropped behind enemy lines on covert missions are to ditch their traditional parachutes in favour of strap-on stealth wings.

The lightweight carbon fibre mono-wings will allow them to jump from high altitudes and then glide 120 miles or more before landing - making them almost impossible to spot, as their aircraft can avoid flying anywhere near the target.

The range means that the actual insertion aircraft need not get anywhere near the target dropzone, dramatically improving the survivability not only of the plane and its crew but the paratroopers themselves. In many cases, such a range -- which can be hugely extended by the addition of a small turbojet engine on the wings -- means that the plane needn't even enter the airspace of the target country; they can drop the paratroopers over friendly territory, allowing them to glide (or fly) themselves into enemy territory.

The radar signature is, of course, barely larger than the paratrooper himself... which means nearly as small as a UAV; but because the wings have human "pilots" (airborne troops), if the tactical situation changes, they can react on the fly (dang!)... I mean, they can just wing it (stop me, someone!)... well, they can respond to their own on-the-spot threat assessment.

One of the critiques that Robert Kaplan levels at the increased reliance of UAVs is that, since they're remotely piloted from the United States, there is too much danger that the top Air Force brass will over-supervise each mission and cause mischief, as in Vietnam; having "glidertroopers" carry out these missions avoids that problem, naturally, since the men making the decisions are the non-coms actually on the ground... or rather, in the troposphere.

It's not too great a jump to imagine a slightly more powerful engine with more fuel, and lightweight, mounted guns or missiles that the glidertroopers can operate. Those would just be minor improvements to what is already demonstrated technology, but the impact on future warfare would be colossal: invisible flying serpents with perfect night vision (NVGs) and a lethal dragon's breath? What would such a unit be called -- the Quetzalcoatl Battalion of the Smaug Regiment?

Swarms of flying monkeys could buzz in from an unexpected quarter, shooting Gatling guns and firing missiles; then disperse in all directions, silent, unseen, untrackable by radar, only to regroup and swarm back from a new angle. An individual man could range high above a city, using telescopic night-vision goggles to follow a small group of terrorists to their lair -- then swoop in and destroy it with a couple of well-placed JDAMs or bursts of gunfire.

There is no reason why slightly more powerful engines could not allow a man to take off from the ground, which would give special forces, even those not trained as glidertroopers, a perfect way to extract from a mission: they return to a pre-determined spot, where wings have previously been hidden (before the enemy is alerted to our presence), strap them on, and fly away to safe rendezvous coordinates; the wings would be equipped with autopilots that use GPS to fly their human cargo in to a perfect landing, all by themselves. This avoids the dangerous necessity of getting a helo into a combat zone now buzzing with enemy activity, following a SEAL or Ranger mission.

And now that I think of it, the same wings, packed with medical equipment, could have a huge impact on military or civilian search and rescue: individual paramedics could zoom across the search area at 150 mph, anywhere from fifteen hundred feet to ten feet off the ground. Once they find victims, if they can't get a helo in to evacuate them (due to proximity to a cliff, for example), they can request an airdrop of some fuel, strap the wounded into the wings, and program them to fly to a location where a rescue helicopter can land.

We could also use these wings to evacuate people trapped inside a burning highrise: skyscrapers could be required by law to keep some large number of such gliders in storage on the roof; a fire-department "smokeglider" flies in, helps victims to strap in, and sends them over the side, where the autopilot takes them a safe distance away and lands.

Unless we actually internalize a science-fiction mentality, we cannot analyze the future.

The one thing we can say with certainty about the future is that it will be very different from the past. It may not differ in just the way we imagine; but without developing the mental muscles of open-minded speculation -- and the sense that technology will do more to determine future society than any other trendline (because technology affects all of the rest!) -- we haven't even a wing or a prayer of being able to respond to that future when it arrives.

Which will be sooner than you think, but later than you wish.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 18, 2006, at the time of 5:13 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Threat, or Menace, Part Deux

Hatched by Dafydd

So Scott Johnson finally dropped the other slipper in his continuing bad analogy comparing the US-brokered, UN-supported ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hezbollah to the 1938 Munich agreement, brokered by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, among others. In our last episode, Scott stated that the Munich agreement resulted in a delay of World War II by about a year -- during which time, Scott asserted, Germany got stronger relative to the UK -- hence, it was a terrible agreement from Britain's perspective:

Like the UN resolution, the Munich Agreement assured that war, when it came, would be on terms more favorable to the fascists than they otherwise would have been.

At the end of the post, he added an update, in which a historian, John Steele Gordon, countered that the RAF had dramatically increased its strength relative to the German Luftwaffe... thus, that there is a good argument, at least, that the Munich agreement was actually good for Britain:

But had the Battle of Britain been fought in the summer of 1939 instead of a year later, those few to whom so much is owed would not have been able to save the many.

(Gordon refers, of course, to Winston Churchill's famous aphorism about the Royal Air Force: "Never have so many owed so much to so few".)

Now, this seemed a rather damning claim; if true, it completely undercuts Scott's analogy. But this was Scott's response to this point:

The first point I leave to pursue another day.

I suggested in my previous post that surely that other day had better be soon; I don't imagine that Scott was responding to me -- I highly doubt he reads Big Lizards! -- but evidently, sundry other readers responded via e-mail, rather than a blog entry, and Scott has realized he needs to address the argument directly.

Well... more or less. He still talks around the core question, which is (if you haven't forgotten in all the excitement) whether the 1938 Munich agreement was good or bad for the civilized world.

"Common sense" says it was bad; but common sense is what tells us that the world is flat, so it doesn't have much of a track record. We need some uncommon sense, which is another word for actual analysis. This he attempts to provide by a series of quotations, largely unanalyzed themselves (except by their selection).

From a biography of Churchill by William Manchester, Scott notes that, while it's true that the RAF increased from five to 47 squadrons during that time, and also dramatically increased its anti-aircraft batteries, the ground and naval forces remained static. In fact, Chamberlain refused to increase the army budget from 1938-1939, nor did he order a military draft; quoting Manchester, Scott writes:

In every other category--artillery, tanks, and equipped divisions--Nazi gains were overwhelming...The number of Nazi divisions jumped from seven to fifty-one...

But of course, as we all know from history, Germany never invaded the British Isles -- precisely because they could never win the air war against the RAF, and likely for that reason, could never win the sea battle against the Royal Navy. A reasonable person might conclude that Chamberlain deliberately chose a strategy of interdicting the Nazis before they landed, rather than a strategy where:

[W]e shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills....

Of course, with the benefit of hindsight, it seems to have worked -- provided Chamberlain was ousted (forced to resign) in May of 1940, on the eve of Germany's Netherlands campaign, to be replaced by Churchill... an almost miraculous turn of events in Great Britain. (Perhaps that was part of Chamberlain's grand strategy!)

Still, many people believe that Hitler might have been more stoppable if the eventual Allies had been able to launch a massive assault in mid-1938 or early-1939; but there's really no way they could have done that. France's army, thought to be the most powerful in Europe, turned out to be made of papier-mâché; had Great Britain relied upon their historical allies, the French, to keep their backs while they charged into the valley of death, the Brits might have found themselves "Paris"-ed.

Scott quotes also from Winston Churchill's own account of that period, the Gathering Storm, in service of the point that Chamberlain should have considered what might happen to France and Czechoslovakia, not merely what happened to Great Britain -- mostly, I think Scott means, because after falling, they could not help fight the Nazis:

The subjugation of Czechosloviakia robbed the Allies of the Czech Army of twenty-one regular divisions, fifteen or sixteen second-line divisions already mobilised, and also their mountain fortress line which, in the days of Munich, had required the deployment of thirty German divisions, or the main strength of the mobile and fully trained German Army.... We certainly suffered a loss through the fall of Czechoslovakia equivalent to some thirty-five divisions. Besides this the Skoda Works, the second most important arsenal in Central Europe, was made to change sides adversely....

Even more disastrous was the alteration in the relative strength of the French and German Armies. With every month that passed, from 1938 onwards the German Army was not only increased in numbers and formations, and in the accumulation of reserves, but in quality and maturity....

Far be it from me to argue with Winston Churchill, my favorite hero of World War II. But -- well, what at the odds that, absent the Munich agreement, the Nazis would have decided not to attack Czechoslovakia? And had they attacked, does any historian argue that they would have lost and been sent reeling backwards by the Czechs and Slovaks?

Clearly, whatever state the Allied armies were in at the time of the Munich agreement, they would have been in the same state during a Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia in the alternative history we postulate, since that invasion would probably have happened within weeks of an Allied refusal at Munich. And having watched the reduction of Czechoslovakia -- and the certainty that the Nazis would have treated that country the way Rome treated Carthage -- does anybody believe this would have stiffened the French spines, causing them to have more courage?

In my completely untrained and uninformed opinion, the French collapsed in 44 days not because they didn't have a big enough army, but because they didn't have a big enough will to fight. There is no reason to believe that their already shaky intestinal fortitude would have been increased by watching a horrific, bloody, futile defense of Czechoslovakia.

Finally, Scott quotes from Telford Taylor's Munich: The Price of Peace:

[O]ne can safely say that that the possibility of establishing an allied front in France that would hold would have been far better than it was when the war actually began--both because France and especially Britain would have had more time to strengthen the front, and because Germany could not have denuded her eastern frontiers and concentrated virtually all her forces in the west, as she was able to do after the Nazi-Soviet pact and the destruction of Poland.

But what makes Taylor think that if the war had come a year sooner, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, and the accompanying dismemberment of Finland, Poland, Romania, and the Baltics, wouldn't also have come a year sooner? Does he even address that question?

Taylor appears, in this passage, to think of the Pact as if it were an uncontrollable and external force of nature, like a volcanic eruption or a solar flare. But in reality, it was Stalin's attempt to forestall war with the Nazis either forever, if Hitler had kept his part of it, or at least until the Red Army could be strengthened enough to be up to the fight, in Uncle Joe's opinion. If open war with the USSR had loomed earlier than it did, doesn't it make sense that Stalin would have agreed to a Pact then?

It was certainly in Hitler's best interest to secure his eastern border before embarking upon a war in the West; and Stalin surely had no great reason to love the Allies any more than he loved the Nazis... less, in fact, as National Socialism was less intrinsically antithetical to Soviet Communism than was Western capitalism. (Hitler railed against Communism -- but he railed just as much against capitalism. Of course, his hatred of the Jews overmatched both, but that's irrelevant to this specific point.)

Thus, as always happens in alternative history, we're left with a hundred question marks for every exclamation point. Even Scott admits as such:

The variables that must be taken into account of course make it difficult to reach any conclusion with absolute certainty.

Truer words are rarely spoken... and now I find that the analogy between the Munich agreement and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, the Israeli-Hezbollah ceasefire agreement, is not so "atrocious" afterall, for they share a critical element: in neither case do we have enough information now to say whether it was good or bad for the civilized world.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 18, 2006, at the time of 3:06 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 17, 2006

U.N. Ceasefire Agreement - Threat, or Menace?

Hatched by Dafydd

In a very puzzling passage from yet another Scott Johnson post comparing the Israeli-Hezbollah ceasefire agreement to Neville Chamberlain's Munich Agreement ("Peace in our time!"), we find the following exchange:

Scott Johnson:

Like the UN resolution, the Munich Agreement assured that war, when it came, would be on terms more favorable to the fascists than they otherwise would have been.

Historian John Steele Gordon (who Scott quotes in an update):

First, Munich, signed September 30th, gave Britain eleven months to rearm before war broke out, which it did with increasing vigor, as Chamberlain greatly accelerated rearmament immediately after Munich. The Royal Air Force was relatively stronger vis-a-vis the Luftwaffe in September, 1939, than in September, 1938. It was still miserably weak, to be sure. But had the Battle of Britain been fought in the summer of 1939 instead of a year later, those few to whom so much is owed would not have been able to save the many.

Scott Johnson:

The first point I leave to pursue another day.

But great Scot, Scott, doesn't this completely blow your analogy out of the water? If in fact the Munich Agreement meant that the war, when it came, was actually fought on terms more favorable to the RAF than the Luftwaffe, and if you're correct that Munich is analogous to the current ceasefire agreement, then....

Well, perhaps "another day" should come pretty darned quick, if it's to save your argument from complete collapse!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 17, 2006, at the time of 4:08 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

Democratic Defenestration: the Ever Shrinking Democratic "Big Tent"

Hatched by Dafydd

In a rage that independent candidate and incrumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman (80%) is doing so well in the election against the man who defeated him in the primary, Ned Lamont, some senior Democrats now openly talk about stripping Lieberman of his rank and committee assigments, should he beat the other fellow:

If he continues to alienate his colleagues, Lieberman could be stripped of his seniority within the Democratic caucus should he defeat Democrat Ned Lamont in the general election this November, according to some senior Democratic aides.

Why all this "Dem angst," as the Hill puts it?

“I think there’s a lot of concern,” said a senior Democratic aide who has discussed the subject with colleagues. “I think the first step is if the Lieberman thing turns into a side show and hurts our message and ability to take back the Senate, and the White House and the [National Republican Senatorial Committee] manipulate him, there are going to be a lot of unhappy people in our caucus.”

Wow; Joe Lieberman is being manipulated by the White House. He's a sock puppet -- quick, somebody call Patterico!

It sounds to me as if Lieberman is being set up as the fall guy; perhaps the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, sensing that they're not really going to "take back the Senate," regardless of their breathless rhetoric, are already sowing the seeds to scapegoat Joe Lieberman when they return to face their infuriated constituents and fellow caucusers. "Don't blame us... it's all Joe's fault! If he had just accepted oblivion gracefully, we would have 60 Democratic senators today!"

And what exactly has Lieberman been saying that undermines the Democratic message and leads senior aides to suspect some dark conspiracy between their former VP candidate and Karl Rove, the "Moriarty" of the stolen Bush presidency? Ah, here we have it:

The view that Lieberman should lose his seniority is likely to become more ingrained among Democrats if Lieberman continues to align himself with Republicans, as he has in the last few days. Lieberman took a call from senior White House political strategist Karl Rove on the day of his primary election. And since losing, he has adopted rhetoric echoing Republican talking points.

“If we pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England,” Lieberman said about U.S. troops in Iraq and the recently foiled terrorism scheme. “It will strengthen them, and they will strike again.”

Of course, much of the Democratic leadership of both House and Senate is on record demanding exactly what Joe Lieberman decries: a "redeployment" (that is, a bug-out) from Iraq by a date certain, so that the terrorists and the insurgents know they only have to hang on so long, and they will be rewarded with another country to despoil and use as a base for future operations against a retreating United States.

Jumping Jeffords, with such blasphemy as this on his lips, it's a wonder Lieberman doesn't spontaneously combust from the Devil's grip on him.

Here is another unnamed aide trash-talking Lieberman:

Allowing Lieberman to retain his seniority could put the senator now running as an independent in charge of the Senate’s chief investigative committee. If Democrats took control of either chamber they would likely launch investigations of the White House’s handling of the war in Iraq and homeland security. [And that's just what most Americans want: more investigations, possibly even another impeachment hearing. After all, it worked so well for the Republicans in 1998!]

“Lieberman’s tone and message has shocked a lot of people,” said a second senior Democratic aide who has discussed the issue with other Senate Democrats. “He’s way off message for us and right in line with the White House.”

“At this point Lieberman cannot expect to just keep his seniority,” said the aide. “He can’t run against a Democrat and expect to waltz back to the caucus with the same seniority as before. It would give the view that the Senate is a country club rather than representative of a political party and political movement.” [The Senate is a movement?]

The aide said that it would make no sense to keep Lieberman in a position where he might take over the Governmental Affairs Committee.

Meanwhile, the latest Rasmussen poll of likely voters shows Lieberman beating Lamont by 12% (and beating the Republican -- what the heck's his name again? -- by 49%):

The latest Quinnipiac University poll, conducted between August 10-14, shows Lieberman leads Democrat Ned Lamont, a wealthy businessman with little political experience who has played on anti-war sentiment, by 53 percent to 41 percent among likely voters in November's election. The Republican candidate Alan Schlesinger drew 4 percent, the poll shows.

It is impossible by definition for the front-runner to be a spoiler. But that doesn't faze your typical Democrat, who never stops to think that the problem may not be Joe Lieberman's apostasy: perhaps it's the Democratic Party that is out of synch with the Democratic Party.

In any event, this is turning into a very interesting race: the more the Democrats diss Lieberman and talk openly about punishing him for not changing his views and embracing Bush Derangement Syndrome, the more they push him into the waiting arms of the Republicans. It's not that he'll actually turn his coat; but he will be less restrained, more willing to vote for Republican proposals... it's Lieberman unbound and unzipped!

If this is the way Democrats fight for the heart and soul of America, I'm more confident than ever about the looming November elections.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 17, 2006, at the time of 2:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Anna Katherine Diggs Deep

Hatched by Dafydd

"The game is afoot," as Sherlock Holmes said. (Oh yes he did; in "the Adventure of the Abbey Grange," for example.)

The first federal judge has struck down President Bush's NSA al-Qaeda intercept program as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. Anna Katherine Johnston Diggs Taylor ruled for the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union:

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit on behalf of journalists, scholars and lawyers who say the program has made it difficult for them to do their jobs. They believe many of their overseas contacts are likely targets of the program, monitoring phone calls and e-mails between people in the U.S. and people in other countries when a link to terrorism is suspected.

I can only suppose that the ACLU's argument is similar to the well-known constitutional doctrine that police may not tail a reporter they believe may be meeting with a wanted serial killer for for purpose of writing a book about him, as the police action might make it more difficult in future for that reporter to arrange interviews with other wanted felons.

The White House reacted quickly and predictably. Tony Snow said:

"United States intelligence officials have confirmed that the program has helped stop terrorist attacks and saved American lives," he said. "The program is carefully administered and only targets international phone calls coming into or out of the United States where one of the parties on the call is a suspected al-Qaida or affiliated terrorist."

The ACLU reacted quickly and predictably. Anthony Romero said:

"At its core, today's ruling addresses the abuse of presidential power and reaffirms the system of checks and balances that's necessary to our democracy," ACLU executive director Anthony Romero told reporters after the ruling.

He called the opinion "another nail in the coffin in the Bush administration's legal strategy in the war on terror."

Thank God for the Associated Press, or we would never guess how each party viewed the decision.

Interestingly, Judge Taylor was not appointed by Bill Clinton.

She was appointed by Jimmy Carter in 1979 (type Taylor,Anna in the text box and click Go, then click on her name when it pops up). Thus, her decision was not only quick but also predictable.

Having such a high predictability factor makes the decision itself meaningless -- except as a starter's gun to tell us that the game... but I repeat myself.

I see this as more grist for my argument that it would indeed matter tremendously whether a Democrat or a Republican is elected president in 2008: even if their foreign policy goals would be more or less the same, I believe Democrats are allergic to decisive presidential authority in the collection of intelligence information on our enemies, when that requires tapping phones within the U.S., and its dissemination to the military (or even law enforcement), when that requires breaching Gorelick's Wall.

Since I also believe that Congress and the courts are lagging indicators in the war against jihadi terrorism, and that we can only win with robust use of the military authority of the executive branch, I conclude that electing a Democrat in 2008 would have profoundly bad consequences in the war -- as in, we would be much more likely to lose, or at least suffer terrible attacks that dwarf 9/11, while en route to the next Republican president.

Taylor's decision is not the final word, of course; we always knew this would eventually be decided by the Supreme Court. The next step will be a stay of the judge's order pending review by a circus court; then that court's decision will be stayed pending review by the Supreme Court (which will definitely accept the writ of certiorari).

As John Hinderaker of Power Line has pointed out in a number of posts, Judge Taylor's decision flies in the face of repeated rulings by various federal appellate courts, including the FISA court so much beloved by the Democrats -- today, that is, when they fantasize it might stand in Bush's way while he tries to defend the nation. Those rulings held uniformly that the president does indeed have such broad authority. More than likely, the Sixth Circuit will overturn Judge Taylor's decision, and it will be the ACLU that files for Supreme Court review.

But let's keep a sharp weather eye on this case; or, to quote Mr. Holmes once more, in an analogous context, "I have investigated many crimes, but I have never yet seen one which was committed by a flying creature."

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 17, 2006, at the time of 1:49 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 16, 2006

Will the Circle Be Broken? I Hope So!

Hatched by Dafydd

John "Hindrocket" Hinderaker has a long and interesting piece up on Power Line asking whether the policies of the American Left, as personified by President Russell Feingold, would differ all that much from those of the center-right; he concludes that they probably would be very similar:

Lest there be any misunderstanding, I am not saying that there would be no important foreign policy differences between, say, a Feingold administration and a McCain, Allen or Giuliani administration. There would be. But I think the practical reality is that events in Iraq have constrained what a conservative administration can do, while the overriding need to forestall terrorist attacks constrains what a liberal administration can do. As a result, the gap in practice between the two alternatives would be, I think, much narrower than one might expect from the rhetorical gulf that separates the parties.

Thus, the two ends of the spectrum meet, forming a circle. Ack.

First, I take issue with the idea that "events in Iraq have constrained what a conservative administration can do," a claim that presupposes that Iraq is a disaster and will still be seen as such in the second decade of this century. Not only is it too early to make a final judgment on that, but even what has happened so far has produced much more of a benefit than a detriment.

As even John admits, we will have withdrawn our soldiers from most of Iraq by 2008, leaving them only in a few trouble spots, including Baghdad; and while we'll still be there, we likely will not be as visible, as vulnerable, or as violently engaged four or five years from now, during the next president's first term.

Instead, Iraq will either be a more or less democratic nation that has more or less damped down the looming (but as yet unarrived) "civil war;" or else it will have split in three -- each of which is still less threatening than an Iraq unified under Saddam Hussein was.

As more and more information trickles out about Iraq's WMD programs (and even small stockpiles), and as we see the effect of democracy in the heart of the Arab Middle East, and with less direct American involvement, public support will shift in favor of the war. Thus, it will not be the deterrent that a straight-line projection of today's attitude forward implies.

But that aside, I am a little surprised that John missed the most important distinction between Left and Right in America: simple competence.

Jimmy Carter's problem wasn't so much that he wanted America to fail or that he wanted revolution to engulf the world; his biggest problem was that he is stupid. Not just intellectually, where his stupidity manifests as an incuriosity about the liberal bromides and shibboleths he gulped whole in his youth; more damaging was his complete lack of interest in foreign policy, military strategy, and intelligence gathering.

We do not study what we could not care less about, and that shouted itself loud and clear throughout his single term: he ended intelligence programs, refused to listen to briefings on looming problems, and evidently believed that fact would tumble to political theory like wheat beneath the scythe.

Consequently, we were caught flat-footed again and again by events that should have been readily apparent: Ayatollah Khomeini had been in Paris for years talking about how he would lead an Islamic revolution in Iran; yet even so, Carter and his emasculated CIA were suckerpunched twice: first by the revolution itself, which they never saw coming, and second by the seizure of the American embassy.

Too, the Soviets were well-known expansionists since before Carter was born in 1924; the Communists in Afghanistan had been growing in power since before Carter became president in 1977; and indeed, they seized power via coup d'état in 1978, more than a year before Carter was stunned by the Soviet invasion to prop them up. Only a total moron could fail to see that one coming... but that is what Carter's ideological blinders had made him into: a de facto moron.

Bill Clinton was every bit as politically savvy as Jimmy Carter; but he was also just as obtuse about events beyond the narrow calculation of political advantage. Thus, besides the policy of forcing Israel to appease the Arabs (which Clinton shared with Carter), Clinton also thought he could buy the North Koreans off their nuclear ambitions (or else he knew the "Agreed Framework" would not hold beyond 2000, but he simply didn't care); he thought that the terrorists who were pricking us with a needle would never progress to smashing us in the face with a baseball bat (or else he didn't care what happened, so long as it was after his successor took office); and he imagined that the bubble economy could float on air forever... or at least past January 20th, 2001.

(Clinton, as a New Leftist, also had no personal moral compass, no absolute right and wrong, and thought nothing of lying to the American public, cheating on his wife, raping Juanita Broaddrick, and accepting multi-million-dollar bribes from our greatest enemy, Red China, in exchange for funneling nuclear technology to them.)

The problem is not that Democrats don't want America to succeed; it's that they want other things more, and that they're really a rather incompetent bunch anyway, taken as a group.

Russell Feingold -- John's example -- voted against the Iraq War; presumably, had he been president, we would not have invaded Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein. Would that be a better world for America? I think not.

Too, Feingold barely even believes that terrorists exist, and he certainly doesn't think them a very serious issue. John believes that a Democratic president would be just as willing to use "[t]he anti-terror tools pioneered by the Bush administration... with equal vigor":

In terms of the broader war against terror, I think the danger posed by a liberal Democrat like Feingold may also be overstated. Once a Democratic President actually takes power, his number one priority will be preventing terrorist attacks on American soil, for the best of all possible reasons: self-interest. The anti-terror tools pioneered by the Bush administration will be used with equal vigor, I think, by any Democrat, no matter how liberal, who may follow. Anyone who thinks, for example, that a Democratic President would stop eavesdropping on international conversations among terrorists, and thereby risk being blamed for another September 11, is seriously misguided.

But if Feingold's ideology tells him that by appeasing the terrorists (he would say "treating them with respect"), they would no longer hold any desire to attack us... then why would he think his "self-interest" would be served by going after them? And if he sincerely believes that our greatest strength is the magical embodiment of the volk, and that this spirit depends upon applying all elements of the Bill of Rights to terrorists captured on foreign battlefields, why would he risk America's mystic connection with the Holy Spirit by vigorously interrogating al-Qaeda members?

Yes of course, Democrats will use the eavesdropping tools... but use them for what, and against whom? Certainly not for the aggressive interdiction of terrorism that has characterized the Bush administration. Recall that the wall of separation between intelligence and criminal investigation was erected, or at least vastly expanded beyond any court-ordered height, by Bill Clinton's deputy attorney general, Jamie Gorelick -- who surely had only the best of intentions.

Yet at the same time, Clinton embarked upon an ingelligence-gathering program and smear campaign that rivaled that of Richard Nixon:

  • The Billy Dale prosecution;
  • Craig Livingstone's FBI-file seizure;
  • The use of the IRS to harass political enemies;
  • Violent threats and orchestrated leaks of classified information against women who might testify against Clinton;
  • Black-bagging Vince Foster's office after he died of self-administered lead poisoning.

Perhaps I've grown cynical in my dotage, but I simply wouldn't trust the next Bill Clinton to restrict his use of "anti-terror tools" to suspected terrorists, rather than suspected conservatives. (Of course, every minute of manpower devoted to political intel is unavailable for anti-terrorist intel.)

Then there is the problem that, while the Left may believe in protecting America (some of them do, at least), it's just not their top priority; there are other, more important portions on their plates.

Thus, while President Bush has by and large decided political appointments by merit and practical need (Condoleezza Rice, John Bolton, John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Donald Rumsfeld) -- even when he turns out to be wrong (Harriet Miers, perhaps) -- the last Democratic president decided them by which special-interest group (blacks, feminists, gays, Arabs) needed immediate appeasement; and Democratic presidents before that decided them on the basis of purity of ideology.

Thus, George W. Bush appointed John Ashcroft; Bill Clinton appointed Janet Reno (satisfying two of the special-interest groups above); and Lyndon Johnson appointed Ramsey Clark!

On federal judges, the ideological leftism of Clinton and Carter nominees is legendary; while Republican appointees sometimes "grow in office," Democratic appointees arrive fully grown and ready for instant deployment in the Kulturkampf.

I really think John missed the forest for the lawn. Everything he says is true, but incomplete... and the Devil is in the diaries: the very issues of focus and competence that he skipped over are determinative here. That is why a hard-left president like Russell Feingold (and even a center-left president like Mark Warner) would be catastrophically worse than a center-right president like Mitt Romney, or even a center-center Republican president like Rudy Giuliani.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 16, 2006, at the time of 3:11 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 15, 2006

Japanese Prime Minister Defies Asian Pressure

Hatched by Sachi

On Monday, Japanese Prime Minister Juichiro Koizumi paid his respects to the war dead of many different eras at a controversial Shinto shrine, Yasukuni Jinja. The controversy arises because the shrine was a symbol of imperial Japan; like Bitburg Cemetary in Germany, a great many Japanese soldiers are buried there... including some notorious war criminals:

TOKYO (AP) - Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made a pilgrimage Tuesday to a Tokyo war shrine reviled by critics as a symbol of militarism, triggering a further erosion in Japan's ties with its neighbors just a month before he leaves office.

The impact of the visit to Yasukuni Shrine, Koizumi's sixth as prime minister, was heightened by its timing on Aug. 15, a date viewed with sadness in Japan as the anniversary of its World War II surrender, but celebrated as a day of liberation from Japanese colonial rule elsewhere in Asia.

The early morning pilgrimage prompted protests in China and South Korea, which suffered heavily under Japanese occupation [though not anywhere near as heavily as both suffered from Communist aggression in the 1950s and 60s]. The countries view the shrine, which honors war criminals among Japan's 2.5 million war dead, as a glorification of imperialism [as opposed to Tiananmen Square, which is a glorification of... oh, let's not go there].

As usual, China and South Korea are upset:

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun called on Japan to "prove it has no intention to repeat" its past aggression as his government summoned the Japanese ambassador to issue an official protest.

In Beijing, flag-waving protesters gathered outside the Japanese Embassy, as Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing condemned Koizumi for "obstinately" visiting the shrine. He also summoned Japan's ambassador to issue a protest.

Although it is not mentioned here, I am sure North Korea has something to say about that too. They usually do. It has become an article of faith for many Oriental people that Japan has never apologized or paid compensation for the aggression of the military dictatorship of the 30s and 40s, which was utterly destroyed in 1945.

Japan never "repented," they say; Japan has never abandoned the ambition to conquer Asia. Given an opportunity, it will rearm and start attacking its neighbors. This visit to Yasukuni shrine is just another slap in the face.

But considering the human-rights track record of Communist China and North Korea, they hardly have standing to accuse Japan of anything. And after the recent insulting behavior by South Korea at Takeshima (see A Rock And a Hard Peace, No Samurai Spirit Here!, and Wanted: Real Samurai!), I am not exactly filled with tears if their feelings were hurt.

But having said all that, their claim that Japan had never apologized is simply wrong. In fact over the years, Japanese leaders, including the current emperor, have apologized to the neighboring countries over and over again:

  • May 1990

    [South Korean President] Roh returned today from a three-day trip to Japan, during which Emperor Akihito expressed regret for the occupation of Korea from 1910 to 1945. Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu of Japan extended ''honest apologies.''
  • November 1998

    Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi’s statement to visiting Chinese president Jiang Zeming:

    "Painfully feeling its responsibility for inflicting grave suffering and damage on the people of China by invading China at one period of history, the Japanese side expressed deep remorse for this," the declaration said.
  • April 2005

    Japan's prime minister apologized Friday for his country's World War II aggression in Asia in a bid to defuse tensions with regional rival China....

When Japan points out the facts to these countries, especially China and the two Koreans, they invariably shift from saying Japan has "never apologized" to saying the apology (which they never mentioned before) was not "sincere." Talk is cheap, they preach, and Japan needs to walk the walk: actions, not words!

But what do they mean by “actions,” I wonder? It is definitely not about the stupid shrine; the motive for making such a fuss is a lot more sinister. If you push them hard enough, they will tell you that Japan needs to compensate them for the destruction of 50-60 years ago. Japan has never done anything for China or Korea to show that Japan is really, really, really sorry.

That’s right. Compensation. Money. That’s what this is all about. But if you think Japan has never given them any compensation, think a second time.

Japan is one of the biggest donors of foreign financial aid in the world, second only to the United States, and has ben since the early 1980s. They call it Official Development Assistance (ODA); and the second largest beneficiary of this aid is none other than Red China.

September 2003 -- Asia Times:

Japan extended more than $1.22 billion in aid to China in 1999, making that nation the second-largest recipient of Japanese aid after Indonesia. In contrast with Indonesia, China is using loans actively to expand its presence in the world community.

But the panel, composed of economists and other academics, urged the government to rethink its ODA policy in light of the fact that China is spending a large amount to fortify its already powerful military.... Then-finance minister Masajuro Shiokawa said Japan plans to reduce ODA to China and other nations with nuclear weapons. "It makes no sense to extend assistance to a country that might attack Japan with atomic weapons," he said.

Is it possible current surge of Chinese anti-Japanese movement is somewhat related to the fact Japan is thinking of reducing ODA to China?

As for South Korea (from the Asia Times link above):

To promote peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, Japan should provide a comprehensive package of official development assistance that covers the entire peninsula, says Kim Young-ho, economist and former minister of commerce, industry and energy of South Korea. Japan should compile an official development assistance plan for the Korean Peninsula like the US Marshall Plan for Europe after World War II.

For those keeping score, the Marshall Plan (1947-1950) spent $13 billion... which would be equivalent to over $100 billion in 2005 dollars. (Say, if Japan creates a $100 billion development assistance plan for the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- can Japan have Takeshima Island back?)

In addition to all the above demands, Japan has already been sending humanitarian aid to the Stalinist hellhole of North Korea for many years. God only knows what they're doing with it.

These countries are engaged in simple extortion, nothing less. They know the Japanese people are fed up with paying for the sins of their remote ancestors -- and not even being thanked for doing so. Oriental countries are afraid that Japan will stop giving them money, since both Chinese and Korean governments teach their children little about Japan except how evil it is, and how it has never apologized or paid any compensation for the crimes of a previous regime that was annihilated by American forces and two nuclear bombs sixty-one years ago. The children are never told that most of their roads and bridges are built by Japanese reparations.

Japan has nothing left to apologize for. They have no obligation to keep paying these ungrateful global moochers. The prime minister of Japan should be able to pray for Japan's war dead whenever he pleases.

Japan is a free country, unlike two of the three regimes launching the criticism.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, August 15, 2006, at the time of 11:24 PM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Why I STILL Don't Write "Islamofascist"

Hatched by Dafydd

I have long objected to the term "Islamofascist," and even moreso to Michael Medved's new atrocity, "Islamo-Nazi"; but it's not because I'm afraid to hurt the feelings of some poor Moslem somewhere. My objections are:

  1. The term diminishes the true evil of the real Nazis and Fascists from World War II by "genericizing" their eldritch horror;
  2. The term also disguises the true evil of the murderous jihadis themselves; their perfidy is not some fabricated similarity to the Italian or German national socialists, but rather their end-of-the-world fanaticism that causes them to see murder as a mitzvah and death as a promotion.

I posted on it before; but today, Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson of Power Line posted a link to a William Shawcross column "on the subject of President Bush's use of the term 'Islamic fascists' to describe those apprehended in the airline terror conspiracy last week," as Scott put it.

I read the article... but I still think it's a very bad idea to use the term Islamofascist; if anything, Shawcross's use of it perfectly illustrates the danger. Here is his entire explanation of why he likes that appellation:

In a live BBC interview recently, I called Hizbullah "Islamo-fascists." The interviewer said nervously, "That's a very controversial description." I replied that it was merely accurate. She brought the interview to a swift close.

But how else should one describe a military machine that marches under the banner of a demagogic leader who seeks above all to kill Jews?

Let's leave aside the unlikelihood that the interview went exactly as Shawcross depicts it here; he's telling a tall tale, and it always makes a more exciting story if one's ideological enemies cringe backwards, covering their eyes, as the hero holds up the holy cross. Let's get at his definition of a Fascist.

To Mr. Shawcross, a Fascist is someone who marches in a military style for a leader who wants to kill Jews "above all."

The imperial Japanese during World War II were allied with Adolf Hitler; they enacted the same socialist and nationalist policies as Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy; but so far as I know, they did not go on any mad hunt for Japanese Jews to destroy; nor have I heard that they segregated American prisoners of war into Jews and gentiles. I suppose Shawcross would say that the WWII Japanese military dictators were not fascists.

Even more absurdly, we note that Mussolini certainly did not "seek above all to kill Jews;" to the extent that he did anything at all towards a "final solution," it was only because Hitler made him do it. Mussolini was very much the junior partner in that relationship.

Thus, despite the fact that Benito Mussolini invented Fascismo (the word itself is Italian) a decade before Hitler came to power in Germany, Mr. Shawcross would have to say that Mussolini was not a fascist!

And what about Josef Stalin? He ran a totalitarian military dictatorship, he was a demagogue, and he had a massive antisemitic campaign that drove the Jews out of large parts of the Soviet Union, enslaved them, and killed them in large numbers. Doesn't that mean that Mussolini and Tojo were not Fascists, but Stalin was? "But how else should one describe" him? ("Stalinist" comes to mind, as does "Communist.")

I don't know what to call the economic system of Iran; but it's certainly nothing like national socialism. And I have seen nothing attributed to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that indicates he wants to hunt down the Jews of Europe, South America, and the United States and kill them.

Sure, he's a little nutty on the subject of the state of Israel (as in, he wants to "wipe it from the map," presumably by the use of those nuclear weapons he's so anxious to get his paws on)... but as for the rest of the Jews in the world, I haven't seen anything that tells me he wants anything different for them than for the rest of the infidels: that they be made slaves to the faithful until such time as the 12th Imam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, is broken out of cold storage by Allah, and the Jews are destroyed for their wickedness in rejecting the original Mohammed.

But Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah, is much more brazen about his beliefs, if Shawcross is to be believed (and I certainly believe him):

Hizbullah's Nasrallah has said that he wished all Jews would gather in Israel so they could all be destroyed at once; and that there is no creature more disgusting in the world than a Jew, "and note that I said a Jew, not an Israeli."

So by Shawcross's own definition, Nasrallah is an Islamofascist, because he is obsessed with killing all the Jews... yet his demagogic boss, Ahmadinejad, is not; he is merely a militant anti-Zionist.

Oddly, Osama bin Laden is also not particularly obsessed with the Jews; in the rambling, multi-page letter he released to the world, in which he took credit for the 9/11 massacre, I don't think he even mentions Israel... his big grievance is that American troops were on the holy soil of Saudi Arabia, at the Prince Sultan Air Base (Islam's 2,317th holiest city!) The same can be said of Musab Zarqawi and Muqtada Sadr -- which I suppose must mean that none of them is an Islamofascist either.

The absurdity of this definition is palpable. It's clearly a back-formation: Shawcross wants to call the jihadis something that includes the word "Fascist" or "Nazi," so we know they're really bad; thus, he creatively redefines the venerable word Fascist so that he can use it on Moslem extremists. Yeesh.

It's so obvious that Shawcross (and now President Bush has been infected) is really just saying, "you -- you Islamo-BADTHING!" (And I reckon Medved's "Islamo-Nazi" translates to "Islamo-SUPERDUPERBADTHING!") As a wordsmith, it grates on me like fishhooks across a chalkboard.

As I said back in my original post, the "fascist" component of the word is so highly charged with historical subtext that it becomes a shout -- and reduces the "Islamo" component to a mere whisper. But that's precisely the opposite of what should be: the contagion that spreads like soul-eating bacteria is not civilized Fascism; it's a particularly virulent and savage strain of Islam, one that squats on its haunches in a tent filthy with dried blood and devours all it can reach... it is Azathoth, the Blind Idiot God.

To bury this ancient horror behind the veneer of Fascist modernity -- a twentieth-century creation of fat European leather-boys in fetish-black uniforms -- is a criminal betrayal of language. Jihadism is a hallucinagenic nightmare of Cro-Magnon tribalism, where troglodytes gather to shovel great fistfuls of human flesh into their mouth-holes, while broken slave girls writhe in the dust of the cave floor.

It's not any kind of sophisticated "philosophy," not even an evil, decadent one; malignant jihadism is primordial.

I cannot abide the betrayal of language; and so I will not use the term. Not until somebody shows me a militant jihadist group that has reached the equisitely civilized level of sophistication of Julius Streicher.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 15, 2006, at the time of 10:06 PM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Tally Ho

Hatched by Dafydd

Avoiding the patriotic chest-thumping of the Bush administration; dismissing the self-serving doubletalk of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz; brushing off the triumphalist squawking of Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, the secretary general of Hezbollah; and shunning the tantrum of defeatism by Jed Babbin and his ilk, let's take a moment to tally up, in as unbiased a fashion as we can, who won, who lost, and in what ways, in the recent dustup between Israel and Hezbollah.

Alas, much of the result is opaque, depending still on future events. But I'll try my best to make predictions.

Let's go through each player in turn, starting with...

Israel and Hezbollah

The war clearly was not a "win" for Israel; but that does not necessarily mean it was a "loss," either.

The Israeli hostages: Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev remain as hostages in Hezbollah's hands, though securing their release was a major reason that Israel went to war in the first place (not the major reason; that was to decimate -- not obliterate -- the threat posed to Israel by Hezbollah's proximity to the Blue Line border). On this goal, Israel was utterly thwarted.

However, Hezbollah itself was also thwarted on this issue. When Hezbollah sent an 80-man raiding party into Israel to kill some Israeli soldiers and capture hostages, they were slightly successful: they only netted two "bargaining chips," despite a very strong incursion; two, however, is better for Hezbollah than none, so this has to be accounted a minor victory.

However, they didn't seize the hostages simply for fun. They intended to exchange them for duly convicted Hezbollah criminals serving their sentences in Israeli jails for various horrific crimes against Israelis. And on that larger goal, so far Hezbollah appears to have lost, and lost badly.

During the upcoming prisoner exchange, there is every indication that Israel will only offer some of the high muckety-mucks of Hezbollah captured during the war, which isn't at all what Hassan Nasrallah had in mind when he ordered Israeli soldiers grabbed in the first place. In fact, at the end of the war, Israel holds considerably more Hezbollah prisoners of war than Hezbollah holds hostages.

On this issue, far from being a big win for Hezbollah, the terrorists lost big time: they managed to capture two Israeli IDF members, but only at the cost of a much larger number of higher ranking Hezbollah members. I would have to rate this issue either a draw or, if anything, a slight advantage to Israel (I'll discuss the PR damage later).

The Katyusha and other rocket forces: not enough were destroyed, and too many (nearly 4,000) were launched into Israel; Israel did not shoot down any of these missiles; they were never able to stop the launches.

On the other hand, the rockets proved far more effective at scaring Israelis than killing them. On the whole, Hezbollah achieved a minor victory on this issue.

Actual combat at arms: Israel won hands down. At the beginning of the war, there was a boatload of chatter about how much tougher and stronger Hezbollah was than anyone had anticipated. Iran had heavily trained Hezbollah -- the forward-deployed SpecOps branch of the mullah's military -- and they were armed with much more effective anti-personnel, anti-tank, and anti-aircraft weapons. The implication was clear: this time, the Israelis would blunt their swords against the stone wall of Hezbollah resistance.

In reality, Hezbollah was beaten like a bass drum in every face-to-face encounter with Israel. On those few occasions where Olmert actually consented to allow the IDF to fight, they killed the highly trained Hezbollah "soldiers" at a ratio of about 7:1 or 8:1, sometimes much higher. Many of the IDF deaths resulted from sniper fire and rocketry; remove those, and the overall ratio of kills is probably more than 6:1 in Israel's favor.

Hezbollah killed a few Israeli Merkava tanks; but Israel overran numerous Hezbollah "strongholds" and destroyed many rocket launchers (not enough of the latter, however). And Hezbollah, for all its fighting and Israel's hesitation, was nevertheless driven back relentlessly.

Israel gets points for their actual combat victories on the ground.

Hezbollah proximity to the border: prior to the war, Hezbollah enjoyed clear and unchallenged control of all Lebanese territory from somewhat north of the Litani River all the way down to the border, plus the entirety of the Bekaa Valley and large portions of Beirut. To Israel, the most immediately threatening Hezbollah position was that between the Litani and the Blue Line (the internationally accepted border between Israel and Lebanon).

At the moment, Hezbollah no longer controls that portion of Lebanon; but their hold over the rest of their territory further north is undiminished. For Hezbollah to reclaim south Lebanon, the Lebanese Army and the UNIFIL force would both have to abdicate their joint central mission. While that is certainly not outside the realm of possibility, it hasn't happened yet.

And it's unlikely to happen in the next couple of months; as we've said a number of times on Big Lizards, a lot can happen in that time -- including perhaps the collapse of Olmert's Monster and the election of a more stable government with a prime minister and defense minister who will actually fight next time (see infra).

At this point, I must take the data as they currently exist, not a blind guess about what might happen months from now. At the moment, Israel succeeded in pushing Hezbollah back by and large across the Litani. Those ten Katyushas that were fired at Israeli forces last night were fired from central Lebanon -- north of the Litani -- not from the south. This is a major military victory for Israel.

Public relations: this is the point on which Hezbollah achieved its greatest victory, accompanied by Israel's most substantial loss. The world -- not just the Arab world -- is not looking at this war in the nuanced fashion found on this site: they see only that "tiny" Hezbollah stood up to "giant" Israel, toe to toe... and that it was Israel who blinked and begged for a ceasefire.

It's not true' but Hezbollah has been as brilliant at spinning straw into gold as Rumplestiltskin. The world has bought into Nasrallah's fantasy.

Of course, it's the outcome that most of the world (including most of antisemitic Europe) desperately wanted to see; and it's arguable that no matter what happened on the ground, that's the result that Hezbollah would declare and much of the world would believe: Israel could have slaughtered 9,000 Hezbollah fighters and driven the organization all the way back up into Syria, and Nasrallah would still have declared a historic victory while the ummah cheered and shot fireworks.

Nevertheless, Israel badly lost the PR war. The loss was inevitable; but Israel managed to lose it worse than they needed to do.

Political fallout: the stature of Hezbollah has been dramatically enhanced, not only throughout Lebanon but the entire ummah.

But in Lebanon in particular, Hezbollah went from being distrusted invaders from Iran and Syria -- to being national heroes of Lebanese sovereignty and religious heroes of rising Islamic power. If elections are held anytime soon in Lebanon, Hezbollah will surely do much better than they did in the May-June 2005 elections.

In the 2005 race, the Rafik Hariri Martyr List won a clear majority of 72 of the 128 seats in the Lebanese parliament; Hezbollah won 14 seats and were offered two positions in the cabinet. However, if elections were held today, it would not be surprising if Hezbollah nearly reversed that result.

Of course, the Hariri bloc will do everything it can to prevent elections from being held anytime soon; and given a cooling-off period -- and especially if the war resumes later with more positive results for Israel in round two -- it's probable that Hezbollah's actual electoral gains will be kept to a minimum.

Still, I cannot see a situation where they would not pick up seats, no matter how long the ruling bloc manages to delay. Thus, it's a political victory for Hezbollah, but not as much as many might expect.

Contrariwise, the war was little short of electoral disaster for the Olmert government. Already shaky -- a weak coalition between Kadima and Labor with a lot of minor parties needed to make even a bare majority of the Knesset -- the conduct of the war by the two coalition partners, Prime Minister Olmert of Kadima and Defense Minister Peretz, the head of Labor, is widely seen by Israelis across the political spectrum as incompetent to the point of imbecility.

The Israeli Defense Force, the only universally respected institution in Israel, has become open and vocal in their scorn for the political "leadership." I do not see how Olmert's Monster can survive the next few months; a quick vote of no-confidence, followed by general elections 90 days later, will completely change the scene in Israel, one way or another.

Likud is likely the big political winner: they came in only fourth in the last election, running not only behind Kadima and Labor but also the radical Sephardic religious party Shas. Over the next couple of months, I suspect anger at both Kadima and Labor will only deepen, as will the fear of terrorism and Hezbollah on the part of Israeli citizens, no matter what their party. If new elections are held in the next four months, I predict that Likud will win an outright majority, or at least so close to one that they need only ally with other right-leaning parties and can exclude Labor and the Israeli Left altogether.

Kadima will not survive this political catastrophe; I think everyone in Israel now understands that it was a creature entirely of Ariel Sharon, and it should have died with his his permanent incapacitation.

But Likud's victory does not necessarily mean Binyamin Netanyahu's victory. It's hard to tell. Netanyahu may manage to resuscitate a career that many had written off as dead, but it's not certain. I suspect it will definitely lead to the restoration of Shaul Mofaz, demoted to make way for Peretz, to his previous position as Defense Minister (unless he becomes PM).

So the political winners will be Hezbollah in Lebanon and Likud in Israel -- and Israel itself, in my opinion, because I have always hated Labor and I never believed in Kadima's existence for a moment; the losers are the Hariri bloc in Lebanon and Kadima and Labor in Israel.

Iran and Syria

Iran fomented a war between Israel and Hezbollah ("let's you and him fight!"), gained in international prestige as the only Moslem power to successful stand up to Israel, briefly distracted some attention from its own nuclear program, and managed to damage the "Little Satan"... all this while paying only a very small price:

  • Iran was not directly attacked;
  • Its catspaw Syria was not directly attacked;
  • Iran's Hezbollah was cut up some; but the mullahs and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad don't care if Hezbollah members are captured or even killed.

    They're like the cockroach army eternally battling Fat Freddy's Cat in the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers underground comic: break another 1,221,785 soldiers out of egg storage!

The only price they paid was in the poor performance of Hezbollah in the field; this casts much doubt on Hezbollah's ability to serve as a devastating counterattack in the event the United States attacks Iran.

On balance, Iran is a winner in this conflict, as is its sock puppet, Syria, but not huge winners.

The United States

The United States demonstrated that it is willing to give Israel every opportunity to defeat our common enemies; the fact that Israel squandered that opportunity doesn't turn us into losers.

We showed that we could negotiate an agreement through the UN that was considerably more pro-Israel than such agreements usually end up being. UNSCR 1701 clearly ascribed blame for starting the war entirely to Hezbollah, and Hezbollah is held to much harsher terms than is Israel. The agreement is supposed to lock in a number of gains made by Israel -- though whether it will succeed in doing so is doubtful (because of the toothless nature of the United Nations).

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and UN Ambassador John Bolton proved in particular considerably more adroit than previous diplomats (Colin Powell, Madeleine Albright) at eliciting pro-Israeli clauses and killing off anti-Israeli, pro-terrorist clauses; they work very well as a team, and Condi showed that she was neither a lightweight nor an "Arabist."

From what I can tell, Israelis recognize the extraordinary latitude President Bush gave to Olmert, and they are very grateful; their anger seems to be directed entirely at Olmert and Peretz -- and, per Caroline Glick of the Jerusalem Post, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.Gen. Dan Halutz of the Israeli Air Force -- for not taking advantage of America's defense to press the offensive and really chew up Hezbollah -- Israelis don't blame us for Olmert's ineptness.

On the whole, except insofar as the entire civilized world loses whenever barbarity is not soundly trounced, the United States probably won slightly in this conflict: we proved we had the willingness and the ability to guard the backs of our friends.

The Big Picture

This is why I say that overall, neither Hezbollah nor Israel won this war; both lost. Hezbollah lost the actual ground war worse than Israel did; but Israel lost the PR war worse than did Hezbollah. Iran/Syria and the United States both had slight wins; and Europe showed itself to be, once again, feckless and unreliable.

The result will probably be an emboldened Hezbollah and an increase in morale for radical Islam, but a turn by Israel towards the right and a hardening of attitudes by the Israeli citizenry. Hezbollah's power within the government of Lebanon will probably increase, while Likud will rise quickly within Israel.

Round two of the Clash of the Titans will probably come before the year is out.

I agree that Israel did not do anywhere near as well as it could have, had it a different government. But it's just plain irresponsible to don sackcloth, roll in ashes, and proclaim a total and complete victory by the forces of darkness. For heaven's sake, results were mixed on all sides.

Let's all just get a grip, evaluate all aspects of the war results, and rationally decide on a future course of action.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 15, 2006, at the time of 3:23 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 14, 2006

Hezbollah Attacks; "Ceasefire" Crumbling

Hatched by Dafydd

Tonight, with the ink still drying on the "ceasefire" agreement, Hezbollah fired at least ten Katyusha rockets at Israeli forces in Lebanese territory between the Blue Line and the Litani River. This flagrantly violates clause OP1 of the agreement resolution.

Israel responded with a small amount of artillery fire; no Israelis were injured and none of the rockets landed in Israeli territory.

However, it's quite clear that Hezbollah has no intention of abiding by the agreement. As soon as they become brazen enough, that will free Israel from following their own part of the agreement, and they can resume their advance -- the "Mulligan" I spoke of before.

The typically anemic and antisemitic UN, which still tries to maintain a veneer of justice and decency, will be stymied trying to blame Israel for Hezbollah's continuing rocket fire. Whatever they may want to say, they'll pretty much have to hold their official tongues. And even if they do not, the Bush administration will be quite justified, in the eyes of the American people, to say, "well, it didn't work -- terrorist organizations have no honor or honesty and we cannot make agreements with them."

In addition, Hezbollah has already announced that they refuse to disarm or allow themselves to be disarmed, which violates clauses OP3, OP8, and OP10.

This is precisely as Big Lizards predicted:

Here is my take: there is no way that Hezbollah can hold its water even long enough for Lebanese and UNIFIL forces to take Israel's place. They will either reject the proposal outright, or more likely accept it -- but with no intention of actually obeying it.

[Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, Secretary General of Hezbollah] will be overconfident that the UN has his back; he will think that he can resume shooting missiles at Israel before the ink even dries on the agreement, and that Israel will be stymied by UNIFIL and prevented from responding in kind....

But [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert will want to hang on as long as he can, because he's obviously finished in Likud, even when Kadima evaporates. So he will almost certainly be looking for a solid reason to declare the ceasefire broken and restart the offensive... but this time with the vigor and the ground forces it really needs, rather than trying to do it by airstrikes alone -- which everybody now agrees was a miserable failure.

Well, as to that last part, we'll see; I still believe that Israel will be forced to restart the offensive -- but this time not quite so inoffensively. Here is the "promised land" I predicted in that last post:

So sometime in the next year or so, Israel will be back in Lebanon (possibly under a new prime minister); and this time, there will be no ceasefire. They will finish off Hezbollah as an effective military or terrorist organization in that country. And without either the Syrian Army or Hezbollah, the Syrian intelligence officers will quickly head back home, just ahead of the mobs of angry northern Lebanese with torches and pitchforks.

During that time, Iran will only be able to partially resupply Hezbollah; but when Israel attacks next time, they will no longer rely exclusively on bombs and missiles: next time, the IDF generals get their licks from the git-go. And that is the moment we're waiting for.

I'm not so sanguine about that part... not after watching the fecklessness with which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz "fought' the war so far. But I have not given up hope (unlike Nancy-boy Jed Babbin), and we'll see how far Hezbollah goes and at what point Israel declares them in violation and repudiates the UN-brokered agreement.

At some point, perhaps Olmert and Peretz will each grow a spine. Stranger things have happened!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 14, 2006, at the time of 11:34 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Jed Babbin Has Become Nancy Pelosi

Hatched by Dafydd

Jed Babbin is now guest-hosting on Hugh Hewitt's show -- and he just flatly declared this war a total victory for Hezbollah and a catastrophic defeat for Israel. He pronounced that Lebanon is now "Hezbollahstan," and that there is now no possible way ever to remove them from their complete control of Lebanon. He as much as said that it's all gone, all lost, and we shouldn't bother even fighting anymore.

Babbin said we were back to the "status quo ante," as if Hezbollah were still in their dug-in positions, still had all their missiles, hadn't lost thousands of fighters, and weren't about to have the complication of 30,000 "neutral" troops that they would have to shoot around for their next aggression -- which will still come.

George W. Bush famously said "you're either with us or with the terrorists." Jed Babbin is now with the terrorists.

Oh, I'm sure he would go ballistic if he ever read this post (which he wouldn't, of course; I'm not up there with Instapundit, Power Line, or Hugh Hewitt, and I doubt he drills down any deeper into the blogosphere than sites with that level of popularity). He would insist that no, he's not with the terrorists; he's just being a "realist"... which is why he keeps saying "there are only two winners in this ceasefire: Hezbollah and Iran."

But how does this differ in any way from what John Murtha, John F. Kerry, Harry Reid, and yes, Nancy Pelosi relentlessly intone about Iraq? Don't they say that due to Bush's incompetence, Iraq is completely lost, that it's a total victory for al-Qaeda, that there is nothing we can do now, and that we might as well declare failure and go home?

I see no distinction. In fact, any unbiased analyst -- that is, one who is not such a radical, mindless Likudnik -- would say the results in Lebanon were mixed: Israel certainly did not win; they did not achieve their primary goal, to wipe out Hezbollah, nor their secondary goal of returning the two kidnapped soldiers, though that is still possible; but neither did Hezbollah win: Israel achieved some secondary goals, such as killing a lot of Hezbollah members (several thousand of them) and destroying a large percentage of their missiles, all of which will certainly set Hezbollah back a year or two.

A lot can happen in that time; I sincerely hope that there are new elections quickly, and that this time, Likud wins decisively -- as the polls indicate is likely, though I don't know how long that will last. And I pray that there is another war soon (rather, the continuation of this one)... and that with a more experienced, wartime leadership, including perhaps the restoration of Shaul Mofaz, Israel deals a much more severe and lasting blow to Hezbollah... and also burns Bashar Assad's fingers, making him think twice about toadying up to Iran (and hiding Iraqi WMD and giving sanctuary to high-value Baathist targets).

Hezbollah lost position and operational tempo. They lost their dug-in, heavily tunnelled base in southern Lebanon, and they lost a lot of top leaders to capture and killing. And regardless of how they spin the fight, their Shiite supporters in Lebanon must notice that Israel is still present in south Lebanon, but Hezbollah isn't -- at least in nowhere near the numbers they had.

Too, Israel has shown that in actual ground combat, they can mow down even the New! Improved! Hezbollah fighters, with all their Iranian training and arming. That has to give pause to Hassan Nasrallah, who must have thought that Israel would pay a much higher price for taking as much territory as they did: nearly all the way to the Litani and several ground-forces raids deep into the Bekaa Valley. But Israel lost only about 115 soldiers, while terminating thousands of Hezbollah.

Nasrallah has declared the war a tremendous victory for Hezbollah; but of course, Saddam Hussein declared that Gulf War I was a tremendous victory for Iraq... and as Michael Medved points out, Egypt actually celebrates their "victory" over Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War as a national holiday. In reality, Egypt was crushed, and their entire Third Army was trapped by the Israelis after the ceasefire went into effect (Egypt breached it first).

However, if Nasrallah has any functioning brain cells -- "never attribute to stupidity what can adequately be explained by malice" -- he must realize that on those few occasions when the Israeli government actually allowed the IDF to fight, they rolled through the forward-deployed SpecOps branch of the Iranian military like a scimitar through a casaba melon.

Yet when a caller noted that to Babbin, the guest host literally said that "it doesn't matter how many Hezbollah were killed"... as if it were such a trivial matter that it was absurd even to raise it. I recall the Democrats making similarly dismissive comments when Saddam Hussein was captured and when Musab Zarqawi was killed.

There is another parallel: Babbin is a Likudnik (as am I); but Babbin is so focused on the return of Likud, that he is willing to talk Israel into a massive defeat on the chance that this will bring Bibi Netanyahu back to power.

Every, single guest he has had on so far (half way through his 3-hour stint) has backed him to the hilt, agreeing, following highly leading interrogation, that this is a complete, total, and unalloyed victory for Hezbollah; what an astounding consensus! It reminds me of Saddam Hussein's second election, where he literally got 100% of the vote... isn't that remarkable? Not a single Iraqi but loved the Beloved Leader! Match that, Bush.

(There is, I reckon, the faint possibility that Babbin might have picked his guests using a litmus test. But let's not quibble.)

I cannot get away from the fact that Babbin is now following the Pelosi Playbook down to the last page: if he can make Israelis believe that they have suffered a disasterous defeat, rather than a disappointing draw, then that might boost Likud's chances of new elections -- and who cares whether that also encourages Hezbollah to slaughter more Jews? Can't make an omlet without breaking a few heads.

Does anybody else think we on the Right deserve better analysts than Jed Babbin, with his agenda-driven defeatism? A neoconservative is a person who thinks like a liberal but arrives at conservative conclusions.

There is a reason I am always wary of neoconservatives.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 14, 2006, at the time of 4:27 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Ocupado - a Lemma

Hatched by Dafydd

Throughout history, occupation has always required the consent of the occupied, for the same reason that a government always requires the consent of the governed: it's not just a good idea, it's a law of human nature.

It flows from the theory of "hegemony" enunciated by Italian Communist Antonio Gamsci at great length in his Prison Notebooks (he was imprisoned by the Fascists for the last ten years of his life). I generalized his theory to remove the Communist elements.

In my reformulation, Hegemony is the perceived fitness to rule. What is a king? A man in a robe with a shiny hat. He tells other men -- bigger and better armed -- to risk their lives invading some other country; what makes them obey?

Hegemony. They have chosen to consent to his rule. It may be because his father was king before him, or because the high priests said God chose him, or just because he speaks with the voice of authority. If ever the hegemonic chain is broken, he becomes just an unpleasant, old man in a robe and shiny hat, which any one of the palace guards can take away and put on another head (remember Claudius hiding behind the curtain). Only hegemony holds them back.

Remember, "hegemony" is the perceived fitness to rule, which results in social consent; it need not be the reality of simple brute force. Elizabeth I of England was one of the most powerful monarchs that nation ever had... yet she herself had virtually no army; she had a bunch of noblemen who loved her with a passion, and she "borrowed" their armies to keep England strong.

A mugger can force you to hand over your wallet at gunpoint; but it takes a government with hegemony to get you to consent to pay your taxes, even when nobody is looking.

In democratic countries, hegemony flows from the vox populi via the medium of an election and is conditioned upon the ruler's willingness to follow certain written guidelines. In dictatorships, it flows from the decision of the top military officers to follow the dictator, and the junior officers to follow the leaders, and the ordinary soldiers to kill their friends and neighbors upon orders from the junior officers.

But in an occupied country, the chain of hegemony is severed: the old king or president is deposed and probably dead, and no new one has been allowed to be set up by the normal procedures. Thus, whether the occupier can rule depends upon whether he can establish his own chain of hegemony over the occupied, persuading them to obey his commands even when the occupying forces are busy elsewhere.

Thus, occupation requires the consent of the occupied, and the lemma is demonstrated.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 14, 2006, at the time of 5:14 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Paul & Carol & Ed & Alice

Hatched by Dafydd

Paul Mierengoff of Power Line and Captain Ed Morrissey of gee, guess where, are in the midst of a very polite and deferential public row over the American-brokered ceasefire agreement in Lebanon; and I'm torn. On the one hand, I've made no secret of the fact that Power Line is my all time favorite blog, the one that got me interested in blogging (reading and writing) in the first place. But Captain's Quarters is, along with Patterico's and Belmont Club, my second favorite blog.

And more to the point, Ed is completely right in this ruction and Paul is wrong... though I don't think Ed has deployed his best arguments yet.

But that's why I'm here! (And yes, the entire world does revolve around me, now that you ask....)

And In This Corner...

Here is the crux of Paul's argument (I'm re-paragraphing his points, because it's easier to focus on each component that way):

Without the administration's participation in the formulation and adoption of the U.N. resolution, there would have been more fighting in Lebanon. Thus, it seems indisputable that the administration didn't want more fighting in Lebanon, and Ed does not say otherwise.

The question then becomes why the administration wanted the fighting to end. Was it because more fighting would have been in Hezbollah's interest? Clearly not. With each day, Hezbollah's military capacity was being diminished, and the degradation would likely have accelerated now that Israel finally has boots on the ground in something like the ratio thought to be required to succeed in this type of action.

Had Israel made its way to the Litani River, as it had finally resolved to do, Hezbollah not only would have been further degraded, but would have lost its ability persuasively to claim that it successfully resisted the IDF.

Since we can still assume that administration wants to injure Hezbollah, it must be the case that some interest Bush deemed substantial caused him to take a major role in halting the IDF's drive against that entity. Ed does not identify that interest.

To me, it seems reasonable to believe that the U.S. was bowing to pressure from those who wanted hostilities to stop. It is no secret that Secretary Rice was communicating with the Egytians and the Saudis and that we were working closely with the French. Moreover, domestic critics were warning that with each passing day our status among "friendly" Arab governments and our European allies (including the folks upon whom we'll be relying in our efforts to sanction Iran) was declining.

It's not unfair for me to connect these dots.

Not "unfair" -- but flawed; Paul makes the classic mistake of what Wall Street Journal science writer Sharon Begley calls (in a very, very different context) "the argument from personal incredulity."

Several specific points to note before turning to the general argument:

Had Israel made its way to the Litani River, as it had finally resolved to do, Hezbollah not only would have been further degraded, but would have lost its ability persuasively to claim that it successfully resisted the IDF.

Israel may still do so. They're under no obligation to leave until there is an international force capable of replacing them, which itself will take some time. If Hezbollah breaks the ceasefire during that time (very likely), Israel can resume its march to the Litani, as Ed noted.

Moreover, I think Paul isn't really internalizing how Moslems think: if Israel were to drive Hezbollah back across the Litani, but Hezbollah survived more or less intact (even if severely "degraded"), Hezbollah would still argue victory. And when Israel finally withdrew, as they must eventually (no matter how long that may take), and if Hezbollah were then to reoccupy the same territory Israel had just driven them out of, then the ummah would declare it the greatest victory since Saladin drove the crusaders out of the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem 819 years ago.

It is impossible to win a game of Liar's Poker against Hezbollah.

To me, it seems reasonable to believe that the U.S. was bowing to pressure from those who wanted hostilities to stop. It is no secret that Secretary Rice was communicating with the Egytians and the Saudis and that we were working closely with the French....

Paul, like many other conservatives these days, seems too eager to ascribe the most disreputable motives to everything Bush does; and this tendency now evidently extends to Condoleezza Rice, too. Thus, when Bush nominated Harriet Miers, many conservatives who could not immediately verify her philosophy leapt at the speed of light to the conclusion that she must be a closet liberal. And when the Bush administration approved Dubai Ports World taking over cargo operations at a number of American ports, conservatives equally rapidly concluded that Bush was trying to hand "port security" over to the Arabs.

Each new unsupported accusation becomes "evidence" (smoke and more smoke) supporting the next accusation; and now Paul cannot even imagine any honorable reason for Bush and Rice to support this ceasefire agreement.

Therefore (the argument from personal incredulity), the president -- the most pro-Israeli president we've had since Lyndon Johnson -- must be so anxious to please the Arabs and the French that he's throwing Israel under the tank treads. Why, what other possible conclusion could one draw?

Actually, there are several more reasonable explanations for Bush's and Rice's support for this resolution than a sudden plague of Arabism. Let's find them.

And we can start with the most fitting analogy -- one that explains the administration's thinking and even supplies that mystery "interest" Paul alludes to: the battle of First Fallujah.

The Backward Glance

Remember First Fallujah, Operation Vigilant Resolve? In April of 2004, following the murder and mutilation of the four Blackwater contractors, our Marines were fighting against Zarqawi's Sunni terrorists in that city, and we were winning (even while simultaneously fighting Sadr's Mahdi Militia in Najaf); we were driving them back and back, inflicting huge casualties... and then abruptly we stopped.

We paused for a while, then we pulled back, allowing the terrorists to trickle back into Fallujah and forcing another gigantic fight (Operation Phantom Fury) seven months later in November.

At the time of First Fallujah, Bush took tremendous heat in the press, and also from the Right, especially including the "dextrosphere." I don't offhand recall whether Power Line lambasted him for not pushing on, but it seems likely they did. And he didn't really explain why he called off the fight. (This is the worst element of Bush's otherwise admirable presidency: he is the Great Confusicator, the anti-Reagan in terms of communicating with the American people).

But for me, the reason seemed obvious; after thinking and pondering and mulling it for a couple of months, burning up brain calories like coal in a furnace, I finally concluded that I was right: it was obvious.

To Have and to Hold

The problem lay not in militarily defeating the terrorists; we had it all over them (as the Israelis do over Hezbollah now). The problem was what to do with Fallujah after we had pacified it... and at that time, that problem was insoluble. Our choices were:

  1. Invest the city and hold it against all counterattack; but this would require an enormous number of troops, since the population was firmly behind the terrorists (whom they saw as liberators from the infidel crusaders).

Holding the city would have required a permanent garrison of likely tens of thousands of Marines... and we could not spare such a huge chunk of our fighting force. We still needed them for fighting elsewhere. Since America has no specialized "occupation corps," as the British used to have during the days of the Empire -- and indeed, a non-imperial "empire" such as the United States could not have such a combined civilian and military force -- our only choice would be to use men trained for combat as cops, judges, and mediators; hence the large numbers needed and the strong possibility of violence spiraling out of our control.

  1. Reduce the city, leaving nothing behind to defend; but this would entail us killing tens of thousands of residents whose only crime was to support local Baathists and foreign Sunni terrorists... and neither the American people nor our allies were prepared to go the Carthage route.

It would have been like the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre of 1572, in which probably more than 10,000 Huguenots were butchered throughout France over a three-month period. And we realized that even if we steeled ourselves to do something similar in Fallujah, it would likely have the same effect on the Sunni population of Iraq as the original did on the Huguenot population of France: not pacification but radicalization.

  1. Once we defeated the terrorists, have the Iraqi Army occupy the city; but of course, the New Iraqi Army was in no way capable of performing such a task in April of 2004, and not only we but they -- and the terrorists -- knew it.

The Iraqi Army would not be ready for such a task for many months; and indeed, that appears to be what we were waiting for: no Iraqi battalions are listed as having formally participated in First Fallujah (there were some Iraqis present, but they broke and ran); but in Second Fallujah (Phantom Fury), there were two complete battalions, four extra brigades, plus the Iraqi Counterterrorism Force. There was even an "Emergency Reponse Unit" from the Interior Ministry.

And in Second Fallujah, the Iraqi troops more or less held their lines. In the end, the Marines withdrew and left the Iraqi Army and Interior Ministry forces investing the city. This continued occupation was more or less successful; there is still terrorism emanating from Fallujah, but it never regained the intensity and brazenness of 2004.

Ceders of Lebanon

Side excursion over; we're back to Lebanon. The Israelis find themselves in the same position: after driving to the Litani River and "winning the war," what do they do next?

Simply put, the population of southern Lebanon is not a captive one; they strongly support Hezbollah, and not out of fear; I suspect they see themselves as the same "tribe."

This is not just a Shia vs. Sunni distinction; Hezbollah in the South has made itself into "part of the family." Unemployment is rampant, as is true in most socialist states; and the Lebanese government is incapable of financially aiding the poor in the southern area, especially south of the Litani.

And truth be told, Beirut is probably somewhat reluctant to aid them since regaining control of the northern part of Lebanon, following the withdrawal of Syria's military. It's a vicious circle: the Shiite south buddies up with Hezbollah and Iran and Syria, leading the Sunni/Druze north to suspect their loyalty and neglect them; the neglect drives the Shia into tighter reliance upon Hezbollah and Iran/Syria.

So what could Israel do, once it had driven Hezbollah north of the river?

  • If the Israelis themselves were to hold that area against Hezbollah reoccupation (once part of the ummah, always part of the ummah), they would need a massive and permanent occupation force -- which they don't have -- and which would be virtually identical to the endgame of the 1982 Lebanese invasion, something the Israeli public is not prepared to accept.
  • Contrariwise, if they were simply to depopulate southern Lebanon, with trainloads of ethnic cleansing and the concommitent civilian deaths (that would be depicted as massacres, and not without some justice), the problems they would have with their Arab neighbors, with Iran, the international community -- and even America -- would reduce any previous disagreements to mere squabbles.
  • In theory, they could expand the fight -- say by attacking Syria directly, cutting off Iran's conduit of arms, men, and materiel into Lebanon's Hezbollah. But the Israelis (government and citizenry) made it very clear early on and throughout the war that they had absolutely no intention of doing so.

    This closed off the last escape from the box; but it's awfully hard for those of us who don't live there, in the crosshairs, to criticize their decision. It amounts to what my grandfather called playing "let's you and him fight."

  • But if the Israelis simply withdrew after the fight, Hezbollah would just flow back... and the whole campaign would end up an exercise in utter futility.

The only solution that I can think of, at least, is some international force... something like UNIFIL with teeth and more of a committment to actually fulfill its duty, rather than being "neutral" between Israel and Hezbollah, or even tacitly supporting the latter.

The UN is very untrustworthy... but for all that, I would trust them more than the Lebanese Army under the control of Fuad Siniora!

Thus, Israel -- and the United States -- are put into the position by the facts on the ground of supporting an international force to stiffen the spine (and fix the moral compass) of the Lebanese Army. If this analysis is accurate, then contrary to Paul's position, we really do need a "ceasefire agreement" of some sort... if for no other reason to establish the size of the force, starting positions of the players, and the rules of engagement.

Vox Populi

One of Donald Rumsfeld's most famous observations, ridiculed by the illiterate Left, was this:

You go to war with the Army you have.

But the phrase is too profound to be stuck in a single subject. How about this: You go to war with the government you have, and you go to war with the people you have.

At the moment, Israel's government is a Frankenstein's monster of bits and pieces of Labor sewn together with bits and pieces of Kadima -- which was itself already a patchwork party that was actually the egoist extension of one man, Ariel Sharon -- who had the bad taste to fall into an irreversible coma shortly before Hezbollah attacked (and in fact, that was surely a major reason they did attack).

Why did Israel escalate the war so slowly? It wasn't because Ehud Olmert is just a dick; it was because the Israeli cabinet kept refusing to vote for a wider war. And why was that? Because the cabinet includes too many Laborites and ex-Laborites, including Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

Peretz seems to have wanted a larger war; but he could hardly argue as forcefully and effectively to other peaceniks in the cabinet as, say, Shaul Mofaz, the former defense minister could have.

Mofaz was the former Chief of Staff of the IDF, and he is an Iranian Jew who lived in Teheran until he was nine. It's hard to think of anyone better qualified to be a wartime defense minister in a proxy war against Iran; but although Sharon appointed him defense minister in 2002, Olmert -- trying to form his government after a very weak showing in the recent elections -- was forced to offer that position to the head of Labor, Peretz. Mofaz was demoted to minister of transport.

Peretz served honorably in the IDF and was wounded in action during the Yom Kippur War; but he never rose beyond the rank of captain. He had no strategic experience, no significant understanding of the nature of Iran, and no ability to argue from experience for a wider war from the start. Nor is it certain that it would have made any difference; the Israeli Left is nearly as bad on security issues as the American Left.

But even this isn't the root of the problem; the problem right now is the Israeli people. H.L. Menken once suggested -- or at least it's attributed to him -- that "If the government doesn't trust the people, why doesn't it dissolve them and elect a new people?" In my darkest days, I wish we could do it; except I wouldn't want to give that much power to Congress.

The reason that the Israeli government is so weak and conflicted is that the Israeli people are weak and conflicted, as evidenced by their last vote:

2006 Israeli Election Results
Party Vote % Seats
Kadima 22.0% 29
Labor 15.0% 19
Shas (Sephardic religious party) 9.5% 12
Likud 9.0% 12
Numerous other minor parties 44.4% 48

The Knesset has 120 seats; so the ruling coalition (Kadima and Labor) holds only 40% of the seats. It's a mess right now... but it's an elected mess. If you recall, Olmert had to scramble to find the 61 seats necessary even to form a government in the first place. (What Israel really needs is a new election.)

Why does this matter? Because neither the government nor the people of Israel were prepared for an actual shooting war with Hezbollah (which fact must have entered into Sheikh Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's calculations). When it was thrust upon them, they dithered and balked: at the moment, the Israeli people have the government they deserve; but the IDF deserves much better leadership than it has.

In particular, the Israeli people are still allergic to occupation, with all the brutality that necessarily entails in the post-1979 world. They are more afraid of the 18-year Lebanese occupation than they are of Hezbollah. Whether or not continued Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon would be the best solution, it's a solution that is unavailable to the government, given the current position of the civitas. It's as tantalizingly close but forever out of reach as would be an attack on Syria.

So it's a UN occupation or nothing.

Foreign Legions

But this is only a stopgap. Throughout history, occupation has always required the consent of the occupied, for the same reason that a government always requires the consent of the governed: it's not just a good idea, it's a law of human nature (see next post). And I think it very clear that the Lebanese, especially the southern Lebanese Shia, will never consent.

In the modern post-1979 revolutionary era, foreign occupation has become possible only for occupiers willing to go the route of, say, the Belgians in the Congo or Spain in the New World: brutal enslavement and mass reprisal executions. For a decent and moral democracy like Israel (or the United States), this is not an option; hence we are not able to carry out an occupation longer than a few weeks or months.

This didn't use to be the case; the conquered generally used to consent to occupation: what difference did it make whether you paid your taxes to a Saxon lord or a Norman lord? But the rules began to change here and there as armed groups discovered the Strategy of Relentless Resistance -- where they never surrender, never relent, and care absolutely nothing about how many of "their own people" die in the struggle; they're always willing to sacrifice martyrs, themselves or others, willingly or un-, to further "the cause;" and the cause never dies.

This strategy became de rigeur among resistance groups following the 1979 Iranian revolution, which for the first time opened up the possibility that a millenarian jihadi terrorist group could seize control of an entire country... and a rich, Westernized one at that. Now, every such group believes that if it struggles long enough, it can do the same; and from that platform, it can lead a holy crusade to destroy the unbelievers and institute a world caliphate (with, naturally, itself at the top).

Thus, even after Zarqawi's death, al-Qaeda In Iraq fights on; the Shiite militias fight on, massacring Sunnis -- and the Sunni militias fight on butchering Shia, world without end, amen. This will never cease; but under a native government with sufficient hegemony, it can be reduced to a manageable level.

Only an Iraqi government, not perceived as a sock puppet for America, would have such hegemony (see the next post for a discussion of hegemony, or "perceived fitness to rule"): hence the Bush Doctrine of destroying the old Baathist regime (done), removing its head (done), setting up an indigenous democracy (done), and giving that democracy the tools to enforce its hegemonic rule (still in progress)... whether instinctually or intellectually, President Bush recognized that only a democratic Iraqi government could eventually contain the extremists: a Hussein-style "strongman" government could not do it for long, and American cannot do it at all.

But by the same lemma, only an indigenous Lebanese government will have sufficient hegemony to hold the territory; but that does not mean that any old indigenous Lebanese government will do; alas, the one there now is not powerful enough.

Know When to Hold, Know When to Fold

It does mean, however, that Israel cannot do it... as they found out from 1982-2000, when the IDF occupied just a strip along the southern border of Lebanon: there were so many terrorist attacks and military assaults, escalating every year, that Israel was either going to have to get out or get extraordinarily brutal. They had not the stomach for the latter, so electoral revolution gave them a government that chose the former.

And now they find themselves in the same bind. If Americans have forgotten recent Israeli history, the leaders of Kadima, from Olmert to Peretz on down, have not. They know that holding southern Lebanon would require a degree of ruthlessness that is beyond the current civitas of Israel.

The only workable solution, per supra, is a Lebanese force; hence the component of the Lebanese Army that will (supposedly) hold that area. But the Lebanese Army is toothless... so another force is required, a force with more hegemony than Israel would have, even if it's less than a really powerful Lebanese force would have: that is where UNIFIL enters the picture.

Clearly, this will not work longterm. It may only last a year or even just a few months (or less -- but then Israel would still be there, poised to continue its offensive). But a lot can happen in a year.

~

The Sufi sage Nasrudin languished in prison, having been captured, along with his disciple, Noggi, by his enemy, the Emir of Jubukuua. The emir, furious that Nasrudin had flirted with the emir's first wife, had just pronounced the death penalty against both Nasrudin and Noggi.

"What will become of us!" wailed Noggi; but Nasrudin shushed him and bellowed for the guard.

"Guard, will you please inform the emir, may Allah preserve him, that if he postpones our sentences for a year and a day, then I will teach his royal horse to fly."

The startled guard rushed off to deliver the magical message. "But Hodja," cried the disciple when they were alone again in the cell, "why did you promise such a ridiculous thing? All that it means is that we'll spend a year and a day in vile captivity... and then be executed anyway when you fail!"

But Nasrudin only smiled. "A lot can happen in a year, Noggi: the Emir might be deposed by his brother, or he may even be dead. He may forget his rage over a couple of innocent kisses. He may even get religion and pardon us as an offering to Allah, the most high.

"And who knows?" he continued; "if all else fails, maybe that damned horse can learn to fly after all!"

~

Israel stands in such peril, and her government is so lame, that there is an excellent chance that it will fall and new elections be called. As it stands now, the government and people are out of harmony with each other and with themselves; they cannot sustain the war they should fight (as should be obvious by now).

But a lot can happen in a year. There might be new elections; the people may finally come to understand that peace with Hezbollah is impossible (probably after the terrorists break the ceasefire and start shooting missiles again). Iran might find itself under sanction, and the US may be interdicting arms transshipments across Syria. There might be civil unrest in Iran that distracts the mullahs and Ahmadinejad from Lebanon.

Or Lebanon itself may get a stronger government, one without Hezbollah sitting in the parliament (and the cabinet!), and one with a strong Army that can actually contest for all of Lebanon.

Like First Fallujah, I suspect the Bush Administration has concluded that the current feckless government and conflicted people of Israel cannot hold what they have. But like Second Fallujah, the next government may do considerably better -- at least in annihilating more of Hezbollah's strength; and a later Beirut government may well do a better job of driving Hezbollah out of Lebanon entirely and back into Syria.

Bush is one of the most patient men who ever sat at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. He rarely cares about the polls and he never lunges at the brass ring until he is sure he can grasp it. He awaits his moment, then seizes it. (If only he could stand up and tell us about it, he would be the second-greatest president in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.)

We and the Israelis had a weak hand; it's not unreasonable to fold, minimize the losses, and draw a new one.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 14, 2006, at the time of 4:34 AM | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 12, 2006

Good News from Iraq

Hatched by Sachi

Recently, I found myself getting too discouraged to write about good news from Iraq -- simply because I hear too much about bloodshed everyday. But then it got me thinking: hasn't it always been like this? Wasn't this the very reason I decided to start reporting good news in the first place?

Yes, folks, there is plenty to report. Just because we don't hear much about it in the elite media doesn't mean there isn't any.

First, some news from Samawa. Don't bother following the link -- it's all in Japanese! I'll translate it for you:

Orphanage Completed With Private Donations
August 9, 2006, Asahi.com

In Samawa, in southern Iraq, an orphanage was completed using private donations collected from Japan....

The facility is 360 square meters and can hold 240 students. The Lions Club in Saitama prefecture collected the "lion's share" of the 23 million yen building cost ($200,000)....

According to Mr. Ohno [of the Middle East Research Institute of Japan], Iraqi orphans were normally raised by their tribes. But due to the lengthy war, the economical situation had gotten difficult. "It is not safe in Iraq. There are too many deaths. I wanted to help people who are trying so desperately to live," Mr. Ohno said.

On another front, it was widely reported that after three years of deployment, the Japanese Self-Defense Force withdrew from Iraq. However, the Japanese Air Force is still there, still transporting supplies and wounded. Japanese forces have not left Iraq! Not yet, at least.

Meanwhile in Baghdad and Ramadi, US and Iraqi forces captured 60 Shiia militiamen and killed 34 Sunni insurgents. From Reuters :

BAGHDAD (Reuters) - U.S. troops rounded up 60 suspected militants overnight in a security clampdown to stem violence in the capital and killed 26 insurgents in a rebel Sunni stronghold west of Baghdad [they mean Ramadi -- the Mgt.]....

The sweep through the southern Baghdad district of Arab Jabour targeted a suspected bomb-making cell linked to attacks across the city of seven million.

"The group has been reported to be planning and conducting training for future attacks, like the attack in Mahmudiya July 17 that killed 42," the U.S. military said in a statement.

In a separate operation in a south Baghdad district called Um al-Maalif, Iraqi soldiers killed eight militants.

Beefed-up U.S. and Iraqi forces this week began a systematic operation to claim back Baghdad's most dangerous rebel strongholds in an attempt to restore security and shore up confidence in the new Shi'ite-led government.

We are completing a lot of great jobs in Iraq... let's keep it up! Murtha or no Murtha, we won't cut and run. "No retreat, no surrender."

Hatched by Sachi on this day, August 12, 2006, at the time of 11:40 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 11, 2006

Hey, Mulligan Man!

Hatched by Dafydd

I was going to blog on the American-French ceasefire agreement offered for the Israel-Hezbollah war, but Captain Ed beat me to it; he is nothing if not prolific! In any event, I would have said more or less what he says here:

Everything hinges on Nasrallah. If he accepts the terms and allows Siniora to dislodge them from southern Lebanon, Hezbollah is finished regardless of their public claims. Their raison d'etre is the defense of the southern border against Israel -- and if the Lebanese Army takes that responsibility, then their militia serves no purpose in the middle of Lebanon. If Nasrallah balks, then Israel will have a green light and a wide window to finish the job, and they will have lost very little in the hours it will take for the gambit to play to its conclusion.

But allow me to go over this a little more thoroughly and show why Ed and I are right, and the boys at Power Line are wrong, wrong, wrong.

First, here is a summary of the main points of the agreement:

  • Israel is not required to withdraw immediately; instead, Israel will withdraw "in parallel" with the deployment of the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL (the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon)... which I believe means that as brigades of LANDFILL, er, UNIFIL and the Lebanese deploy, corresponding units of the IDF withdraw.

    That means there will be no moment when Israel is gone and there is no international or Lebanese force present, allowing Hezbollah simply to sneak back to where they were before.

  • Israel is not required to cease all military operations, just all offensive military operations; this is in contrast to Hezbollah, which is required to cease "all attacks." That means that if Hezbollah attacks Israel and the latter responds with military force, Hezbollah is in breach of the agreement -- but Israel is not.

    Thus, Israel can legally, under this agreement, remain in situ as the replacement forces deploy, and they can continue attacking rocket launchers and terrorist units that launch attacks either against the IDF invasion force or against Israel itself. Far from protecting Hezbollah from the consequences of its own actions, as Hassan Nasrallah, the jerky-looking head of Hezbollah, demanded and expected, this agreement actually gives legal backing to Israel to defend itself from attack.

  • Requires all Hezbollah personnel immediately to move north of the Litani River -- or if they stay, to be disarmed. If they do not, then Lebanon as well as Hezbollah is in breach, and Israel can return to its postponed offensive.
  • Requires full eventual implementation of UNSC resolutions, including 1559, requiring complete disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon except for the Lebanese Army and UNIFIL.

    Of course, this was already requred (by UN resolution, duh), and it wasn't happening; so this probably is a pie-crust promise ("easily made, easily broken"). However, this demand now has teeth, because if it's broken, then the cease-fire is rendered null and void; and, as before, Israel can always return -- preferably with a much better managed offensive that time.

  • Expands the rules of engagement for UNIFIL to allow it to take aggressive military actions against Hezbollah, if they fail to leave or to disarm:

    Acting in support of a request from the government of Lebanon to deploy an international force to assist it to exercise its authority throughout the territory, authorizes UNIFIL to take all necessary action in areas of deployment of its forces and as it deems within its capabilities, to ensure that its area of operations is not utilized for hostile activities of any kind, to resist attempts by forceful means to prevent it from discharging its duties under the mandate of the Security Council, and to protect United Nations personnel, facilities, installations and equipment, ensure the security and freedom of movement of United Nations personnel, humanitarian workers, and, without prejudice to the responsibility of the government of Lebanon, to protect civilians under imminent threat of physical violence.

This is hardly perfect; but neither has been Israel's "offensive," which so far is about the most inoffensive offensive I think I've ever seen.

Here is my take: there is no way that Hezbollah can hold its water even long enough for Lebanese and UNIFIL forces to take Israel's place. They will either reject the proposal outright, or more likely accept it -- but with no intention of actually obeying it.

Nasrallah will be overconfident that the UN has his back; he will think that he can resume shooting missiles at Israel before the ink even dries on the agreement, and that Israel will be stymied by UNIFIL and prevented from responding in kind. Arabs typically make straight-line projections, and they're utterly asea if anything changes. Recall that Nasrallah himself said he was stunned by Israel's aggressive response to a few murders and kidnappings; the response was all out of character, and he was outraged.

And he would be right, except that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is sitting atop a powderkeg, and he knows it.

Israelis are seething at the government, which they see as having given them the worst of both worlds, Likud and Labor: they swore that they would destroy Hezbollah, riling up the entire world against Israel... and then didn't really even try to do so, thus turning the Israeli Defense Force into a laughingstock.

I predict that the Kadima government under Olmert will collapse within four months of this ceasefire agreement, no matter how it comes out; at least, clear signs will be readily visible that they're on their way out. There will be new elections, and most of Kadima's vote will just split between Likud and Labor, with a strong edge to the party that is serious about national defense. Kadima-niks will drift back to their parties of origin, and Israel's flirtation with a third major party (as opposed to the raft of tiny parties) will be abandoned -- and not a minute too soon.

After all, Kadima was Ariel Sharon, and he was Kadima; it will not survive him.

But Olmert will want to hang on as long as he can, because he's obviously finished in Likud, even when Kadima evaporates. So he will almost certainly be looking for a solid reason to declare the ceasefire broken and restart the offensive... but this time with the vigor and the ground forces it really needs, rather than trying to do it by airstrikes alone -- which everybody now agrees was a miserable failure.

So sometime in the next year or so, Israel will be back in Lebanon (possibly under a new prime minister); and this time, there will be no ceasefire. They will finish off Hezbollah as an effective military or terrorist organization in that country. And without either the Syrian Army or Hezbollah, the Syrian intelligence officers will quickly head back home, just ahead of the mobs of angry northern Lebanese with torches and pitchforks.

During that time, Iran will only be able to partially resupply Hezbollah; but when Israel attacks next time, they will no longer rely exclusively on bombs and missiles: next time, the IDF generals get their licks from the git-go. And that is the moment we're waiting for.

In other words, this ceasefire agreement is a "Mulligan," allowing Israel to restart the war somewhat later, with a still-weakened Hezbollah and with a much better military campaign planned. It's their chance finally to do what they should have done in the first place: treat this war as a real war, not as a spanking.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 11, 2006, at the time of 9:07 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Candidates? We Gotcher Candidates Right Here!

Hatched by Dafydd

Two interesting president/running mate teams have been floating around for a while, but I don't think either has a prayer.

Derailing the Straight-Talk Express

First, of course, is the perennial fantasy-teaming of John McCain and Joe Lieberman. The problems with this suggestion are myriad, however:

  1. It would have to function as a "third party" candidacy, naturally, since the Republicans wouldn't support a Democrat as their nominee for vice president any more than the Democrats would nominate a Republican for president... and third-party candidacies are doomed.

None has ever been elected in the history of the American presidency.

People sometimes point to Abraham Lincoln as a successful "third-party candidate;" but that's simply wrong. He was not a "third-party candidate," since the Whig Party had already died out: the last Whig presidential nominee (Winfield Scott) ran in 1852; in the next presidential election of 1856, John C. Fremont ran as a Republican, losing to Democrat James Buchanan. So by the time Lincoln ran in 1860, the only two viable political parties were the Republicans and the Democrats.

The Republicans, and the Whigs, Democrats, National Republicans, and Democratic-Republicans before them -- were not "third parties," they were supplanting parties: each took the place of a party that had died out earlier. Thus, each of these became part of the two party system when one of the previous two parties disappeared.

George Washington had no party; presidential parties began with John Adams, who was a Federalist, running against Thomas Jefferson, a Democratic-Republican... and for the next seven elections, those were the only two parties which ran for the presidency.

But then, the Federalists completely died out. Not a single Federalist is listed in the World Almanac and Book of Facts as having run after Rufus King in 1816.

Between 1824, when all four candidates were Democratic-Republicans, and 1828, the Democratic-Republicans split into two parties: the Democrats and the National Republicans. Since the Federalists had already disappeared, this made only two parties.

The National Republicans were short lived; they ran only twice -- incumbent President John Quincy Adams in 1828 and Henry Clay in 1832 -- and lost both times. They disappear by 1836, replaced by the Whigs (still only two parties); it's not until 1848 that the first true "third party" emerges in a presidential election: in that election, former President Martin Van Buren -- previously a Democrat in 1836 and 1840 -- ran under the Free Soil Party... and was waxed, taking only 10% of the vote.

The Whigs died out and were replaced by the Republicans, as previously noted; and since 1852, nobody but a Republican or Democratic nominee has ever won the presidency.

There have been eleven elections in which a third party ran (one in 1948 when two third parties ran... or is that a third and a fourth party?) The closest any came to winning was in 1912, when former President Teddy Roosevelt split from the Republican Party and ran on the Progressive Party ticket (also called the Bull Moose Party, after Roosevelt retorted to some reporter who had questioned his fitness for office that he was "as fit as a bull moose"); he did so well that he outpolled sitting President William H. Taft, his hand-picked successor and the Republican in the race. However, Democrat Woodrow Wilson beat them both: 45% to 30% for Teddy and 25% for Taft.

In no other election has any third party come anywhere near that mark of 30%; Perot in 1992 got 19% of the vote, Wallace in '68 got only 13%, Anderson in '80 got less than 7%, and so forth. Our political system is set up to discourage third parties... and not without good reason. Look at Israel's Knesset or Iraq's new parliament for a good idea of how destructive such factions can be.

  1. Republicans by and large intensely dislike John McCain, while 80% of Democrats (if you can believe John Zogby) are cheering that Joe Lieberman lost to Ned Lamont. No ticket can win with a candidate who is so disliked unless the alternative candidates are equally hated.

Unpopularity and hatred are bigger motivators to the polls than are popularity and love; so you need either a very large like to dislike ratio -- or else you need to balance one dislike with another equally large to win.

In 1972, Richard Nixon was heavily disliked; but his opponent, either by luck or design (take your pick), was feared even more than Nixon was disliked: George McGovern was feared as a peacenik who would sacrifice American security for his idealistic agenda of world peace.

Had Nixon run against Hubert Humphrey again, or against Edmund Muskie or Henry "Scoop" Jackson, Nixon would very likely have lost.

So if McCain and Lieberman run as a presidential ticket, their only hope would be if both the Republican and the Democratic nominees were so despised and hated that the dislike people hold (for McCain especially) paled by comparison. While there is a Democrat who fits that bill -- Hillary -- she is unlikely to be the nominee for that very reason; and in any event, none of the other likely nominees for the Republican presidency fit that bill.

  1. And in any event, I doubt that Joe Lieberman has any interest in running for vice-president again; and as for McCain... he's aggravated that the presidency is the highest office he can run for ("God" not being an elective office). Neither man would be willing to take the VP slot.

Thus, for three reasons, McCain-Lieberman (or Lieberman-McCain) not only would not win; it would not likely draw more than 10% of the vote... and that almost equally from both sides -- Republican "reformers" for McCain and Democratic "hawks" for Lieberman. Which means it would no effect whatsoever on the election (the opposite of 1912, when TR's defection from the Republicans threw the election to the Democrats). And it couldn't even be formed in the first place!

The Grump and His Gal Friday

This would be the Republican so-called "dream ticket" of Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld, in either order; or in fact, Condi with any running mate.

Aside from the obvious:

  1. Both have repeatedly and forcefully disclaimed any interest in ever holding elective office now or in the future; and
  2. Neither is in a position where he or she could drop everything and start running in early 2007; they're needed where they are.

There is another problem that is insurmountable, in my opinion:

  1. Donald Rumsfeld's only previous elective office is as a member of the House (from 1963 to 1971, four terms), while Condi has never been elected to anything. And the American people do not consider the presidency to be an entry-level position.

Since 1900, only two presidents have been elected without having first served as vice presidents, governors of a state, or US senators: Herbert Hoover in 1928, elected after only having served in the cabinet of Warren G. Harding; and Dwight D. Eisenhower, elected in 1952 with no electoral experience... but he had of course served as the Supreme Allied Commander of all the Allied forces -- millions upon millions of them -- in World War II; and he was likely the most beloved man in America in '52.

I do not believe that either Rumsfeld or Dr. Rice fit into the Eisenhower mold; and 1928 was such a different time that a socialist technocrat (save humanity with science and sanity!) could actually get elected having been nothing more than a utopian Commerce Secretary.

And while we're on the subject, there were only two presidents elected in the 20th century whose main claim to fame was a stint in the Senate: Warren G. Harding in 1920 and John F. Kennedy in 1960. And the last man elected to the office from the House of Representatives was James A. Garfield -- in 1880; he had risen as high as Minority Leader before being (a) offered the Senate seat of retiring Sen. Allan Thurmen, which Garfield declined because (b) he was also offered the Republican nomination for president.

After being sworn in, he was shot less than four months later; he lingered on for a few months, then died of his wounds. And since then, nobody has gone directly from the House to the presidency -- don't tell me there's no connection!

So again for three reasons, I cannot see either Dr. Secretary Condoleezza Rice or Secretary Donald I. Rumsfeld being elected president in 2008. If, however, Rice successfully runs for the governorship of Alabama, California, or Colorado in 2010 (the three states where she has spent most of her life), then she might be a viable presidential candidate for the 2016 election; at that time, she would be 62 years old, which is still a perfectly reasonable age to become president, though not as young as recent successful nominees.

One more half-point to make:

  1. At 74, Rumsfeld is almost certainly too old to be first elected president.

Reagan was 69 when he was elected in 1980, and even he was considered on the trailing edge; since then, we had George H.W. Bush winning at age 64, Bill Clinton at 46, and George W. Bush at 54; Blob Dole ran (and lost) at age 73 and was considered too old; "Rummy" would be even a year older than that.

I'm pretty sure he has no interest in the job; but even if he did, he would have far too many hurdles to overcome... not least of which is having served as Secretary of Defense during a war that is deeply unpopular among both Left and Right, however vital and necessary I think it is.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 11, 2006, at the time of 3:33 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 10, 2006

America's Mayor vs. Mr. Straight-Talk Express

Hatched by Dafydd

Over on Real Clear Politics, Tom Bevan asks an intriguing question:

I'm interested in hearing what people think - particularly from conservatives explaining why they're willling to support Giuliani even though, as a matter of policy, Hizzoner carries all the same baggage as McCain on those issues [immigration, the First Amendment, judges] - plus plenty of other suitcases as well.

The thrust of Bevan's column on Giuliani is that Giuliani shares McCain's disdain for freedom of speech; he shares McCain's position favoring a comprehensive immigration package (as do I), instead of the "big wall and deportations" position of many conservatives; and he is no more likely to appoint judicial conservatives to the bench than is McCain.

So why do conservatives cheer Rudy while booing McCain?

Tom Bevan wants readers to respond directly to him via e-mail; but I figured, if I'm going to write a comprehensive response anyway -- why not post it here for the readers to dissect and critique? Consider this an "open letter" responding to Tom Bevan. (I'll send him e-mail with a link!)

I truly think Bevan has the wrong end of the horse here, thinking conservative response is driven by issues, no matter how important. Look, I'm not a conservative, but I certainly am a center-right Republican; and I think I'm in the majority on this point: my objection to McCain is not this or that policy difference; it's his overall character.

  • The man is untrustworthy;
  • He stabs friends in the back;
  • He has a volatile, at times uncontrollable temper;
  • He holds a grudge longer than Richard Nixon did;
  • And he believes the absolute, bloody worst about anyone who disagrees with him.

He continually puts John McCain ahead of everything else, including the United States itself. And if elected president, he would likely become our very own version of Bill Clinton.

McCain didn't push McCain-Feingold (the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, BCRA) because he cared anything about "reform," nor did he push it because he hates freedom of speech (he doesn't; he just doesn't care). He pushed it because it aggrandized a fellow named John McCain.

Similarly, he didn't create the "Gang of 14" in order to expedite the judges nominated by President Bush, nor even to throw them under the bus: he did it, without regard to consequences, so that John McCain would again be the first name on the lips of America.

Rudy Giuliani is not my first choice for the 2008 Republican nomination; I would much prefer either George Allen or Mitt Romney -- and I'm certainly not happy with Giuliani's McCain-like positions on the BCRA and other First-Amendment issues. Nor do I think we would get judicial conservatives on the bench if he were doing the picking.

But John McCain is a piece of unexploded ordnance. Sitting in the Oval Office, he would himself be a weapon of mass destruction, and none of us would ever know when and where he would explode, putting the country itself in danger.

Finally, one more point: say what you will about his positions, Rudy Giuliani has actually run an administration, and run it very well. He truly turned New York City around: crime plummeted, the economy stabilized, and the quality of life vastly improved for the residents. He was beloved by both conservatives and liberals, by Democrats, Conservatives, and Republicans. And his handling of the local aspects of the 9/11 attacks showed him to be a strong yet compassionate leader who does not crumble in a crisis.

True, he was only mayor of a city, not governor of a state; but that city has a larger population, 8.1 million, than forty of the fifty states -- including Arkansas, the state of our last governor-president before George W. Bush, and Virginia and Massachusetts, the states of the two governor-presidential candidates in the 2008 race for the Republican nomination, Allen and Romney.

John McCain has never run anything but his mouth... and he can't even control that very well, can he?

Bevan does discuss the character issue (briefly) in his column, though he doesn't mention the point that Giuliani actually has experience running a very huge administration very effectively. But Bevan ends with this couplet that tells me he really hasn't internalized the real reason for the hatred of McCain and the love for Rudy:

We'll have to wait and see whether Rudy can convince conservatives that he shares enough of their values and philosophy to win their votes. At this early stage, all I can say is that it's going to be a lot tougher than some people think.

The primary "values and philosophies" demanded are not found in either man's position on the issues Bevan examines, but rather in both men's characters in a time so fraught with peril. Everything I know, I learned from Zorro, including this: "No man can govern others until he has first learned to govern himself." John McCain cannot even govern himself; I will not trust him with my country.

For those reasons, I find it perfectly rational to support Giuliani and oppose McCain, in despite of their very similar (and disappointing) positions on some critical issues, where both stand at odds with the center-right mainstream.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 10, 2006, at the time of 12:43 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

The Grey Lady Vs. the Stately Lady

Hatched by Dafydd

In an utterly predictable (and very offensive) news offensive, the New York Times now treats Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as an empty vessel, buffeted by the waves of passion from the right and diplomacy from the left. As the Times puts it:

As Ms. Rice has struggled with the Middle East crisis over the last four weeks, she has found herself trying to be not only a peacemaker abroad but also a mediator among contending parties at home.

Washington’s resistance to an immediate cease-fire and its staunch support of Israel have made it more difficult for Ms. Rice to work with other nations, including some American allies, as they search for a formula that will end the violence and produce a durable cease-fire.

The overall tone of the story paints Condi Rice as having no ideas or principles of her own; she merely tries to balance the traditional State Department's orientation of America as a "neutral broker" between Israel and Hezbollah -- and the tilt of the "neoconservatives" towards Israel:

On her recent trips to the Middle East, Ms. Rice was accompanied by two men with very different outlooks on the conflict: Elliott Abrams, senior director at the National Security Council, and C. David Welch, a career diplomat and former ambassador to Egypt who is assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs.

Mr. Welch represents the traditional State Department view that the United States should serve as a neutral broker in the Middle East. Mr. Abrams, a neoconservative with strong ties to Mr. Cheney, has pushed the administration to throw its support behind Israel. During Ms. Rice’s travels, he kept in direct contact with Mr. Cheney’s office.

One administration official described how during the trip — including a July 29 discussion in Ms. Rice’s Rabin suite at the David Citadel Hotel, with its panoramic view of Jerusalem’s Old City — Mr. Welch and Mr. Abrams served as counterfoils, with Mr. Welch arguing the Arab view and Mr. Abrams articulating the Israeli stance.

But there is no reason to suppose that Condi herself is neutral between these two points of view. As the secretary of state, she clearly must bring Welch along; he is State's number two guy on Middle East issues. Not to bring him would be an absolute scandal, and he would likely resign -- igniting a pointless and damaging war between the secretary and the department.

But since even the Times agrees that Rice's own policy directives far more favor the position of Elliot Abrams -- whom she personally talked into returning to government service on the National Security Council when Condi was the National Security Advisor -- isn't the simplest explanation that she brought Welch by tradition, but she brought Abrams by choice?

As fighting was breaking out last month between Hezbollah and Israel, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice worked through the night at her guest quarters on Russia’s Baltic coast to draft America’s response to the unfolding crisis.

The strategy she outlined that night, the eve of the Group of 8 meeting, dispensed with traditional diplomatic flourishes. It included no call for an immediate cease-fire and expressly stated that Israel had a right to defend itself.

And if so, then it's not unreasonable to infer that Condoleezza Rice is, in fact, in the Abrams camp: that she is not simply being pushed towards Israel by the winds emanating from the White House (or the Naval Observatory), like a kite in a storm -- but that she, herself, favors letting Israel beat down Hezbollah.

I'm not generally one to see "sexism" or "racism" around every bed; but in this case, I cannot help but wonder whether the New York Times would be so quick to assume the secretary of state has no will of her own were she not a beautiful, attractive black woman -- who happens to be a conservative.

If "Madam Madeleine" were issuing the same policies in response to the same crisis, am I alone in thinking that the Times would instead be praising her strength, independence, and control of foreign policy?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 10, 2006, at the time of 11:45 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Now Is the Time For All Good Men (and Women)...

Hatched by Dafydd

...to come to the aid of their Lieberman.

I have a campaign suggestion to make to Alan Schlesinger, the forgotten-man Republican in the Connecticut senatorial race, which is actually between incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-CT, 80%) and nutroots challenger Ned Lamont. But first, a word about the stakes.

I am not one of those Republicans -- thankfully not many -- who think that it's a good thing that Joe Lieberman was defeated in the primary; I'm too worried that Lamont might actually win. Let's consider what that might mean:

The next time an appropriations bill comes up to fund the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, suppose that the "Loss at any Cost" Democrats, feeling their oats, decide to filibuster. Would we be able to break that filibuster?

I'm honest-to-goodness not sure we could. But it would certainly be a heck of a lot harder with the exchange of Lieberman -- a certain vote for cloture -- for Lamont, an equally certain vote to kill all funding, no matter what the consequences. For heaven's sake, that was Lamont's only issue.

There may actually be 41 Democrats in the Senate willing to go the Rep. John Murtha (D-PA, 75%)/Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI, 100%) route of yanking out our troops in a desperate attempt to force an American defeat in the Iraq War... just so they would be able to say to the American people, "See? We told you it was unwinnable! We told you it would be a catastrophe! And by golly, we are men of our word!"

It's irrelevant that such a defeat would be devastating in the war against jihadi terrorism, because these Democrats look no further than their deranged hatred of George W. Bush: they would gleefully cut all our throats, so long as that hurt Bush.

Nor is it even relevant that the American people would likely (not certainly) see through the tactic and punish the Democrats terribly in 2008; we're not talking about what would happen but rather what the demented wing of the Democratic Party thinks would happen... and they honestly, for real, fantasize that the majority of America wants us to cut and run, however irrational and contrary to all polling that may be. The will to believe is a powerful, irresistable force.

They think that if they took a "principled" stand and forced -- by any means necessary -- an abrupt and total American pullout from Iraq, allowing Iraq to be carved up between Iran and Syria, Shia and Sunni... that the grateful American people would flood the polls to give Democrats unassailable majorities in both houses, along with the presidency for Feingold. Or maybe even Darth Murtha himself.

Contrariwise, I believe Republicans would pick up seats in 2008, and a Republican would win the presidency. So shouldn't I support anything that might lead to this chain of events?

The answer is, absolutely not: I will not sacrifice my country upon a cross of politics. The next two years are critical in the war; abandoning the field in Iraq now would be devastating for the United States, and indeed all of Western civilization, even if it only lasted until 2009.

Too, it would be incredibly hard to re-insert troops then than it was to invade in the first place in 2003. It's always harder to restart a program that proved harder than we thought it would be; there is a sense of "oh no, not again" that works against reinvolvement, no matter how urgent. Look how hard it has been for Israel to reinvade Lebanon with anything approaching the force they used the first time in 1983; today, the plan is for a total, counting what they're inserting and what is already there, of four to five divisions. But the invasion 23 years ago involved nine divisions.

No matter how obvious it may become that we prematurely withdrew, it will be many time harder to reinsert the troops than it was to do it in the first place, just two years after 9/11 and without foreknowledge of how strong the terrorists had actually grown under a dozen years of neglect.

Finally, assuming the attacks against us had not yet reached our shores again -- it takes a while for even al-Qaeda to plan something huge -- there is no real guarantee that the American people will realize how despicable the nutroots' actions were. I think they would, and I hope this would translate into major electoral movement in 2008... but I cannot be certain. And anything short of 99% certainty is too risky.

No, the best thing for America is that we do not "toss the dice" on such a critical, even existential issue. For God's sake, what happens if we roll snake-eyes? How many dead Americans do we want to see?

So it's absolutely critical that Joe Lieberman wins this contest, not Ned Lamont. And that brings up a very strange situation.

Many in the press are talking about how Lieberman's candidacy creates a "split vote" situation; they're partially right -- but not the way they think. There is the definite chance of a split vote... but it's not Lieberman's candidacy that is causing that; he is the front runner, and by definition cannot be causing a split vote.

I hate to say this, but the man whose candidacy causes a split vote is -- Alan Schlesinger, the Republican. He is splitting the "sane" vote.

Mr. Schlesinger, this race is too important to allow party loyalty -- or personal ego -- to interfere with reason. Mr. Schlesinger, it's time for you to go.

I don't call on Schlesinger to step down because of the ridiculous gambling "scandal;" I really don't care that he used an alias ("Alan Gold") to gamble to avoid being chucked out of the casinos for card counting. As far as I'm concerned, card counting is perfectly legal, perfectly honorable, and the whole affair is a private dispute that has nothing to do with Schlesinger's ability to make a perfectly acceptable senator... even better than Joe Lieberman:

[Schlesinger] supports a campaign program of immigration, tax, social security, Medicare, and spending reform. He is a self-described "moderate-conservative"; among other issue stances, he opposes affirmative action and amnesty for illegal immigrants, and, while he says he is otherwise pro-choice, supports mandatory parental notification before a minor can have an abortion. He says he can reach out to independents, as he did to win in Derby, a city where Republicans are outnumbered 4:1. He is generally considered a longshot to win the Senate seat, however, even in a three-way race with Lieberman on the ballot as an unaffiliated candidate. The two polls on a three-way race places Schlesinger's support at 8% and 15%. (Quinnipiac and Rasmussen, respectively.) However, he polls around 20% one-on-one against Ned Lamont, suggesting some Connecticut Republican voters would support Lieberman in a re-election bid.

Realistically, Schlesinger has zero chance of winning: zero, none at all. There is not the slightest chance that he could win, unless both Lamont and Lieberman are found to be members of Hezbollah just a week before the election. And it should be utterly clear that every vote cast for Schlesinger is a vote that would never be cast for Ned Lamont.

Suppose Schlesinger were to call a press conference, withdraw from the race, and throw the weight of whatever Republican support he has behind Joe Lieberman. What would this do?

  • First of all, nearly all Republicans who voted would vote for Joe; the only exceptions would be a few dimwits who would write in Schlesinger or some other Republican. Some might not show up, and the downticket races might suffer a bit. But I think it would be seen as such a noble and patriotic gesture that there might actually be an increase in Republican turnout... especially if Schlesinger spent the remaining months actively campaigning for Lieberman.
  • Second, without any alternative to Nutter Ned, nearly all independents would turn out to vote for "independent Joe."
  • Third, nearly half of all Democrats who voted in the primary voted for Lieberman. Surely a good chunk of those would do so again -- not all of them, but some of them.
  • Fourth. and this is the really interesting part, assuming Lieberman is reelected... he would be heavily beholden to the Republican Party; I'm certain this would accelerate and intensify his movement towards the center and away from some of the very liberal positions he has held (he has an 80% rating from the Americans for Democratic Action), at least some of which are probably for party reasons, not personal conviction.

    Perhaps we'll get back the old Joe Lieberman, who opposed racial preferences and income redistribution.

Honestly, I don't expect Schlesinger to do it; as a rule, I assume all politicians are rat-bastards who would sell their own mothers into a seraglio, if they thought it would buy them a few votes. But more often than mere chance would dictate, I'm pleasantly surprised when one of 'em actually turns out to care more for his country than his personal ambition... and maybe Alan Schlesinger will turn out to be one of those surprises.

For the love of God and country, Mr. Schlesinger, find it in your heart to cast aside your own candidacy to fight for victory in the war instead. I know you have vowed not to step down; but that was in response to efforts to derail you over that ridiculous non-scandal.

This is something very different. You may believe that you have a chance of winning; but to quote Oliver Cromwell, in his letter almost exactly 356 years ago to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland -- "I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken." And think of the consequences if you are, and if your candidacy should throw the election to Lamont.

"Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party"... and their country. Think, and think again, sir, and choose honor over interest.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 10, 2006, at the time of 11:08 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 9, 2006

Is It Just I?

Hatched by Dafydd

Or do these two pix remind anyone else of those "separated at birth" thingies?

Image 1:



Staged Photo of Supposed Dead Guy

"...Bodies were still buried under the rubble..."

Photo published yesterday by the New York Times with the following caption:

The mayor of Tyre said that in the worst hit areas, bodies were still buried under the rubble, and he appealed to the Israelis to allow government authorities time to pull them out. (Photo Tyler Hicks The New York Times)

(HT: our dearest Michelle Malkin)

Today, the New York Times regrets, and substitutes the following caption:

The correct description was this one, which appeared with that picture in the printed edition of The Times: After an Israeli airstrike destroyed a building in Tyre, Lebanon, yesterday, one man helped another who had fallen and was hurt.

Image 2:



Sistine Chapel

Picture by some other guy, Michael something.

And if there is a similarity anywhere outside of my own smooth, unfolded cerebral cortex, then what on Earth is Tyler Hicks trying to say, exactly?

(And why is this year's winner of American Idol off in Lebanon snapping photos of Israeli airstrikes? Oh, wait... maybe that was Taylor Hicks...)

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 9, 2006, at the time of 6:20 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

The Simple Art of Propaganda

Hatched by Dafydd

Sometimes we get so caught up in the minutiae of this or that battle, engagement, or encounter, that we forget to step back and take in the entire vista. I don't mean the view of the Israeli-Hezbollah war itself, though obviously that's important; in this case, the whole gestalt I want to focus on is the techniques by which the American elite news media has turned news reporting into propaganda.

Worse, not pro-Israeli or pro-Western secular democracy propaganda; that I would understand. But rather, into propaganda for the worst enemies of Western civilization... in fact, the bitterest enemies of the very "free press" that is cravenly crafting the agit-prop.

Here is the required reading for this class: Cabinet OKs Expanding Israeli Offensive, distributed by the Associated Press today, August 9th, 2006. The supposed thrust of the story is that the Israelis have finally decided to dramatically expand their offensive (as Big Lizards knew they eventually would have to do), seizing control of all Lebanese territory up to the Litani River.

But the real point is to subtly (and at times blatantly and overtly) portray the offensive as a failure and quagmire, and to enlist the aid of world opinion and the weariness and wariness of the Israeli public to force Israel to pull out immediately. (Why the antique media would want to do this is irrelevant to this discussion; this is about the actual mechanics.)

Subtext, or Reading Behind the Lines

Let's start right away with the opening pair of grafs:

Israel's Security Cabinet overwhelmingly decided Wednesday to send troops deeper into Lebanon in a major expansion of the ground war - an attempt to further damage Hezbollah before a cease-fire is imposed.

The decision could pressure the United Nations to work faster on a cease-fire deal to try to stop the offensive.

What is AP trying to do in this lead in?

  1. On the most obvious level, they are trying to taint the reader against 'unfair Israel,' 'Israel the cheater,' from the very start.

Americans and Westerners believe in fair play and following the rules. Thus, from the very first sentence, AP portrays Israel's expansion as an underhanded trick designed to take unfair advantage before the whistle is blown. Rather than give them the benefit of the doubt -- perhaps they're expanding the offensive to try to stop the missile attacks on Israeli cities? -- AP's Karin Laub delves deep into the psychological motivation of the Israelis: the offensive is just "an attempt to further damage Hezbollah before a cease-fire is imposed."

The bounders! She thus covertly compares them to a boxer who gets his opponent into a clinch... then before the ref can part them, he gets in a few low blows.

  1. But at a more subtle level, see how the macrocosmic themes are woven into the microcosm of a single sentence.

Note the phraseology. We all know that a ceasefire is something that two or more combatants agree to, temporarily suspending hostilities while they negotiate a settlement. The phrasing is that "A and B agreed to a ceasefire."

But that's not what Ms. Laub writes; rather, Israel is trying to get in a few more low blows "before a cease-fire is imposed." Imposed by whom? How can a ceasefire be imposed by anybody, apart from the combatants themselves?

This very subtle choice of passive voice in the midst of a pair of paragraphs that are otherwise in active voice is designed to arrest the reader's attention without him even realizing why: the cabinet decided; the cabinet will send troops; they are attempting to damage Hezbollah; the decision will pressure the UN (not "the UN will be pressured"), which may work faster and try to stop the offensive.

But the cease-fire will be imposed.

The shift in voice would be unnoticed on a conscious level by nearly all readers... but it has a subtle effect, putting the Israelis in the position of truculent schoolchildren pitching a tantrum, which will eventually draw the attention of the adults, who will come along and set things aright: if you Israelis can't make peace, then peace will be imposed.

Passive voice allows Ms. Laub to skip entirely over the question of who will do the imposing: there is no "actor" in that clause; the subject is an action (cease-fire), and the verb (imposed) is passive voice. The reader is left vaguely uneasy, wondering who he should envision disposing of the fighting: the United States? the Arab League? the U.N.? God? Graf one yields nothing but a question mark.

  1. The question mark of the first graf is answered with a resounding thunderclap of an exclamation mark in the second.

Who will impose the cease-fire? Who must we look to for an end to this terrible conflict? Why, the United Nations, of course!

The decision could pressure the United Nations to work faster on a cease-fire deal to try to stop the offensive.

So in a scant two paragraphs, we already have the image of Israel as a naughty child taking unfair advantage, which will surely provoke the magisterial power of the UN to lay down the law from Mount Sinai. Whew, that's quite an amazing load of subtext to rest on the thin foundation of two simple paragraphs!

So let's move on... and don't worry, we're not going paragraph by paragraph through the entire piece.

Objection Overruled

Now we have the obligatory nod in Israel's direction... followed immediately by what radio talk-show host Larry Elderberry calls "the Big But":

"Israel is still working for a diplomatic solution, preferably in the Security Council," Cabinet Minister Isaac Herzog said, adding that the new offensive would run parallel to the negotiations. "We cannot wait forever. We have a million civilians living in bomb shelters, and we have to protect them."

The decision came as fierce fighting was reported overnight with Hezbollah militants, and Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera reported 11 Israeli soldiers had been killed in what would be the deadliest day for Israeli troops in Lebanon in four weeks of fighting.

I changed the font sizes above to indicate the propagandistic effect of "call and response." This occurs (in both print and broadcast media) when Party A makes a point, and the writer (or host) then allows Party B to have the resounding response. In this case, Israel says 'hey, we have to protect our citizens,' and al-Jazeera swiftly responds 'but you're not, are you? You're getting cut to pieces!'

The net effect here is one of utter futility. Of course, al-Jazeera is not exactly known as a creditable news source (especially since the actual source for their claim is either the compromised Lebanese government or else Hezbollah itself); but that point is buried by the call and response technique, which backloads a heavy significance upon the final comment.

You may recognize this technique from 60 Minutes, which uses it incessantly -- and clumsily -- when their whistleblower is always allowed the final response to the feeble defense offered by the target:

The corporate spokesman, Daniel Squirmer, says that Engulf&Devour has made some effort to respond to these catastrophes: "We care about the environment; Engulf&Devour spends millions cleaning emissions from our factories."

But Dr. Blabber says the efforts have had little effect: "If they're really spending so much, where is it all going? To date, not a single site we identified has been certified clean and safe... not one!"

The technique sets up an artificial closure: the target -- Israel -- is never allowed to have the last word; they're like Hamilton Burger on the old Perry Mason show: whenever Ham Burger objects to one of Perry's unorthodox courtroom antics, the judge's response is invariably a resounding "overruled!"

It'll All End In Tears

  1. The Futility Fantasy: AP neglects even to mention any bright side to Israel's expansion, implying there isn't one. We can also call this the Argument from Murphy: anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

When you wanted that BB-gun for Christmas, your mother never suggested you might develop good eye-hand coordination, concentration, the ability to aim patiently, an activity to keep you outside the house but also off the streets, or that you might be prompted to form a club and meet a lot of like-minded people, did she?

I suspect she suggested that you would end up shooting some helpless bird, breaking the neighbor's window -- and of course, that you'd shoot your eye out.

Well, listen to "Mother" Laub:

The Israeli Cabinet decision was risky. Israel could set itself up for new criticism that it is sabotaging diplomatic efforts, particularly after Lebanon offered to deploy its own troops in the border area.

A wider ground offensive also might sharply increase the already-high number of casualties among Israeli troops.

Since the fighting began, at least 700 people have died on the Lebanese side. The Israeli toll stood at 103 killed - including 36 civilians.

In the six-hour meeting, Cabinet officials were told a new offensive could mean 100 to 200 more military deaths, a participant said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters. At least 67 Israeli soldiers have been confirmed killed.

Nice. Of course, it could also:

  • Drive Hezbollah back so far that they cannot shoot missiles at Israeli cities;
  • Clear the area so that the Lebanese Army could actually take control of their own southern territory;
  • Give Syria and especially Iran a bloody nose;
  • Cripple Iran's ability to threaten instant retaliation -- via Hezbollah, their forward-deployed SpecOps branch -- against the United States, were we to make a serious push against Iranian-backed Shiite militias in Iraq, such as Muqtada Sadr's al-Mahdi Militia or the Badr Brigades;
  • And even bring some peace to the region, by finally persuading the Arabs (and Iran) that the Ehud Barak era of weakness is finally and decisively at an end.

But Ms. Laub doesn't wish to confuse matters by bringing up all these irrelevancies. Suffice to say that it's just as effective to bias reader response by omission as it is by commission.

  1. A drawerful of left-handed gloves; well, everything's gone wrong so far, hasn't it?

This method, which I call the "blind in one eye" technique, is actually part of the Argument from Murphy. To reinforce the case that "it'll all end in tears if you don't follow our party," the great geniuses of propaganda would always publish a falsified history that simply leaves out anything that contradicts the party line. (Paul Josef Goebbels is credited with the "big lie" technique: he realized that the more outrageous the lie, the harder it was to refute it.)

If the false, one-sided history is presented authoritatively enough and in the absence of a competing history, even people who don't trust you will still internalize the history you recount, to a greater or lesser degree.

A recent very good example of this was the way the mainstream media was able to take the Bush Administration's response to Hurricane Katrina -- which response was actually significantly faster, more proactive, and more effective at saving lives than any previous response to a natural disaster in my memory -- and turn it into a worse disaster than Katrina itself. And they were so effective at this that not only does the American public now falsely imagine that Katrina was a low point for President Bush (in fact, it was one of his greatest achievements)... even most Republicans have been brainwashed to agree!

It was the elite media's crowning achievement of anti-Bush propaganda, and they are still giddy with glee.

The Democrats and their media succeeded in turning a magnificent success into a dismal failure simply by willfully failing to mention the hundreds of rescues and recovery programs that succeeded, recounting only the small number of things that went wrong -- but recycling them endlessly, to make it appear as if Michael Brown and George W. Bush offered only failure and death. (See 13 Ghosts for the true story of Bush and "Brownie" in their response to Hurricane Katrina.)

The news media use the same technique incessantly:

  • In Iraq, where all we ever hear about is the number of American and Iraqi dead;
  • In the economy, where job creation is reported as a negative, since it didn't live up to some expert's unrealistic expectation;
  • In gun control, where it's front-page news every time a man accidentally shoots his own son sneaking home late after a date... but when a single mom shoots a rapist in her own home, it's reported on page B-24, if at all.

In each case, by telling only one side of the history, the media subtlely imply that there is no other side, that there never has been a benefit. They must be subtle, because the blatant statement would be unsustainable and instantly challenged.

Viz., to the instant; here is Ms. Laub on the People's History of the Israeli-Hezbollah war:

The decision came as fierce fighting was reported overnight with Hezbollah militants, and Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera reported 11 Israeli soldiers had been killed in what would be the deadliest day for Israeli troops in Lebanon in four weeks of fighting....

Since the fighting began, at least 700 people have died on the Lebanese side. The Israeli toll stood at 103 killed - including 36 civilians....

The decision on the wider offensive came a day after the commander of Israeli forces in Lebanon was sidelined in an unusual midwar shake-up - another sign of the growing dissatisfaction with the military, which has been unable to stop Hezbollah's rocket barrages....

About a mile away, some 400 people marched in a funeral for 30 of the 41 killed in an Israeli airstrike earlier this week. They carried the bodies draped in Lebanon's green, red and white flag and chanted, "Death to America! Death to Israel!"....

Al-Jazeera said 11 Israeli soldiers were killed in heavy fighting with Hezbollah guerrillas near the border. The Israeli army declined to comment on the report but had said earlier that 15 soldiers were wounded in overnight clashes.

A Hezbollah statement said it killed or wounded 10 Israeli soldiers and destroyed a tank as it advanced toward the village of Qantara, north of the border....

Israel also struck Lebanon's largest Palestinian refugee camp, killing two people and wounding five....

Airstrikes also leveled a building in the Bekaa Valley town of Mashghara, trapping seven family members in the rubble. Five bodies were pulled out and the remaining two relatives were feared dead, officials said....

At least 19 Lebanese civilians were killed by airstrikes Tuesday. Rescuers also pulled 28 more bodies from the wreckage, raising the death toll to 77 Lebanese killed Monday, the highest since the war began.

Hezbollah fired more than 160 rockets at Israel on Wednesday. Since the fighting began July 12, a total of 3,333 have been fired, officials said.

In Laub's entire piece, there is not one single positive effect mentioned -- not one! It's as if the Israeli offensive has caused nothing but misery and heartbreak, death and destruction, even for Israel itself. According to the People's History, it has been an act of resounding senselessness that solved nothing and only made a bad situation worse.

Yet by not presenting that assessment openly, merely implying it by ignoring anything good (lying by omission), Karin Laub avoids the necessity of defending her thesis; if asked, she can simply look innocent and say, "but I never wrote that it was a complete fiasco; whatever do you mean?"

Drilling Down: Those Poor Dead "Civilians"

But of course, she does this deliberately. For one example, what is Laub's source for saying the 19 Lebanese killed were all "civilians?" How does she know? Who told her that? Technically, she is likely correct: the dead are all "civilians" in the sense that they were not members of the Lebanese Army. But she has completely left out the number who were members of -- or cheerleaders for -- Hezbollah.

That's a significant point, right? If 14 of the 19 were Hezbollah members, then that is very different than if all 19 were Druze Christians who have fought against Hezbollah and were thus on Israel's side in this war. But Laub simply omits any reference to Hezbollah fighters or supporters being killed and tells us that Israel's airstrikes have only killed good guys... without her actually coming out and saying so directly.

Because of course saying it overtly would be nitwittery: obviously some of the Lebanese killed were actually members of Hezbollah, since Israel is primarily attacking Hezbollah strongholds in southern Lebanon, the Bekaa Valley, and parts of Beirut. And an additional percentage of those killed, probably larger than the fighters themselves, were not actually members of Hezbollah but were part of the "Hezbollah tribe": they support the terrorist organization, which they see as the generous relatives who give them welfare, since the government of Lebanon cannot.

But what is the breakdown? We don't know, because the elite media never really tries to find out. If pressed, they simply take the word of Lebanese government officials... or of Hezbollah.

Israeli estimates of the number of Hezbollah killed are routinely labeled "inflated" by lefties in political debate. These leftists invariably get their "real number" by simply reading news stories and adding up the numbers of Hezbollah dead that the elite media claim.

But this quoted number in the media comes either from Hezbollah itself (which has an obvious interest in undercounting its own dead)... or from the Lebanese government, which is currently in bed with Hezbollah -- and which desperately struggles to persuade Israel to withdraw immediately and the rest of the world to lean on Israel to do so. Again, it's in the interests of Lebanon to portray the Israeli offensive as doing nothing but slaughtering civilians.

And since many reporters and editors in the MSM are people of the Left, they follow the party line, completing the vicious circle: virtually no members of Hezbollah have been killed in this war; the dead are all "civilians," and all the news is bad news.

Multiply by each component of the "bad-news brigade" cited above, and you have the anatomy of a false history.

The Grand View

The essence of propaganda is never to make a logical argument. Arguments can be refuted; evidence can be countered with better evidence.

What distinguishes propaganda from debate is that you never allow "the opposition to confuse matters by participating in the discussion." As I have said many times, it's easy to win a debate if you get to script both sides.

Propaganda succeeds by subtext, subtlety, and subterfuge:

  • Approach your subject obliquely;
  • Never state openly what you can imply subtly (leaving no opening for rebuttal);
  • Allow the opposition to speak, but only when your side gets the final say and controls the terms of debate (this gives the illusion of fairness without actually allowing full participation by your enemies);
  • Omit inconvenient facts to seize control of the narrative;
  • Predict dire consequences if the opposition is heeded; when calamities fail to materialize, simply act as if they actually did, referring to the (nonexistent) catastrophe as if everyone knows it so well, there is no reason to state it overtly;
  • Never, ever, ever, under any circumstances, admit that you have a "side;" you are the impartial observer... whose observations always seem to go one direction. Is it your fault that the entire universe is against the opposition?

If reporters like AP's Karin Laub (or the Washington Post's Tom Ricks, who went out of his skull and gave the Left's talking points in plain speech -- rather than as propaganda in the pages of the Post) were simply making these odd mistakes randomly, just by accident, then we would expect half of them to favor the Israelis, and only half to favor Hezbollah.

But in fact, each and every error, misstatement, omission, or subtextual implication supports the same position: that Israel should immediately withdraw (surrender), handing an unearned victory to Hezbollah and inflicting terrible damage on her own credibility on the world stage, signalling weakness... and rendering her ripe for the plucking by the vultures that surround her.

Never attribute to stupidity what can adequately be explained by malice; or in this case, what can only be explained by malice. Make no mistake. Know thine enemy as thou knowest thyself.

Class dismissed.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 9, 2006, at the time of 4:12 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 8, 2006

Fortnight to Apocalypse: the Moslem Millennium

Hatched by Dafydd

Professor Bernard Lewis, who knows more about Islam than any other Westerner (and likely more than virtually any Moslem), paints a chilling portrait of Iranian MAD-ness in today's Wall Street Journal. Alas, it lies behind the iron subscription; but not to worry, Big Lizards shall tell you all you need to know about it. "Never first, always final!"

Professor Lewis contrasts the Soviets, India and Pakistan, and other fairly civilized countries -- nations with every intention of surviving beyond the lifespan of their current leaders -- with the apocalyptic and nihilist worldview of Iran. Against the former, the military concept of "mutual assured destruction," or MAD, actually deterred; the Soviets did not attack us with nukes, because they knew we would respond in kind, and both countries would be utterly annihilated. Thus, the aggressors were stymied in using their most potent weapons.

But Iran has no such fear -- for the Iranian leaders, from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei through the ruling mullahs down to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, believe in an imminent Moslem millenarianism: that any day now, the final, momentous struggle between good and evil will culminate in armageddon.

A great battle will ensue, during which the forces of evil (that's us) will drive the faithful back and back. And as they teeter on the brink of oblivion, driven there by us "world devourers," as the late Ayatollah Khomeini called the infidels, that will trigger the return of the Twelfth Imam, the "Hidden Imam" whom Allah has hidden from the world until that moment arrives. This Muhammed al-Mahdi will personally lead the armies of Islam against the faithless (that is, everybody who isn't a Moslem), defeat and destroy them, and the entire world will be one shining Islamic crescent on a hill.

This version of apocalypse is, of course, no more silly than any other form of millenarianism. The difference is that this millennial group has an army, and air force, a missile force, and will soon have nuclear warheads to fulfill their eschatonian fantasies.

Earlier, I said the Iranian leaders believe this could happen "any day now;" but in fact, there is one date in particular that stands out, both because of historical significance within Islam and also because Ahmadinejad himself has made cryptic references to it: August 22nd by our calendar. In his dry, understated, British way, Prof. Lewis explains:

In Islam, as in Judaism and Christianity, there are certain beliefs concerning the cosmic struggle at the end of time -- Gog and Magog, anti-Christ, Armageddon, and for Shiite Muslims, the long awaited return of the Hidden Imam, ending in the final victory of the forces of good over evil, however these may be defined. Mr. Ahmadinejad and his followers clearly believe that this time is now, and that the terminal struggle has already begun and is indeed well advanced. It may even have a date, indicated by several references by the Iranian president to giving his final answer to the U.S. about nuclear development by Aug. 22. This was at first reported as "by the end of August," but Mr. Ahmadinejad's statement was more precise.

What is the significance of Aug. 22? This year, Aug. 22 corresponds, in the Islamic calendar, to the 27th day of the month of Rajab of the year 1427. This, by tradition, is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to "the farthest mosque," usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back (c.f., Koran XVII.1). This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary of the world. It is far from certain that Mr. Ahmadinejad plans any such cataclysmic events precisely for Aug. 22. But it would be wise to bear the possibility in mind.

But what does this mean for us? The leaders of Iran (not necessarily the youthful Persian population) see war, not as a horrible event to be avoided, but rather as the natural state of this world: Islam divides the earth into two spheres, the ummah or "Moslemdom" (the abode of peace), and the sphere of the infidel, which is the abode of strife or war.

Nor do they see even catastrophic losses as defeat, for what matters to them is entirely what happens in the next world, not in this one. Back to Lewis:

In this context, mutual assured destruction, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, would have no meaning. At the end of time, there will be general destruction anyway. What will matter will be the final destination of the dead -- hell for the infidels, and heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, MAD is not a constraint; it is an inducement.

That last sentence contains a variation on the line that Ralph Peters uses in nearly every column, but which appears to have originated with Cal Thomas:

While we argue about the place of God in U.S. society, our enemies are not so conflicted. They believe their god wants us dead. No amount of munitions, money and Marines is going to stay these fanatics from their ordained rounds. To them, death is victory. To us, it is tragedy. They are counting on us not wanting to die. They welcome death as a promotion. They believe we will cut and run if they can spill enough of our blood. We regard our blood as precious. They see theirs as the currency of martyrdom.

August 22nd is but a fortnight away; if the Iranians do not have nuclear weapons today, they will not have them in two weeks, either. But we know they have missiles capable of reaching Israel; and after all, nukes are not the only form that weapons of mass destruction can take.

Will Iran precipitate a conflagration, the final holocaust that will bring back the Hidden Imam and usher in the Moslem Millennium? Since we do not know, we must prepare for the worst: we must be ready with policy in case Iran directly attacks Israel on that date, thus widening a local war into a regional superwar... which could become a hyperwar -- call it the Tenth Crusade -- of Christendom (joined, perhaps, by Atheistan) against the Ummah.

We cannot allow ourselves to be sucker-punched again, as we were on September 11th. This time, we must make it clear that we're well aware of Iran's aspirations, and we're prepared to offer martyrdom to as many jihadis as want it, all to protect our own "abode."

Just a few minutes ago, Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney (ret), speaking on Hugh Hewitt (which will be the Jed Babbin Show for the next two weeks... is Hugh hiding in the mountains until after August 22nd?), stated that the Israelis have finally decided, as Big Lizards predicted they would, to widen the war: they are sending in a lot more troops under the command of their "number two" directly under Danny Halutz -- by which I presume McInerney means Deputy Chief of the General Staff Moshe Kaplinsky -- with orders to occupy everything south of the Litani River.

McInerney also discussed the multinational force (MNF) that would be required to truly replace the Israelis as a buffer to keep Hezbollah far enough away that they could not restart the war as soon as they were tanned, rested, and ready to resume their march to the apocalypse. Such a force (he envisions French, Italian, and Turkish troops) would have to comprise:

  • One and a half to two divisions;
  • Enough cavalry (armor) to forcibly disarm, per UNSCR 1559, Hezbollah in despite of Iranian anti-tank missiles;
  • Air power;
  • A command and control structure of its own;
  • Rules of engagement that allow not simply defensive response but pursuit and maybe even pre-emptive attacks;
  • And a long committment... years and years.

McInerney recognizes the slim chance of such a force materializing; but he still says (and I agree) that Israel should not even consider withdrawing from Lebanon until either such a force is actually called into operation and ready to deploy... or until Hezbollah is annihilated in Lebanon.

In fact, Israel will have plenty of time: even if nations enough agree to participate in such an MNF, it will literally take months for it to come together, arm, train up, and actually assume positions. During this time, Israel must stay in southern Lebanon, else Hezbollah will flood right back to where they were, and the MNF could not assume its duties (they would be peace-keepers, not peace-makers).

But the first test might come in a scant two weeks; we may be only a fortnight from the "apocalypse." Let's hope not, but we'll know before the month is out.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 8, 2006, at the time of 5:59 PM | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Newsflash: Israel Commits Near War Crime, Almost, Except They Didn't. Quite.

Hatched by Dafydd

This is a staggering charge that should, if there is a God, swiftly turn American public opinion against the Israelis, who have shown themselves to be such oppressors and aggressors against peaceful Hezbollah supporters in Lebanon. The headline from AP says it all:

Israeli Strike Kills 13 Near Mourners
by Ahmed Mantash [evidently his usual parther in fair and balanced reporting, Moshe Pippik, was unavailable for this effort]

Mourners in a funeral procession for Israeli airstrike victims scattered in panic Tuesday as warplanes again unleashed missiles that hit buildings and killed 13 people, witnesses and officials said.

The first missile struck a building about five minutes after the march by about 1,500 people had passed by, killing one person and wounding five.

In this almost war crime, which would have been an atrocity if the Israelis had actually struck the funeral procession, and was averted only by their underhanded trick of not actually striking the funeral procession, the Israelis had the temerity to strike a building some time after a funeral procession had passed by, frightening the mourners -- who imagined that they must have been the targets, and the Israelis were simply too dilatory and missed them.

Horrors!

To see how terrified these near-martyrs were, who almost suffered what would have been a crime against humanity (if the Israelis had actually done it, that is), just read their terror-stricken response:

The blast was close enough to send mourners screaming, "Allahu akbar!" or "God is great!" Some broke away from the procession, while others continued on.

I hope we all see how evil and horrific those Israelis are: if they had actually committed the despicable act that they didn't commit, targeting innocent mourners in a funeral procession (whose first reaction to being frightened is to scream "Allahu akbar!"), then they would have been obviously evil and horrific; are we going to let them slide from this just charge, merely on the flimsy excuse that they did not, in fact, do it?

I think not. Let heads roll! Let revulsion sweep the world! The Associated Press is absolutely correct to highlight would could have been a ghastly and brutal attack on unarmed mourners, except that they didn't quite attack them. Their obviously concocted claim should not save them from the world's ignominy and opprobrium:

Witnesses said one of the destroyed houses belonged to Sheik Mustafa Khalifeh, a cleric linked to Hezbollah, but it was unclear if he was among the casualties. Most Hezbollah officials have left their homes and offices since the offensive began nearly a month ago.

Ghaziyeh has been targeted several times, but the attacks Monday and Tuesday were the heaviest. The town was overflowing with displaced people, who have swelled its population to 23,000.

After all, besides having the gall to attack a city that contained some displaced people, Israel is holding up the peace process by not agreeing to withdraw completely and trust the word of the hitherto thoroughly compromised Lebanese government that they will, in fact, take up the slack and prevent Hezbollah from returning. In fact, even Hezbollah itself has embraced this plan... which must prove they want only peace:

Lebanon put its offers on the table: pledging up to 15,000 troops to a possible peacekeeping mission in southern Lebanon and saying Hezbollah's days of running a state within a state would end. The military plan had added significance since it was backed by the two Hezbollah members on Lebanon's Cabinet - apparently showing a willingness for a lasting pact by the Islamic militants and their main sponsors, Iran and Syria.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora on Tuesday praised Hezbollah's resistance, but said it was time for Lebanon to "impose its full control, authority and presence" over the war-weary country.

"There will be no authority, no one in command, no weapons other than those of the Lebanese state," he said on Al-Arabiya television.

Since it is clear to all with eyes to see that the Lebanese government is not in any way beholden to or even connected with Hezbollah, whose representatives sit not only in parliament but in the cabinet itself, surely such oral assurances should satisfy Israel. What more could they demand?

After all, the world knows that Israel has already been crushed in this war they started; AP has announced ever since Israel rolled into Lebanon that the war was a quagmire and could never be won by the oppressors. I mean, the Israelis. After all, how long can they go on accepting such losses as this?

Some of the fiercest skirmishes broke out around the village of Bint Jbail, a Hezbollah stronghold that Israeli has tried to capture for weeks. An Israeli solider and 25 Hezbollah guerrillas were killed, the Israeli military said.

Hezbollah TV also reported pre-dawn attacks on Israeli forces near the Mediterranean town of Naqoura, about 2 1/2 miles north of the border. The Israeli military said two reserve soldiers were killed in the area.

The latest casualties brought the number of people killed in Lebanon to at least 684, while the Israeli death toll was 100.

And after all, what have the Israelis to fear from this wonderful peace peace proposal, supported unanimously by the foreign ministers of the member states of the Arab League -- a group that is well known to harbor only friendly feelings towards Israel? Lebanon has pledged to ensure their coalition partner Hezbollah has no control over southern Lebanon, which currently dominates the Lebanese Army by superior force of arms, supplied by their patron Iran transshipped through their other patron, Syria (which controlled Lebanon absolutely for 29 years):

Saniora's government voted unanimously to send 15,000 troops to stand between Israel and Hezbollah should a cease-fire take hold and Israeli forces withdraw.

The move was an attempt to show that Lebanon has the will and ability to assert control over its south, where Hezbollah rules with near autonomy bolstered by channels of aid and weapons from Iran and Syria. Lebanon has avoided any attempt to implement a two-year-old U.N. resolution calling for the disarmament of Hezbollah, fearing it could touch off civil unrest....

Qatar Foreign Minister Hamad bin Jassem Al Thani warned of "a civil war in Lebanon" between Hezbollah and government forces if the Security Council does not make changes to the U.S.-French draft resolution [that is, if Hezbollah does not get its way]. "Lebanon won't bear it," he told Al-Jazeera.

With such ironclad assurances, surely even Israel must give way at last to world public opinion! After all, the full weight of international condemnation is about to fall across the Israelis' necks, and it must surely destroy them, the way they nearly tried to almost destroy those innocent pallbearers and mourners in what might have been a crime against humanity, if only Israel had actually done it. For lo! see how the quagmire thickens:

In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council said it plans to convene a special session this week to consider taking action against Israel for its Lebanon offensive.

Against such force and power arrayed, what aggressor dare stand against?

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 8, 2006, at the time of 1:34 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 7, 2006

Half of US Stubbornly Refuses to Believe Media Propaganda...

Hatched by Dafydd

...And it's an outrage!

Read this AP piece, the whole thing; I'll stand here humming obscure Elizabethan counter-tenor ditties until you finish.

Amazing, what? No further comment is necessary. (Goodness, what a short post.)

Oh, all right; I reckon I should say just a soupçon more. You've got the thumbscrews on me.

Just the Facts, Ma'am

First, let's look at the way disputed claims are introduced as proven facts that everyone agrees about:

The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900-million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

Here are a few quotations from the final report of the ISG, September 30th, 2004. See how closely they match AP's characterization above. On Hussein's non-cooperation with and his ongoing deception of UN inspectors:

Many former Iraqi officials close to Saddam either heard him say or inferred that he intended to resume WMD programs when sanctions were lifted. Those around him at the time do not believe that he made a decision to permanently abandon WMD programs. Saddam encouraged Iraqi officials to preserve the nation’s scientific brain trust essential for WMD. Saddam told his advisors as early as 1991 that he wanted to keep Iraq’s nuclear scientists fully employed. This theme of preserving personnel resources persisted throughout the sanctions period....

Baghdad reluctantly submitted to inspections, declaring only part of its ballistic missile and chemical warfare programs to the UN, but not its nuclear weapon and biological warfare programs, which it attempted to hide from inspectors....

The abortive efforts to outwardly comply with the UN inspection process from 1995 onward slowly shifted to increased efforts to minimize the impact of the inspection process on Regime security, military, and industrial and research capabilities. Throughout 1997-1998, Iraq continued efforts to hinder UNSCOM inspections through site sanitization, warning inspection sites prior to the inspectors’ arrival, concealment of sensitive documentation, and intelligence collection on the UN mission.

On Hussein's future plans for WMD retention and resumption:

The Regime made a token effort to comply with the disarmament process, but the Iraqis never intended to meet the spirit of the UNSC’s resolutions. Outward acts of compliance belied a covert desire to resume WMD activities. Several senior officials also either inferred or heard Saddam say that he reserved the right to resume WMD research after sanctions....

The suspension of cooperation with UN inspectors ushered in a period of mixed fortunes for the Regime.This transitional phase was characterized by economic growth on the one hand, which emboldened and accelerated illicit procurement and programs....

Saddam invested his growing reserves of hard currency in rebuilding his military-industrial complex, increasing its access to dual-use items and materials, and creating numerous military research and development projects. He also emphasized restoring the viability of the IAEC and Iraq’s former nuclear scientists....

There is an extensive, yet fragmentary and circumstantial, body of evidence suggesting that Saddam pursued a strategy to maintain a capability to return to WMD after sanctions were lifted by preserving assets and expertise.

Whether or not Saddam retained WMD as late as 2003:

ISG has not found evidence that Saddam Husayn possessed WMD stocks in 2003, but the available evidence from its investigation -- including detainee interviews and document exploitation -- leaves open the possibility that some weapons existed in Iraq although not of a militarily significant capability.

A recovered 2002 document outlines the Iraqi evacuation plan to protect key military industries and equipment from Coalition air strikes or threats. The former Regime developed these concepts in response to lessons learned after Desert Storm and Desert Fox. The report outlines the importance of utilizing a properly concealed Iraqi railroad system along with trucks and pre-equipped trailers to move important laboratories, equipment, and machinery....

If Iraq possessed WMD Saddam may have concluded, given his perception of the Coalition threat, he would not need to use WMD. Military commanders consistently over-reported their combat capability and Saddam had concluded most Iraqis would fight to defend the country. He may not have realized that his Regime could not be saved until it was too late to deploy CW from existing storage areas to operational forces....

If WMD existed, Saddam may have opted not to use it for larger strategic or political reasons, because he did not think Coalition military action would unseat him.... Based on his experience with past coalition attacks, Saddam actually had more options by not using WMD, and if those failed, WMD always remained as the final alternative.

Note the huge discrepencies between the AP "article," written by Mr. Charles J. Hanley -- a Bush hater and anti-war baiter from long back -- and the actual Duelfer report:

Hanley says "the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight."

But the final report of the ISG says:

  • They found no evidence of WMD... yet they hold open the possibility of legacy WMD;
  • That Hussein obstructed and impeded inspections and hid materials from inspectors;
  • That Hussein always harbored the intent to resume WMD production the moment sanctions were lifted (which, absent the invasion, would have been right around the corner);
  • That to this end, Hussein retained all the capacity to restore and reconstitute his WMD programs.

And in fact, at least "a trace" of the banned arsenal -- about twenty loaded chemical shells -- were found before Charles Duelfer's final report of the Iraq Survey Group; and nobody knew then (or knows today) how many such "legacy" chemical weapons still existed in 2003 and still exist today (though the Pentagon now admits that number is in excess of 500; see below). Yet Hanley flatly states that nothing at all has been found... "no trace."

Let's return to Hanley's assertions of supposedly uncontroversial "reality." He discusses here the chemical munitions that we have, in fact, found in Iraq -- and why they don't count:

But the Pentagon and outside experts stressed that these abandoned shells, many found in ones and twos, were 15 years old or more [I recall reading "up to" 15 years old, not a minimum of 15], their chemical contents were degraded [but it's in great dispute just how degraded they were... some severely, but some only minimally], and they were unusable as artillery ordnance [Hanley disdains even to mention the possibility that, while unusable as artillery shells, they may well be usable as chemical IEDs]. Since the 1990s, such "orphan" munitions, from among 160,000 made by Iraq and destroyed, have turned up on old battlefields and elsewhere in Iraq, ex-inspectors say. In other words, this was no surprise.

Note the yawner at the end: "no surprise." Does the fact that we knew they were there mean, therefore, that they were not dangerous? Rather, I think it severely undercuts Hanley's point above that "no trace" of Hussein's "banned arsenals" existed, as 500 chemical munitions is more than "a trace."

Back to Hanley:

And Bush himself, since 2003, has repeatedly insisted on one plainly false point: that Saddam rebuffed the U.N. inspectors in 2002, that "he wouldn't let them in," as he said in 2003, and "he chose to deny inspectors," as he said this March.

The facts are that Iraq - after a four-year hiatus in cooperating with inspections - acceded to the U.N. Security Council's demand and allowed scores of experts to conduct more than 700 inspections of potential weapons sites from Nov. 27, 2002, to March 16, 2003. The inspectors said they could wrap up their work within months. Instead, the U.S. invasion aborted that work.

Actually, the "facts" are that Hussein was caught repeatedly moving materials around from site to site, delaying inspectors for days, and that there appeared to be leaks from within UNMOVIC that enabled the Iraqis to know, sometimes days in advance, what site inspectors were going to look at and what they thought they might find. UN seals were several times found broken, and the inspectors themselves admitted that Iraq was not fully cooperating with the inspections regime.

From the ISG final report:

In 2002 and 2003, SSO minders accompanied many inspection teams because of the requirement laid down by UNSCR 1441 to provide immediate access to all facilities, including presidential sites. They also served to warn Saddam Husayn’s security personnel that inspectors were approaching presidential locations....

Between August 2002 and early January 2003, the Iraqi military had taken measures to prepare for an anticipated US military attack on Iraq, according to a former IIS official. These measures included the movement and hiding of military equipment and weapons. Army leaders at bases throughout Iraq were ordered to identify alternate locations and to transfer equipment and heavy machinery to off-base locations, taking advantage of farms and homes to hide items.

Far from being "plainy false," the claim that Hussein was still "rebuff[ing] the U.N. inspectors" was plainly accurate.

Send the Rabble Back to Their Homes

Second, look at the dismissive, even belittling way Hanley describes those benighted souls who still believe that Iraq posed any danger at all prior to the March, 2003 invasion:

Half of America apparently still thinks [that Iraq had WMD], a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq.

This sets the tone: if you actually think that Iraq had WMD or even WMD programs in 2002-2003, then (pick one or more):

  • You've been brainwashed by talk radio or "die-hard bloggers;"
  • You've been brainwashed by Bush's propaganda;
  • You've been made a fool by badly written headlines that leave the mistaken impression that things have been found since the invasion that might indicate the most dovish position in 2002 was not completely correct;
  • You're a stupid patriot who thinks "my country, right or wrong!"
  • You have a psychological need to expiate your guilt by believing the delusion that Bush might have been right after all.

Missing from this list of explanations for why people might believe Iraq really did have WMD is this one: because recent information and finds indicate that Iraq really did have WMD in 2003.

People tend to become "independent of reality" in these circumstances, says opinion analyst Steven Kull....

"I'm flabbergasted," said Michael Massing, a media critic whose writings dissected the largely unquestioning U.S. news reporting on the Bush administration's shaky WMD claims in 2002-03.

"This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence," Massing said.

This is the psychology meme more fully expressed: those who think Iraq had WMD in 2003 have a psychological need, "independent of reality," to believe such a ludicrous thing. Of course, for any of this to make sense, we have to assume from the outset that there is no logical way for anyone to believe that the answer to the question "Did Saddam Hussein's government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003" could be "Yes." But wait...

Timing may explain some of the poll result. Two weeks before the survey, two Republican lawmakers, Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum and Michigan's Rep. Peter Hoekstra, released an intelligence report in Washington saying 500 chemical munitions had been collected in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

Hm... if a fellow were aware of that report -- which the Pentagon itself has confirmed -- and if he were asked whether "Saddam Hussein's government [had] weapons of mass destruction in 2003," wouldn't his answer have to be that it obviously did?

The only alternative is that old Iraqi chemical weapons had been smuggled into Iraq after 2003; but if that were true, then they had to exist outside of Iraq prior to that point (since one cannot manufacture items in 2003 that date back to 1991) -- which buttresses the idea that Iraq removed its arsenal to another country!

It's one or the other for anyone who knows about the report. Thus, for someone to believe, as Hanley clearly does, that there was "no trace" of WMD in Iraq, he would have to conclude that a chemical weapons from 1991 was not really a "weapon of mass destruction."

This is the Mark Steyn position: "No matter how many WMDs are found in Iraq, they're always the wrong kind.

A former Iraqi general's book - at best uncorroborated hearsay - claimed "56 flights" by jetliners had borne such [WMD] to Syria.

Has Hanley actually read the book? Or even a summary? Or did he say to himself, "I needn't bother reading that thing, for it is nothing but uncorroborated hearsay at best." Rather than attempt to debunk the claim, Hanley is content merely to denounce it.

"For some it almost becomes independent of reality and becomes very partisan." The WMD believers are heavily Republican, polls show.

The third meme: it's all just politics. How can you take seriously those who think there was WMD in Iraq? For Pete's sake, they're all Republicans!

The Lurkers Support Me In E-Mail

Finally, note that Hanley interviews not a single commenter who disagrees with his central thesis: that any American who thinks that Iraq had any "trace of banned arsenals in Iraq" is either terminally ignorant and stupid, is driven by deep psychotic impulses so frighteningly antisocial, he should probably be locked up, or is perhaps even a Republican.

Nearly all of those commenters he interviews have a pre-existing animus against Bush or against the war; it's hard not to suspect that's precisely why they find themselves quoted in this hit-piece:

  • "People tend to become 'independent of reality' in these circumstances, says opinion analyst Steven Kull."

Kull is an "analyst" at the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA), a very left-wing survey group that produces push-polls with questions like this:

Suppose the US has detained an individual in Afghanistan who is not suspected of having any involvement in terrorism, but the US suspects this person might have useful information about a terrorist group. Suppose, when asked, he denies having such information. Do you think the US does or does not have the right to put this person in prison indefinitely as a way of putting pressure on him to talk?

(Anti-war groups such as al-Jazeera and CommonDreams.org frequently turn to Kull for authoritative-sounding quotes to back up their stories.)

  • "'I'm flabbergasted,' said Michael Massing, a media critic whose writings dissected the largely unquestioning U.S. news reporting on the Bush administration's shaky WMD claims in 2002-03."

From Wikipedia:

Michael Massing is a contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. Michael Massing received his Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College and an MS from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He often writes for the New York Review of Books concerning the media and foreign affairs. He has written for the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly. He was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship in 1992. He has written on the War on Drugs in his 2000 book The Fix and on American jounalism [in] Now They Tell Us: The American Press and Iraq.

'Nuff said.

  • "'These are not stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction,' said Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine who was a U.N. inspector in the 1990s. 'They weren't deliberately withheld from inspectors by the Iraqis.'"

For some inexplicable reason, Hanley neglects to mention this tidbit about Mr. Ritter:

Ritter has been criticized for the financing of his 2000 documentary In Shifting Sands: The Truth About UNSCOM and the Disarming of Iraq.

Detroit businessman Shakir al Khafaji, an American citizen of Iraqi descent, gave Ritter $400,000 to produce his film. Al Khafaji later disclosed to media sources that he had profited from the sale of oil allocations distributed by the Iraqi government under the Oil-for-Food programme run by the UN. [Financial Times, April 13, 2004] Some commentators have speculated that Al-Khafaji's fianancial support of Ritter's film may have been part of a quid-pro-quo with the Iraqi govenment, since the film supported the official Iraqi claim that WMD capabilities had been eliminated. Ritter has stated that at the time, he accepted Al-Khafaji's personal assurance that the money was not connected to the Iraqi regime.

(Shakir al Khafaji is a naturalized American citizen, having immigrated from Iraq in 1975.)

I would think such a connection between Ritter and Saddam Hussein's government, even indirectly, might possibly color the reader's perception of Ritter's objectivity and should have been disclosed. But then, I'm not a member of the elite media, with all of its multiple layers of checks and balances... so what do I know?

  • "'I think the Santorum-Hoekstra thing is the latest 'factoid,' but the basic dynamic is the insistent repetition by the Bush administration of the original argument,' said John Prados, author of the 2004 book Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War."
  • "As recently as May 27, Bush told West Point graduates, 'When the United Nations Security Council gave him one final chance to disclose and disarm, or face serious consequences, he refused to take that final opportunity.'

    'Which isn't true,' observed Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a scholar of presidential rhetoric at the University of Pennsylvania. But 'it doesn't surprise me when presidents reconstruct reality to make their policies defensible. This president may even have convinced himself it's true, she said.'"

  • "'As perception grows of worsening conditions in Iraq, it may be that Americans are just hoping for more of a solid basis for being in Iraq to begin with,' said the Harris Poll's David Krane."

Prados' position on Bush and the Iraq war is obvious; Jamieson, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School of Communication, has argued for years that all politicians are liars and cheats.

David Krane, Senior Vice President of Media, Public Relations and Public Policy Research and project manager for Harris Interactive, is the lone commenter who doesn't start with an obvious axe to grind against Bush and the war; on the other hand, his quotation can only be presumed from context to support Hanley's position.

Sitting separately, it reads more like a general comment simply about Americans hoping to be reassured that we went into the war for good and valid reasons -- not specifically about the oddity that a majority of Americans believes that WMD existed in Iraq, merely because we have subsequently found existing WMD in Iraq.

Hanley does not trouble to intervew, even for a pull-quote, anybody who disputes his thesis, arguing that Iraq did indeed retain either WMD itself or at least the capability to quickly reconstitute it the moment the sanctions and inspections regime collapsed: no Laurie Mylroie, no Rick Santorum or Peter Hoekstra, nobody involved in translating the Iraq IIS and military documents that have been released recently, no Iraqi defectors, and none of the analysts who have recently cast doubt upon the CIA characterization of those mobile labs as part of Hussein's urgent program, on the eve of war, to protect Iraq's vital weather-balloon facilities.

Evidently, like global-warming fanatics, he wants us to believe that 100% of all experts back his position.

All the News That's Fit to Be Tied

Suffice to say that the entire Hanley piece, from soup to nuts, is a propaganda paeon to anti-war activists, Arabs, and the Democratic Party. Yet it was published and distributed in the regular AP news feed via excite.com. Given such efforts, it's a wonder that "half of America" is still able to see through the snide inuendo, the condescending pop psychology, and the insulting dismissal of views contrary to the vision of the anointed antique media.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 7, 2006, at the time of 1:07 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 6, 2006

Yet Another "18½ Minute Gap"

Hatched by Dafydd

Way Back on May 30th, 2005, I posted on Patterico's Pontifications an article titled The 18½ Minute Gap, which I subsequently reposted here on Big Lizards a year later as a "Scaley Classic."

This was the central conceit of that post:

It does little good to point out what nobody now denies: that Hussein had many ongoing programs to develop such chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; they just weren't as advanced as we were afraid they were. Given how little intelligence we had about that secretive country, the choice was to trust in Saddam Hussein's restraint and good judgment, or trust in the United States military. "You should have just waited a few more months," the lib invariably intones; "maybe a year. Then we would have known for sure."

In other words, they wanted us to wait until two minutes to midnight. Then we could have moved... unless it turned out our watch was slow.... [Emphasis added, as the BL style has changed in the last year and a quarter.]

Had we waited just a few more months -- waited until two minutes before midnight -- even more high officials in Security-Council governments would have been corrupted; it's entirely possible that, in the end, even Britain would have bowed to international pressure and pulled out of the Operation Iraqi Freedom. Would we still have gone to war, then? I don't think anyone can really say for sure.

So the Left is actually right, for a change: we miserably failed to wait until two minutes to midnight to strike against the tyrant. We struck at twenty till, instead. Maybe even twenty and a half minutes before the witching hour.

Which would make it the second time in history that an 18½ minute gap saved the presidency... and this time, possibly the entire Global War on Terrorism as well.

The surreal argument advanced by Democrats -- now including nearly all of them, other than the soon to be unemployed Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT, 80%) -- is that we should have waited until the last, possible moment before the invasion window closed, just on the off chance that it was all a terrible mistake: that there were no WMD programs, that Saddam Hussein was really a nice guy, and all things black and ugly we thought we knew about him were just lies, spread by his competitors.

And indeed, the Left seized upon as vindication the supposed "failure" to find WMD, which was actually a deliberate decision by the CIA -- which had always opposed the invasion -- to refuse to label as "WMD" any program, device, chemical, or biological sample that had any conceivable non-war purpose, no matter how implausible or even ludicrous.

Thus, 55-gallon drums of Cyclosarin sitting in camouflaged bunkers near empty chemical rocket shells were not chemical-warfare tools; perhaps the Iraqis were simply obsessed with having aphid-free ammo dumps.

And those mobile labs that were described so accurately by Iraqi defectors who had worked on them, and who also described their use in developing chemical and biological munitions, were dismissed by the CIA as "mobile hydrogen-production factilities"... despite the fact that Iraq, being an oil-drililng and refining country, would routinely make tens of thousands of liters of hydrogen commercially and store it in tanks that were a fraction of the weight of those labs -- and of course were already ready for use.

Perhaps, on the very eve of the Coalition invasion, Saddam Hussein was simply focused like a laser beam on protecting Iraq's critical supply of weather balloons.

Rather than acting with alacrity in invading that country when we were pretty sure -- as we are now, especially with the wealth of new finds of the progress of creating WMD and the possible stockpiles moved to Syria -- the Left wanted us to wait until we could prove that Hussein was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. (In fact, it was more like what Patterico wants the standard to be in death-penalty cases: "guilty beyond all possible doubt.")

As this standard would have put the possibility of military action forever out of range under any circumstances, since intelligence gathering is never as certain as all that, accepting it amounts to saying that no matter how serious the threat to the United States, we can never go to war -- even if the bad guys attack us first -- so long as they refuse to admit it was they.

I called that the 18½ Minute Gap; and now we have another example: the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in pursuit of Hezbollah.

As it turns out, Israel (along with most of the rest of us, certainly including myself) thought they dominated that terrorist group so completely that the war would be quick and decisive. And perhaps it would have been, had Israel attacked with the seriousness of purpose of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, and 1982 (their last invasion of Lebanon, against Yassir Arafat's PLO, in which Manachem Begin used nine divisions and 800 tanks)... rather than the limp-wristed response of Ehud Barak in 2000: Barak jerked the troops out of Lebanon in such a panicky way that he simulated a rout following a military defeat, which had never actually happened.

For whatever reason, Israel has now discovered that Hezbollah is far stronger than anyone imagined; and the victories Israel has achieved -- and there are several important ones -- are neither decisive nor persuasive. Contrariwise, Israel is in the process of inadvertently convincing the Arab that Israel is a paper camel who can be defeated.

Democrats are triumphant: the hated Zionist entity is being battered, giving leftists the enormous satisfaction of a great, big, fat, wet I told you so! The Left wags its finger in Israel's face, like Mom after you almost shoot your eye out with that BB-gun you finally got, and says, in essence, see? look at all the trouble you bought for yourself by refusing to listen to us... you should have left well enough alone.

But this argument boils down to the question of what is "well enough." Had Israel simply done nothing -- or worked through the "international diplomatic community," which amounts to the same thing -- would they really have been better off than they are right at this very moment?

I say no, they would have been far worse off... even if they end up losing this war. To imagine they'd have been better off, a Democrat must think that this war was avoidable, that it need never have happened. That if Israel hadn't attacked Hezbollah and just suffered the missiles and kidnappings in stoic silence, they would have so impressed the terrorists with their sang froid that the latter would have written a letter like the one Sean Connery (Mulay Achmed Mohammed el-Raisuli the Magnificent, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates) wrote to Brian Keith (Teddy Roosevelt), telling TR that he was the wind to the Raisuli's lion), then bow out of any future conflict with Israel.

But that is errant nonsense. Hezbollah, the "Party of God," believes it has a holy mission to annihilate the Jews. Hezbollah is not a stand-alone terrorist group; in reality, it is nothing less than the third branch of Iran's armed forces -- their forward-deployed special-operations unit. Both Hezbollah and Iran are singing from the same hymnal (er... perhaps I could have chosen a better expression) anent the obliteration of Israel and driving the Jews into the Mediterranean.

Nor are they slackers or fulyaks about it: Iran's frantic effort to develop nuclear warheads for their intermediate-range ballistic missiles raises at least the strong possibility that the purpose of their soon-to-be nukes is not simply to "extort" the rest of the world, but also to set in motion the holocaust that will bring the advent of the "Twelfth imam," Muhammad al-Mahdi, whom Shi'a believe has been hidden from the world by God and will reappear at the end of the reign of the tyrants (non-Moslems), forcing (Shiite) Islam upon the entire world as the global religion.

And Hezbollah's pace of attack on Israel has grown steadily year after year since the 2000 pullout from Lebanon; there is no reason to believe they would abruptly stop or even level off.

The greatest probability is that this war was actually inevitable, not "evitable;" and that if the Israelis hadn't forced it now, the other side would have forced it later... at a time and place and in a manner of their own choosing, when they were even stronger, relative to Israel, than they are today.

Thank God the Israelis responded to Hezbollah's provocation by launching even the limited war that they did at 20 minutes to midnight; because if they had waited until two minutes to midnight, as the Left demanded they should have -- or even two minutes after midnight, as the Left actually believes -- then as bad as it is right now, it would have been a hundred times worse.

In their hearts, I believe most Democrats, liberals, and lefties know this; which means it's not an argument about the means, when and how Israel should have struck, but rather about the end itself: who wins? The Left collectively wants the jihadist savages to win and hated Western civilization to lose.

As to why they want that... well, that's a psychodrama for another day.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 6, 2006, at the time of 1:50 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 4, 2006

Not As Sagergacious As He Thinks

Hatched by Dafydd

Is anyone else getting as tired of Ryan Sager at Real Clear Politics Blog as I?

I don't mind his libertarianism; I'm a libertarian myself (though I don't have the brazenness to lecture conservatives on how they should define their movement).

Nor am I particularly bothered by his relentless and pugnacious Giuliani boosterism and babbittry: although I don't particularly share Rudy Giuliani's smug satisfaction with liberal bromides on abortion, same-sex marriage, and many other issues; and though I would prefer either George Allen or Mitt Romney to Giuliani; still, I think he did a fairly good job as mayor of New York City, on the whole... and I would have no difficulty voting for Rudolph Giuliani for president, were he the Republican nominee.

What I find incomprehensible about Ryan Sager is the double standard he employs anent Giuliani and George W. Bush, screaming for attention in this most recent piece on RCP.

Sager takes the side of E.J. Dionne, who pronounced "the end of the Right" (or at least conservatism) yet again in a new column, also posted on Real Clear Politics: Ryan overlooks anticonservative tendencies in his beloved Giuliani (and Reagan -- see below) that he denounces when they crop up as forced compromises between Bush and the more liberal Republicans in the Senate.

Even Sager notes that Dionne has written this column before (I think "incessantly" is the word required here):

E.J. Dionne may have a special affinity for declaring various ends to conservatism. But that doesn't mean he's wrong.

Then Sager continues on to agree with many of Dionne's examples of where "conservatism" has gone wrong -- laying the blame squarely on Sager's usual whipping boy, George W. Bush... who (by a strange coincidence) is also the favorite bugaboo of "movement" libertarians from Virginia Postrel, et al, of Reason Magazine; to the LP under the bumptious and odious influence (I wouldn't say leadership) of L. Neil Smith; to the growling Buckleyites left lurking in the House; to the Randroids:

Under George W. Bush, conservatism has ceased to mean much of anything at all. It's not about small government, it's not about fiscal discipline, it's not about states' rights, it's not even about competent war leadership....

How has Bush led us to such incoherence? Andrew Busch, author of Reagan's Victory: The Presidential Election of 1980 and the Rise of the Right, put it well in an op-ed on OpinionJournal earlier this week: "Mr. Bush has neglected the critical task--carried out by Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich--of advancing a public argument that connects his otherwise disparate policy decisions to a broader philosophical framework. He has failed to articulate the philosophical argument for limited government that once defined the Republican Party."

Here Sager -- along with Busch -- falls into the insidious trap of misunderestimating George W. Bush: because Bush has a more low-key style than did Ronald Reagan and doesn't give speeches ringing with references to "a shining city on a hill" or stirring pronouncements that Mr. Gorbachev should throw open those gates and tear down that wall, many who were first brought to some inkling of conservatism by Reagan (or Goldwater) assume that Bush is an inarticulate Alley Oop.

But in fact, Bush has grasped the essential fact that eludes many self-described libertarians (including Buckley himself recently): that safeguarding the country is at the core of preserving any rights or liberties at all. And that "limited government" means a very different thing when a country is in a state of open war than when it's in a state of (presumed) peace.

At this, Bush has made an amirable and eloquent case indeed. Sager errs to think that Reagan would have fought this war differently; I have faith that the Gipper would actually have been able to distinguish between strategies that work well against international Communism, which is a Western heresy, and those that must be pursued when the enemy is fanatical Islam, whether the radical Shiite or Sunni Islamists who want to destroy all modernity and replace it with a 7th-century theocracy, and who consider death a promotion (as somebody said, danged if I can remember who) -- or the openly fascistic, more or less secular Islamic tyrannies like the Baath Party.

Sager seems to have forgotten the entire decade of the 1980s if he thinks Bush compares unfavorably to Reagan on economic policies. As Fred Barnes so ably demonstrated in a recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, reposted on Yahoo for the benefit of those who don't subscribe:

But it's also on the spending issue that the Reagan myth--Reagan as the relentless swashbuckler against spending--is most pronounced. He won an estimated $35 billion in spending cuts in 1981, his first year in office. After that, spending soared, so much so that his budget director David Stockman, who found himself on the losing end of spending arguments, wrote a White House memoir with the subtitle, "Why the Reagan Revolution Failed."

With Reagan in the White House, spending reached 23.5 percent of
GDP in 1984, the peak year of the military buildup. Under Mr. Bush, the top spending year is 2005 at 20.1 percent of GDP, though it is expected to rise as high as 20.7 percent this year, driven upward by
Iraq and hurricane relief.

In fact, Barnes' entire piece, which Sager must have read, is almost a point-for-point refutation of Sager's thesis; yet he makes not a single reference to it! Not even to respond to Barnes' arguments.

Honestly, Sager's vein of Bush-is-anathema-to-conservatism ore is pretty much played out. He is not helping the Republicans for either 2006 or 2008 by trying to drive away their support. I know that libertarians like to pretend there is no difference between the "Republicrats" and the "Democans," but every single thing he lambastes Bush for doing (or not doing) would be a thousand times worse under a Democratic president and Congress.

And virtually the entirety of Sager's list (Busch's list, actually) of conservative actions that could rescue the party at, Sager believes, the minor cost of sacrificing George W. Bush, is in fact already being vigorously pursued by that same President Bus,h with the sole exception of "holding the fiscal line on both taxes and spending." Bush has done the former admirably; and even with the latter, it was in fact the GOP caucus in Congress that has gone on a spending spree like Imelda Marcos at a Versace's Shoe-Mart, not Bush. And in all the most egregious cases, there were more than enough votes to override any presidential veto of some spending "compromise" legislation, rendering such a veto useless.

  • Just like Reagan, Bush has chosen to ramp up the military in response to a frightening military threat, and to worry about paying that particular piper later.
  • Just like Reagan, Bush cut taxes dramatically; and he has held the line even better than his 1980s predecessor.
  • Just like Reagan, Bush has "re-energizing a public philosophy of constitutionalism and limited government" by appointing John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
  • Unlike Reagan, Bush has maintained the GOP majority in both houses throughout his administration, except for a two-year period of nominal Democratic control of the Senate due to Jumpin' Jim Jeffords turning his coat.
  • Unlike Reagan, who famously cheered on the anti-abortion forces while never actually doing anything to help them, Bush has pushed many policies of "measured cultural traditionalism," on embryonic stem-cell research, on parental-notification before abortion, on partial-birth abortion, on faith-based initiatives, and against same-sex marriage.

So please, somebody who knows him tell Ryan Sager, before he attacks Bush again tomorrow -- that he should consider the alternative.

And he should remember his history: those who cannot remember Georges Santayana are comdemned to repeat him.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 4, 2006, at the time of 11:47 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Ten Thousand Armies of One

Hatched by Dafydd

My second post on Patterico's. (Yeah, like you couldn't see that coming!) Originally heaved at the roiling masses on May 28th, 2005.

~

That slogan of the U.S. Army -- “an Army of one!” -- has always set me to pondering. What do they mean? On the one hand, they extol teamwork; but on the other hand, the brass seem to want recruits to feel like individuals, cardinal numbers instead of merely ordinal numbers. It seems confused, to say the least.

But what if it were literally true? What if one man (or woman) could be the hyperpowered equivalent of an entire army back in the days of the so-called “greatest generation?” What if the United States had ten thousand “armies of one?” To explore this intriguing idea, do the obvious....

This may seem a diversion, but it actually drives into my point from an oblique angle.

Wretchard, over on Belmont Club, had an interesting post a while back:

Wretchard contemplated what it would take actually to carry out the mission we seem to have chosen for ourselves: to institute regime changes around the globe, casting out the most repulsive, venomous dictatorships, the ones that test the will of civilization, in favor of democracies that allow the people of those lands the greatest expression of individual liberty they have ever known. Wretchard noted the obvious: the United States is ill-equipped for what we would really need: a “Colonial Corps” specifically designed for long term occupation of hostile nations, rather like the British army of the nineteenth century.

We have always shied away from the imperial hubris of dedicating multiple armies to occupying other people’s countries; instead, we focus on the blitzkrieg, as in Iraq -- the lightning strike, the disabling blow. We have an army of combat, not occupation. But if we plan to protect ourselves by civilizing the worst hellholes on the planet (probably a good idea), we’ll have to get over our squeamishness.

This Colonian Corps would not be entirely military; it would include administrators, engineers, diplomats, jurists, politicians -- everything needed to tear down the repugnant elements of a terrorist state and build on the ashes the foundations of a modern democratic, liberal state. One presumes it would not be hamstrung by the rampant racism that infested the Raj and other European colonial institutions.

What it would be, however, is hideously expensive, requiring a tremendous amount of manpower and resources. It would, in fact, cost at least as much as our entire armed forces today; thus, most military analysts argue it would have to be created in place of our current military force. And for that reason, almost nobody supports the idea because of the danger to our republic.

As Wretchard notes, the British Army, so focused on supporting and enforcing colonialism, simply crumbled the first time they ran into a military force that was their equal: the Boers in South Africa, and later, the Germans and Austrio-Hungarians in World War One. Clearly, in today's world, we dare not sacrifice our ability actually to fight for the strange and foreign idea of "colonialism."

Although there is no military our equal, there are militaries at least in our ballpark -- the Chinese People’s Liberation Army, for example, which is modern enough that its massive size would make war between them and us a dicey affair. Also, many countries have nuclear weapons and other WMDs; if we had only a Colonial Corps and suddenly found ourselves facing off against the PLA, we might be in as serious trouble as the Brits were in 1914.

So the question arises: is it possible for a military to be both a Colonial Corps and also a Blitzkrieg Batallion?

Conventional wisdom says no: it would require two entirely separate armed forces, one for colonial occupation, the other for warfighting against technologically sophisticated enemies... and no country could afford both at the same time.

And this is exactly where, by a commodious vicus of recirculation, the “army of one” trendline comes into play. Where is the empowerment of the individual American soldier headed? What is the omega? It is possible in theory that a single, “hyperpowered” soldier of the realistic future could defeat an entire army of today?

The theory has already been set forth. The scenario above should ring a very loud bell with those who have read Robert A. Heinlein’s novel Starship Troopers (1959). (It will not ring any bells with those who only watched the movie, which is as curious as the dog that did not bark.) Heinlein, writing long before the current trend towards more individually adept and technologically armed and armored soldiers, postulates the ultimate extension of the individualization of combat: the “mobile infantry,” or MI, where every man wears an armored “power suit” that gives him fantastic strength, mobility, and survivability, along with weapons that range all the way up to tactical nuclear weapons at the MI’s individual discretion to use.

But here in the real world, we’re edging closer to that astonishing, science fictional world every day. DARPA is indeed working on crude versions of a “power suit;” C³I piped from overhead AWACs funneled through battlefield simulators give our soldiers the vision of Superman and the ESP of Doctor Strange; and there are even programs to develop “smart ammunition” that can shoot over cover, around corners, and distinguish between friend and foe.

Imagine an army with just one of these soldiers a scant twenty years from now. Now imagine ten of them. Imagine ten thousand “armies of one.”

Ten thousand soldiers is not a lot. It’s a single division. And one extra division of Mobile Infantry would hardly break the bank, leaving plenty of money left over for the Colonial Corps. If we were to go this route, we would end up the first “empire” in the world that conquered only to liberate, colonized only to build independence, and yet still could shake the Earth with our thunderbolts.

With such a numerically small strike force, however, the biggest problem would be transportation: how to quickly move your lone MI division from wherever they happen to be to wherever they happen to be needed. The only possibility that would be fast enough would be a fleet of hypersonic transport vehicles -- like the National Aerospace Plane (NASP), the “Orient Express” as Ronald Reagan called it, but much bigger. Suborbital hops could carry the MI into combat anywhere in the world in a mere hour or two of flight time. Logistics would have to evolve to the point where the entire MI division (if necessary) could be mobilized in a day or two... they would literally have to be packed and ready, “locked and loaded” at all times.

They would have to be professional Soldiers, career men (and possibly women) all. With such small numbers, it would be tedious and time-consuming to have to destroy entire enemy armies, as we did in the World War II-style wars (we fought WWII six times: in Kosovo, Bosnia, Desert Storm, Vietnam, Korea, and of course during WWII itself). Instead, the MI would focus on the terrifying demonstration: moving in so quickly and devastatingly, albeit in a small area, that tyrants and terrorists alike would walk in fear and lie sleepless at night.

I’m not sure of the international ramifications of such a combination of forces -- the unbeatable Mobile Infantry coupled with the Colonial Corps to utterly transform the conquered. Certainly we would have to inure ourselves to hysterical cries of “imperialism”... but since we hear that every day anyway, what would be the difference?

It would require a much stronger willed national government than we have now or have had since the 1940s; and that in turn means a greater risk of the national government overreaching and seizing too much power from the states. But that, too, is nothing new; we have a lot of experience finding that precise balance. Even if it tilts too far towards nationalism today, it is nowhere near as bad as in nearly every other country on Earth.

Still, it certainly would depend upon American exceptionalism to pull off; nobody but us could do it.

Ten thousand independent armies of one -- how American!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 4, 2006, at the time of 1:40 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Travelblogging: The Ingrate American Bathtub

Hatched by Dafydd

I hate, loathe, despise, and abominate hotel shower curtains. I don't mean the nice, heavy kind you can buy in Bed, Bath & Beyond that hang like bullet-proof armor and come with their own nylon webbing. I mean the cheap-jack, gauzy curtain that is more like a long sheet of wax paper.

As the shower heats up -- assuming it does -- it heats the surrounding air, of course. The air expands, causing a pressure differential between the inside and outside of the shower stall. This causes the fluttery curtain to grope inward, like a giant, clutching hand, to wrap the body within like an Egyptian mummy.

It's bad enough in the morning, when I'm generally in a hurry. But it's intolerable at night, giving me nightmares of being suffocated by a soggy but intelligent winding sheet -- vast, cool, and unsympathetic.

I much prefer a bath before bed; but a bath is precisely what our hotel -- which shall remain unnamed in this piece for liability purposes -- does not have.

The reason for the lack is obvious; there is so little room in the bathrooms of the Milford Plaza Hotel (700 8th Ave) that it would make more sense to put the bathroom inside the bathtub than the more normal arrangement. In fact, I doubt a proper bathtub could even be fitted inside the entire hotel room, here at the Milford Plaza (also 270 W. 45th St -- two addresses, one cramped location).

Worse, the shower has a special safety feature that automatically cuts off the hot water whenever the temperature hits 80° Fahrenheit; this is for my protection and is installed by, I rib you not, "www.antiscald.com".

So what would a "proper bathtub" actually look like? We came close with our hotel in Niagara Falls, the name of which I will be happy to tell you: it was easily big enough for two, contained Jacuzzi jets, and was properly sloped. But even there, I have complaints. Oy, have I got complaints!

Bathing was a public affair for thousands of years, stretching all the way back to Bronze-Age India (and possibly to the pre-Cambrian). The Romans bathed in large public buildings in water heated by coal ovens on a lowered floor. The Celts bathed in hot water if they happened to find a thermal vent but normally luxuriated in icy rivers and frozen lakes. The Dark-Age English did not bathe at all; the modern-age French still don't.

Bathtubs in America are still by and large modeled after the early "clawfoot" tubs of the nineteenth century, despite the easy ability to vacuum-form plastic into pretty much any shape you can envision: modern tubs are still hard, simulating the porcelain-coated cast-iron tubs of your great-great-(great?)-grandparents' day; you still must lie rigidly on your back, as if in a coffin; the water level is still kept so low (by use of a spill drain) that you must choose between immersing your legs or, by scrunching down and poking them out of the water, your chest.

One modern innovation serves to make the experience even less pleasant: frequently, the back of the tub stands at a 90° angle to the bottom, meaning that if you lie back, as perforce you must, either your scapulae must rest with nearly your entire bodyweight against the sharp edge of the tub... or else you must have the neck of a particularly limber heron, so you can fold it at right angles to the lower part of your spine.

I have long thought that the design of this torture device was deliberate: our Victorian ancestors considered any activity that required disrobing to be disreputable to the point of sinfulness, something decent people avoided -- or at least did as little of as possible while still perpetuating the species. In the case of bathing, I am convinced the tub was designed for maximal discomfort, thereby limiting the time you might spend in such sloth and indolence, thinking lustful thoughts (good heavens) about scrubbing your paramour's back.

The Japanese have a different approach. To them, a bathtub is primarily a meeting room for clients. Thus, they bathe in groups, sit up straight, and wear their glasses. In most public baths in Japan, contrary to the lascivious thoughts of Westerners, men and women are separated -- though in some onsen (resorts) built around a hot springs, there is mixed-sex bathing.

The Japanese home tub is big enough for at least two, and you can fully immerse yourself. Alas, it too has its problems of poor design, not least of which is that you must bathe sitting up rigidly like a soldier. Also, the Japanese tub is not used for cleaning yourself; you are supposed to do that before entering or be considered an absolute boor. So no bubble bath.

American hot tubs (a.k.a. Jacuzzis, though that's a trademarked term) come closer to the mark: they allow you to recline while still fully immersing yourself, and they have a remarkable innovation that they copied from the Japanese: you can set the water temperature via thermostat, and the tub will maintain that setting.

But it's very difficult to find a hot tub small enough to be used in an ordinary bathroom -- and especially in a mini-sized bathroom, such as we have at home (or the microscopic bathrooms found at the Milford Plaza, 212.869.3600, which also has a very sporatic supply of water in the pipes and no coffee anywhere on the premises, though there are eleven Starbucks within a two-block radius, including one inside a McDonalds). Besides, most hot tubs are made of rigid acrylic thermoforming and thus as hard as galvanized steel.

I don't mind occasionally bathing in a crowd (I am a native Californian); but most of the time I really prefer solitude, so I can lie back and meditate upon equal justice for all and other aspects of Judeo-Christian civilization.

So to end a long story before it goes totally off the rails and turns into a document the side of the Constitution of the United States, forcing readers to gnaw their own legs off to escape, let me set forth the ideal bathtub:

  • It must allow for reclining, while you contemplate all that jazz about Judeo-Christian civilization, but also be deep enough to sit up straight when some accidental brilliance occurs and you want to get it down quickly;
  • It must be deep enough for complete immersion, right up to your chinny-chin-chin;
  • It must be temperature regulated, so you can stay as long as you like without contracting hypothermia and having to crawl into a pizza oven to recover;
  • It should be small enough not to seem cavernous for one, like being the only fellow in an auditorium -- but also large enough for two (just in case);
  • The material must be soft and comfortable for long stays (this also applies to a proper toilet seat);
  • The back must slope gently up to an adjustable neck support, also cushioned;
  • The tub must be set up to allow bubble bath (for the ladies) and shaving (for both sexes) without ruining the mechanism and requiring a house call by the plumber; ideally, a fog-free mirror should be included for shaving or applying makeup;
  • It should, of course, come in colors everywhere you comb your hair, like a rainbow...
  • ...And include a phone jack and high-speed dataport;
  • Shower facilities should probablly be included, since the tub will obviously be larger than a traditional one, taking up the room that could be used for a separate shower stall -- with or without a soggy but intelligent winding sheet -- vast, cool, and unsympathetic.

It's my understanding that each of these can be done with off-the-shelf technology; no advanced government research should be necessary, no taxpayer money whatsoever. Only the will lacks.

Arise and liberate yourselves from the Victorian straightjacket! Let us rescue the Great American Bathtub and turn it into an experience you'll want to repeat again and again, multiple times a day. The noses of the world will thank us.

Well, except for the French.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 4, 2006, at the time of 6:45 AM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 3, 2006

Sneaking Apples From the Great Wealth Tree

Hatched by Dafydd

My v-e-r-y f-i-r-s-t entry into the world of blogging, courtesy a surprise invitation from blogger extraordinaire Patterico to help him out by posting something "interesting" on his site while he was on holiday. Fortunately for Patterico, he also invited other bloggers with a somewhat tighter grip on reality....

This post first appeared on May 27th, 2005, with about as much anticipation and (frustrated letdown on the part of readers) as the last North Korean missile launch.

~

Hello, and welcome to words from the Lizard’s Tongue. My name is Dafydd ab Hugh, and I’m one of the guest bloggers who will be tormenting you until Patterico returns.

I am not a blogger in the strictest sense. I am guilty of publishing fiction, but I’m still (still!) working on my web site, which will contain a blog. And articles, columns, movie reviews, fiction, two partners in crime (Brad Linaweaver and my wife Sachiko), and bilingual contributions (English and Japanese), a streaming internet radio show, and, and.... well, “good enough is enemy of the best,” I always say.

Because I’m only a guest here, I will mostly not blog about current events; there is plenty of that. When my own blog is up (when the best gives way and lets good enough have a clean shot), I will write about issues both eternal and temporal. But for now, I will focus on metablogging about more fundamental issues; and to make things easy, I’ll hide most of my posts behind the magic “more” button.

Fundamental issues -- such as the topic at hand: stealing apples from the Great Wealth Tree.

The greatest economic divide is not between rich and poor; it’s between those who believe that only the creators of wealth have the right to distribute it, and those who believe that wealth is intrinsically part of “the commons,” and that everybody has at least some stake in deciding how it is spent, even those who had nothing to do with making it. We can roughly label these two philosophies capitalism and socialism.

Most people believe a mix of the two, but that’s not my point. I want to peek behind the impulse towards socialism (however weak or distilled) to the fundamental worldview it requires.

The base claim socialism relies upon is “fairness”: it isn’t fair, they say, that some are so rich while others are mired in poverty. But this makes no sense if you believe that people create their own wealth; if you build a house, few would claim as a matter of principle that you have to let everyone else live in it. The only way the “fairness” argument works is if socialists believe that wealth is a natural resource.

But more than just that. After all, oil is a natural resource; but it requires intelligence and effort to extract it from the ground: crude oil is not created, but oil-in-the-barrel is. The “fairness” doctrine requires you to believe not only that wealth is a natural resource, it’s one that simply falls like manna from heaven equally upon the just and unjust alike.

Socialists must believe that each person is born with a Great Wealth Tree. Each man or woman can reach up and pluck wealth-apples from his Wealth Tree. And each Wealth Tree is the same size -- otherwise wealth disparity could still be a natural phenomenon unrelated to human endeavor, and as fruitless to correct as it would be to pass laws to equalize everyone’s height, weight, and IQ (cf. “Harrison Bergeron,” by intelligent socialist Kurt Vonnegut, jr.)

So if each person has his own Great Wealth Tree, and if every Wealth Tree is the same size... then why is there a disparity in wealth between people and nations? Simple: according to the only worldview that can support socialism, if one person has a bigger pile of wealth-apples than his neighbors -- he must be leaning over and plucking apples from his neighbor’s tree.

And at last, we understand why socialists consider all the rich to be “robber barons” and demand re-distribution of wealth “from each according to his ability to each according to his need”: because they can’t believe that intelligent gardening can grow a bigger Wealth Tree, and the only way one man gets rich is by sneaking his neighbor’s apples. This crabapple view of the world is the logical root of all socialist ideas.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 3, 2006, at the time of 2:40 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 2, 2006

A Pro-Christian Jewish Agnostic Speaks Out

Hatched by Dafydd

Another CQ post (did I ever mention I once had a book reviewed in GQ, not CQ? It was compared to Tolstoy, but Tolstoy won). This one from July 21st, 2005.

Hm... July 7th, 14th, 21st... do I detect a pattern here?

~

I could have more provacatively titled this post "Are Atheists Actually Demented?" because that is the impression I get from the founder and head of the premier anti-religion organization in the country, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State -- or United Separators, as I call them for short.

Up on their website, the United Separators have come out swinging against Judge John. G. Roberts, who the president named as his nominee to the Supreme Court a couple of days ago. In "Senate Should Reject Confirmation Of John G. Roberts To Supreme Court, Says Americans United," an unsigned article posted yesterday, founder and chief anti-religion guru Barry Lynn draws his line in the sand (hat tip to Michael Medved, who mentioned this on his radio show today):

“John Roberts has long been a faithful soldier in the right wing’s war on the Bill of Rights,” said Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “He does not support personal liberties and should not receive a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.”

He cites only one example of Roberts' "war on the Bill of Rights": his brief, while serving as deputy solicitor general for Bush-41 (that is the say, the position of the first Bush administration, which Roberts, as their attorney, faithfully argued to the Court), which Lynn describes as follows:

Lynn noted that Roberts, as deputy solicitor general in the first Bush White House, drafted a key legal brief urging the Supreme Court to scrap decades of settled church-state law and uphold school-sponsored prayer at public school graduation ceremonies and other forms of government-endorsed religion. (At the time, Roberts was serving as political deputy in charge of crafting policy under then Solicitor General Kenneth Starr.)

“Roberts will work to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state and open the door to majority rule on religious matters,” Lynn said. “In a game with such high stakes, this unwise crusade should disqualify him.”

What? You mean -- Roberts actually supported enforced prayer in the schools, where young tots would be forced to their knees under penalty of physical brutality and forced to mouth words against their own religious faith? Yep, that's exactly what Mr. Lynn would like you to believe. (And note the reverse name-dropping, guilt-by-employment of noting that Roberts' boss was... Kenneth Starr, gasp!)

However, the New York Times, at the end of a lengthy and surprisingly flattering bio-piece [link no longer free] on Roberts, went into somewhat more detail on this case:

The government had asked the Supreme Court to discard an earlier test and overturn a lower court ruling that held a clergyman could not give an official address at a junior high school graduation in Providence, R.I. It asked the court to rule that "civic acknowledgments of religion in public life do not offend the establishment clause" of the Constitution "as long as they neither threaten the establishment of an official religion nor coerce participation in religious activities."

At the time, officials in the first Bush administration told reporters that the reason for intervening was a tactical decision to try to draw out Justice David H. Souter, then the court's newest member, and get him on the side of the administration, which was hoping eventually to change the approach to religion in public settings.

In the end, the court voted 5 to 4 against the administration and upheld the lower court's decision. Among those in the majority were Justice Souter and Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, whose seat Judge Roberts has been nominated to fill.

Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, said Wednesday that Judge Roberts's participation in the case makes him "unsuited for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court." He said that if confirmed to the court, Judge Roberts would "open the door to majority rule on religious matters."

So the case was actually about allowing a clergyman to speak at a junior-high graduation. Great Scott, it's a theocracy!

The hair-on-fire hysteria on the part of the United Separators at the mere idea of a guy with a backwards collar being allowed to say a word at a graduation is only marginally less irrational than the ACLU threatening to sue the County of Los Angeles unless they removed the teeny, tiny cross atop a mission in the county seal, lest some unsuspecting and easily influenced Hindu or Buddhist see it and spontaneously combust.

Full disclosure: the "Jewish agnostic" of the title is myself; I'm Jewish on my parents' side, coming from a long tradition of secular American Jews stretching back to about the 1830s. But far from sharing Mr. Lynn's frothing hatred of anyone who believes in God, I myself love widespread Christianity and Judaism in society.

I absolutely believe that it is vital for a free and civilized society that the huge majority of people believe in what Dennis Prager calls "ethical monotheism." Prager defines ethical monotheism (as I understand it) as the belief in one omniscient God who demands that human beings behave towards each other with both decency and justice. Unless ethical monotheism is at the very core of a culture, that culture will retreat from justice and mock decency, and it will become a hellish place to live.

So I hope you're forgive my bluntness, but Barry Lynn and his United Separators can just go to the Hell that I don't believe in!

For the rest of this crabby, pro-Christian, pro-Jewish rant by a secular agnostic, read on.

The necessity is clear: all of our concepts of freedom and liberty derive from belief in the divinity of the human soul, found in both Judaism and Christianity. The rule of law derives from the idea of universal right and wrong -- which derives ultimately from Judaism's belief (even before Jesus) that the law is for all, king and shepherd alike. Even the scientific method also derives from the idea of universal right and wrong: gravity in the United States in 2005 is the same as gravity in Napoleonic France, Mediæval Germany, and the Roman Empire, whether it was recognized or not... which means not only the eternal values of Western civilization and the United States but even the material benefits that derive from modernity all depend upon ethical monotheism.

Which is why the farther you stray from that societal religious belief, the more tyrannical, backwards, and poverty-stricken that society becomes. Europe has turned its back on religion, and not coincidentally, on self defense, on economic growth, and on justice and decency (examples available upon request). But they sure love their anti-American grandstanding!

We may pass lightly over economic basket-cases like Tibet, horrific "atheist" dictatorships such as the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, Mao's China, and the Latin American thugocracies (now new and improved in Venezuela!), and... well, the less said about the recent history of sub-Saharan Africa, the less likely I'll get my mug shot up on the wall of the Daily Kos: Wanted, dead or even deader, for crimes against progressivism!

(Note that just claiming to be a Christian does not make one an ethical monotheist; it depends upon one's actual beliefs, not the label.)

And I think it also succinctly answers Professor Bernard Lewis's question, "what went wrong" with Islam? Islam is monotheistic; but it is not, in my opinion, an "ethical monotheism." This is because in Islam, the most important duty that believers owe to other men is not to treat them with decency and justice, but rather to convert them to Islam, by force if necessary; and if they will not convert, to enslave them -- or kill them.

Ethical monotheisms very often behave unethically; this goes all the way back to the reign of King Saul in ancient Israel. But for every King Saul there is a Prophet Samuel who can step up to point out that the Law is for all. Throughout the long and evil history of slavery in the Christian West, for but one example, there were always opponents, some clergy and some lay, who argued that the institution was inherently unjust and wicked, for all men and women had divine souls that could not be herded like cattle. For centuries, the arguments fell on ears deafened by greed and inertia... but the arguments were there, ready to be used, when civilization finally matured to the point where it became the majority view in the nineteenth century.

Those arguments were never made in other cultures, for they made no sense: they did not have the concept of universal right and wrong. And they still don't, even today; I have never heard any deep or heartfelt rejection of slavery within Islam, for example; the arguments are merely of practicality, if they are even made at all.

The highest ideal of Buddhism appears to be acceptance of one's fate, from my reading; this is the ideal of perpetual victimhood. And the highest ideal of Communism and Naziism is obedience to the current party line. As I said supra, I believe the greatest ideal of Islam is conversion by any means necessary.

Only in Judeo-Christianity is the greatest ideal justice. For this reason, hostility towards mainstream Judeo-Christianity deeply offends me as a civilized Westerner, as an American, and especially as a secularist.

I want mainstream Catholics, Protestants, and Jews on the Supreme Court. I want the president and members of Congress to be mainstream Jews or Christians of some specific and heartfelt sect. Not some vague "Christian" who changes his religion over a bicycle path (if you know what I mean, and I think you do); but somebody who actually has a firm belief in some specific religion that actually sets ethical boundaries on his decisions and behavior. To quote my favorite TV show, "no man should be allwed to govern others until he has first learned to govern himself."

To repeat myself (because I like the phrase and because I'm basically too lazy to think of a different ending)... unless ethical monotheism is at the very core of a culture, that culture will retreat from justice and mock decency, and it will become a hellish place to live.

So I hope you're forgive my bluntness, but Barry Lynn and his United Separators can just go to the Hell that I don't believe in!

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 2, 2006, at the time of 3:40 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Airport Blogging: At Last!

Hatched by Dafydd

Having missed our plane out of Buffalo to La Guardia (customs, navigational difficulties, don't ask), we've got plenty of time to blog while we wait for the next flight.

At long last, the Israelis have done what they should have done in the first place: a solid invasion force of one full division into Lebanon. (Actually, I'd rather see two divisions; but I never spent even one day in the Army, and my Navy experience is less than nothing in a situation like this... so what do I know?)

Israel pressed the first full day of a massive new ground attack, sending 8,000 troops into southern Lebanon on Wednesday and seizing five people it said were Hezbollah fighters in a dramatic airborne raid on a northeastern town. Hezbollah retaliated with its deepest strikes yet into Israel, firing a record number of more than 160 rockets.

Many moons ago, when I blogged on the Gaza pullout (it was back on Captain's Quarters); a, I supported it... but not on the silly grounds that all the other supporters cited. I never had any illusions about a "peace process." Rather, I saw the pullout as an opportunity to make clear that Gaza -- well, the entire Palestinian Authority (PA) -- was a separate country... and as such would be held to the same standards as any other sovereign nation.

In particular, if they engaged in the "normal" sort of terrorist attacks against Israel, the Jewish state would no longer be constrained by the peculiarity of being an occupier; they could respond with the full force of a nation responding to violent attack by another nation... with a war.

Now I was always opposed to the pullout from Lebanon, since Israel never claimed to be or acted as an occupier; it held only a security zone, and only to prevent Hezbollah from getting close enough to attack Israel. They ignored my advice (oddly enough) and pulled out under Labor Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000... worse, Barak kept accelerating the pullout until at the end, it resembled a panicked rout -- despite the fact that Israel never suffered any military defeat.

Ne'ertheless, they departed so precipitously that they left armor behind. They actually had to send Israeli helicopters back into Lebanon to destroy the abandoned Israeli tanks, so as not to hand them over to the Party of God (Hezbollah).

It was the most inexplicable rout in military history, and it set the stage for the current conflict: Hezbollah, not being very bright, concluded from the panicky withdrawal that they must somehow have "defeated the Zionist entity"... and that primed them to attack again, while Israel's attention (they thought) was occupied by Hamas, which had kidnapped an Israeli soldier.

Whew! Thus endeth the history lesson.

The point of this dreary recounting is that, even though I opposed the Lebanon pullout, the same logic that applies in Gaza applies in Lebanon: since Israel departed six years ago, they should have no hesitation treating an attack from Hezbollah (in Lebanon) as an attack from a separate, sovereign country (which technically Lebanon was even before the pullout)... and they can respond with a full-scale invasion.

It took them a long time dithering. Paul Mirengoff over at Power Line basically predicted that the Israelis would not so respond; and for a while, I began to fear he was right. Ehud Olmert, despite being a former Likudnik before helping Ariel Sharon found Kadima, engaged his country in a perfect Kabuki dance of what I would call "pussyfooting": he accepted the advice of the Israeli Air Force (IAF) over that of the Israeli Army (IDF) that Israel could achieve its aim against Hezbollah merely by bombing them sufficiently.

(Yoni the Blogger believes that Olmert is escalating as fast as he thinks the Israeli public will accept... though Yoni wishes it were faster, as do I.)

But Olmert appears, at long last, to have realized that only boots on the ground -- and enough of them -- will be able to "disarm" (that is, kill, mutilate, and destroy) Hezbollah fighters, annihilate the rocket launchers, and drive any survivors across into Syria, where they can fester until such time as that slithery nation becomes enough of a problem that either Israel from the west or American forces from the East makes Syria an offer it cannot refuse.

In addition to simply sending in a division of the IDF, Israel has also sent a commando raid into the Bekaa Valley, Hezbollah's main stronghold in Lebanon, into the town of Baalbek, and seized five specific Hezbollah commanders they wanted:

Israeli commandos flew in by helicopter before dawn into the northern town of Baalbek, on the border with Syria, capturing five Hezbollah guerrillas and killing at least 10, said Israel's army chief, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz.

Witnesses said Israeli forces partially destroyed the Dar al-Hikma hospital in Baalbek, where chief Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahal said fierce fighting raged for more than one hour.

Israel has not yet released the identity of those captured. When asked by The Associated Press whether any were "big fish," Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: "They are tasty fishes...."

Olmert said that, although the scene of the fighting is called a hospital, "there are no patients there and there is no hospital, this is a base of the Hezbollah in disguise."

Interestingly, Hezbollah admits that last fact -- albeit between the lines:

A Hezbollah official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements to the media, said that Israeli troops captured "four or five" people, but not at the hospital.

He denied they were Hezbollah fighters, saying one was a 60-year-old grocery store owner and two relatives who work in construction.

The hospital, which residents said is financed by an Iranian charity that is close to Hezbollah, was empty of patients at the time of the raid, the guerrilla group said.

AP reports 540 "Lebanese" killed since all the fighting began; but they don't break this down into Hezbollah fighters, Hezbollah supporters (a huge number of Lebanese Shia in southern Lebanon actively support Hezbollah, which they see as their "tribe"), and ordinary Lebanese patriots, whether Moslem or Christian, who oppose Hezbollah (and still continue to give the Israelis intelligence information); the latter constitute a majority in that country, and they were the impetus behind the "Cedar Revolution" that drove Syrian troops out of Lebanon. As usual, the antique media is less than useless: they're actively helping the terrorists by reprinting their propaganda as if it were verified news.

According to Haaretz, at least nine Hezbollah fighters have been killed Wednesday alone (what a wonderful world we live in, where a war that kills a few hundred people is treated as a "massive" conflict!)

Keep watching the skies; I suspect that this latest escalation to a division is just the first. We shall see...

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 2, 2006, at the time of 11:15 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Date ►►► August 1, 2006

Travelblogging: The Blood Is the Key

Hatched by Dafydd

Here's an intriguing claim.

You all remember that American Floyd Landis won this year's Tour de France in a tour de force run on the second to last day of the race, making up several minutes of time and sealing his victory. Within moments, it seemed, someone lodged the inevitable charge: that Landis had been "doping."

As proof, "the French national antidoping laboratory in Châtenay-Malabry" said that the results from a testosterone test on one of Landis' two blood samples (sample A) that day found an elevated ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone:

Landis’s personal doctor... did, however, acknowledge that the initial test found a ratio of 11 to 1 in Landis’s system. He and Landis are seeking an explanation for that high level.

“I’ve seen bodybuilders with numbers 100 to 1,” Kay said. “Although Floyd’s was elevated, it’s not off the chart or anything.”

The New York Times notes that a normal ratio is 1:1 or 2:1, and the cycling rules allow a 4:1 ratio.

However, Landis has denied all charges and called for his B sample from that same day to be tested. The lab will use a much more sophisticated test on sample B than was used in the preliminary test on sample A; the tests take several days and should be ready this coming weekend.

Now right away, there is something fishy about this. There is another drug commonly used by athletes called EPO; the big scandal that kept so many of the top cyclists out of this year's Tour (on the basis of newspaper clippings about a list found that had some names on it) was about EPO doping, not testosterone, as we discussed in our previous post on this topic.

EPO, or Erythropoietin, acts by increasing the production of red blood cells: more red corpuscles means more oxygen to the muscles, and the athlete doesn't tire as much and recovers much more quickly. EPO works its magic nearly instantaneously, boosting the rider the same day he takes it.

But with testosterone, you need a long period of use to gain any benefit at all out of it. You cannot simply pop some "Vitamin T" and feel instantly stronger.

So "the curious incident of the dog in the night-time" was that none of Floyd Landis' other blood tests, from before or after that one day, came up with anything positive at all. If he were going to risk using testosterone, why wouldn't he have used it for weeks before the race, when it might actually have done some good?

Therefore, not only are we to believe that he doped -- we're being asked to believe that he did so in a dopey manner, injecting himself with but a single, large dose of testosterone on a single day... knowing not only that it was sure to be discovered the moment the bloood test was performed but also that it wouldn't even help him in the race.

So why would he do it? It doesn't make sense on any level at all.

But along comes a spider now. A certain anonymous Dr. X , who says he works in the antidoping department of the International Cycling Union (UCI), has leaked what he terms results in a second test -- of the original sample A. This test determined:

...that some of the testosterone in [Landis'] body had come from an external source and was not produced by his system, according to a person at the International Cycling Union with knowledge of the results.

Perhaps there was testosterone added "from an external source"... but was it added to Floyd Landis -- or to Floyd Landis' blood sample?

What fascinates me is the growing insistance from the anti-American faction that there's really no need for a second set of tests to be performed on sample B at all; the sample A results are so clear and convincing (to those who don't like Landis in the first place), why bother testing any others?

Dr. Gary I. Wadler, a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency and an associate professor at New York University School of Medicine, said that the result of the carbon isotope ratio test already proved that there was synthetic testosterone in Landis’s system. He said that the test needs to be done only once, on either an A or on a B sample, particularly if the athlete’s testosterone to epitestosterone ratio is found to be high or if that elevated level is inconsistent with previous test results.

Well, no: the carbon isotope ratio test proved that there was synthetic testosterone in Landis' blood sample; it's quite a leap from there to conclude that it must have been present in Landis' system as well -- especially when it's nonsensical that any athlete would futilely inject testosterone on a single day.

More and more, I wonder what that B test will show... would someone trying to frame Landis go so far as to contaminate both of his samples from that day? And is the "sophisticated" test precise enough to be able to determine whether synthetic testosterone came from the original blood, or whether it was added later? I don't know... but I think we may find out very soon.

What are the possibilities?

  • Landis is lying and he really did inject himself with testosterone. But why, knowing it would do nothing to help him?
  • Landis is telling the truth: either the testosterone arose naturally within his system, or else someone somehow induced him to eat something that contained it. But how? Wasn't Landis suspicious?
  • Landis is telling the truth: the testosterone was injected into the sample , not the rider. But injected by whom? Who had access to Landis' blood samples -- except those working at "the French national antidoping laboratory in Châtenay-Malabry?" Including, of course, the anonymous Dr. X., who leaked to the New York Times the supposed results of the carbon isotope test.

That's why it's so important that we get the results of the testing on sample B before leaping to the conclusion that Landis is not only crooked but also thick-headed. First let's see whether there is anything here to shoot down the "null hypothesis," that there is nothing to explain, other than skill at cycling and the refusal of race officials to consider innocence a defense.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 1, 2006, at the time of 10:17 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Cold Water on Hot Blood

Hatched by Dafydd

Originally lobbed into the blogosphere via Captain's Quarters seven days after Future Shock & Awe.

It's not that I didn't post anything in between those two... just nothing worth bringing up again. (Of course, there are those who retort that "nothing worth bringing up again" pretty much describes my entire oeuvre. But those are just lies spread by my competitors.)

~

A new paradigm is sweeping the blogosphere -- well, that portion of it that I view in between my frequent naps, experiments in animal husbandry, and trips to the taxidermist. The global war on terrorism, or GWOT, is really not a war at all but more akin to a "blood feud." The idea has been discussed by Hugh Hewitt, both online and on the air; by Wretchard (Richard Fernandez) at The Belmont Club; at Free Republic; NoLeftTurns; a Canadian blog called ThePolitic; and many other sites.

I think the originator of this new simile is one Lee Harris. Writing in Tech Central Station on July 8th, "War in Pieces: The Blood Feud," Harris opined:

After the London bombing, I feel more than ever that the war model is deeply flawed, and that a truer picture of the present conflict may be gained by studying another, culturally distinct form of violent conflict, namely the blood feud.

The problem with this simile (which has become an endlessly extending metaphor) is that it both directly contradicts his earlier, far more convincing insight that saw the terrorist acts in a very different way and also contradicts the actual pattern of jihadist attacks we see on the ground. I much prefer his earlier paradigm, which fits the current pattern far better than this new one does (I fear Harris suffers from the need writers all feel to constantly reinvent ourselves). Alas, it hasn’t gotten nearly as much blogplay as the blood-feud article.

Let me explain why I think his first idea was more powerful, why the blood feud is not really a good explanation for the death obsession of jihad -- and then offer what I think is a better metaphor that can actually lead to a real plan for the philosophical war that parallels the military one.

This is long; continue reading at your own risk. Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!

Harris's early musings appeared in the somewhat more prestigious Stanford University magazine Policy Review, in August of 2002. In "Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology," Harris penned a far more robust analysis of the mass psychology of jihadism.

He first discussed the case of a university friend of his in the mid-1960s who planned to attend a particularly unpleasant and violent anti-Vietnam-War protest. Harris, who shared his friend's politics back then, tried to argue him out of it; he pointed out that the protest would not only not gain the anti-war cause any converts, it was more than likely to drive potential allies away, to infuriate the people, and to be all in all massively counterproductive to the political goals of the protesters.

But his friend said that would not matter... for his real purpose in attending was that the protest would be "good for his soul." (All emphasis below is added by me.)

[W]hat it did for him was to provide him with a fantasy — a fantasy, namely, of taking part in the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed against their oppressors. By participating in a violent anti-war demonstration, he was in no sense aiming at coercing conformity with his view — for that would still have been a political objective. Instead, he took his part in order to confirm his ideological fantasy of marching on the right side of history, of feeling himself among the elect few who stood with the angels of historical inevitability. Thus, when he lay down in front of hapless commuters on the bridges over the Potomac, he had no interest in changing the minds of these commuters, no concern over whether they became angry at the protesters or not. They were there merely as props, as so many supernumeraries in his private psychodrama. The protest for him was not politics, but theater; and the significance of his role lay not in the political ends his actions might achieve, but rather in their symbolic value as ritual. In short, he was acting out a fantasy....

For want of a better term, call the phenomenon in question a fantasy ideology — by which I mean, political and ideological symbols and tropes used not for political purposes, but entirely for the benefit of furthering a specific personal or collective fantasy.

He lists several "fantasy ideologies" from earlier eras -- the French Revolution, Mussolini's Fascism, and Hitler's Naziism -- each of which self-consciously evoked great historical empires. Harris argues that the backward look is essential to the fantasy ideology:

This theme of reviving ancient glory is an important key to understanding fantasy ideologies, for it suggests that fantasy ideologies tend to be the domain of those groups that history has passed by or rejected — groups that feel that they are under attack from forces which, while more powerful perhaps than they are, are nonetheless inferior in terms of true virtue.

So what is the backward look that underpins the "fantasy ideology" of jihadism? Professor Bernard Lewis provides the missing clue here. In his seminal work What Went Wrong?, Lewis ably chronicles the angst and befuddlement that Arabs feel at the loss of Arab Moslem preeminence in world civilization.

At one time, during the Dark Ages, Islam, and particularly Arab and Turkish Islam, were the apex of human civilization. Although what they had came mostly from Western sources (Greece and Rome, primarily), at least the Middle East still had it, while Europe had lost virtually everything refined and byzantine. Europeans were reduced to living in mud and wattle huts, while the East languored in pleasure domes and palaces, swimming in clear water above intricate geometrical mosaics.

Militant Islamism provides a backward look to this Islamic golden age, when "God's in His heaven— / All's right with the world!" (to wrench Browning utterly out of all context). The terrible theater of blood that began, for the West, in the 1979 Iranian revolution seems deliberately designed to enchant that epoch back into existence... just as Mussolini conjured Italy into a conquering empire by invading Ethiopia in 1935. Harris uses that absurdist invasion to illustrate the true horror of a fantasy-ideology war:

Any attempt to see this adventure in Clausewitzian terms is doomed to fail: There was no political or economic advantage whatsoever to be gained from the invasion of Ethiopia....

Why invade, then? The answer is quite simple. Ethiopia was a prop — a prop in the fantasy pageant of the new Italian Empire — that and nothing else. And the war waged in order to win Ethiopia as a colony was not a war in the Clausewitzian sense — that is to say, it was not an instrument of political policy designed to induce concessions from Ethiopia, or to get Ethiopia to alter its policies, or even to get Ethiopia to surrender. Ethiopia had to be conquered not because it was worth conquering, but because the fascist fantasy ideology required Italy to conquer something — and Ethiopia fit the bill. The conquest was not the means to an end, as in Clausewitzian war; it was an end in itself. Or, more correctly, its true purpose was to bolster the fascist collective fantasy that insisted on casting the Italians as a conquering race, the heirs of Imperial Rome.

Harris's insight into the theater of the "fantasy ideology" perfectly describes what we can see of the jihadists' attacks: they fit no pattern of rational warfare, but are rather a series of ritualized rains of destruction upon targets deemed symbols of "wickedness"... that is, symbols of Islam's loss of cultural dominance over the world. (I'm only discussing here the grand theatrical attacks or series of attacks, not ordinary acts of terrorism, such as the attack on the U.S.S. Cole.)

  • The forces of jihad struck Iran -- Persia -- which had become modernist and more secular under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi.
  • They struck repeatedly at the Jews in Israel who were threatening to revive the Christian Kingdom of Jerusalem, but under Jewish control (a double-whammy to militant Islamists!)
  • The forces of Persia (still leading the attack) struck the Great Satan in Beirut, driving us from the field -- which served to convince great masses of Moslems that Allah had lifted his hand in support of these holy warriors.
  • They struck us again in 2001, according to Osama bin Laden (Sunni Wahhabism now seizing the lead from Shi'ite Persians) to punish us for defiling the land of Mecca with our "crusader" boots.
  • Then they struck various Moslem nations (Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Indonesia) that were also venturing into modernity, thus becoming apostate.
  • And they struck at the symbol of the greatest reach of the ummah, the Realm of the Faithful, and consequently the greatest pain for many militant Islamists when they contemplate its loss: Spain. The jihadists still call Spain al-Andalus, the name used while Spain was controlled by Moslem "Moors" for seven hundred and eighty-one years, until King Ferdinand finally expelled the last of them in 1492 -- not coincidentally the same year he and Queen Isabella finally agreed to finance Christopher Columbus's expedition to sail west to find the East Indies.

Each of these grand targets was chosen for its symbolic value to Moslems around the world, making them believe that the ummah was just about to be restored with Allah's direct divine help. So long as there was little response from the West but surprise and shock, it would seem like an unbroken line of great "victories" for the jihad.

But Harris's theory of the fantasy ideology could not explain why this particular fantasy seemed to be about blood, death, and destruction alone. After all, other fantasy ideologies were about conquest and military victory, not simple butchery, including the three Harris mentions in his Policy Review article: the French revolution, Italian Fascism, and Naziism. All three had their massacres, especially the last; but in addition to the destruction, there was a sense of the modern in the attempted construction of something that would take the place of that which was torn apart: liberty, equality, and fraternity, perhaps, or the Aryan ubermensch who would be "beyond good and evil." Other fantasy ideologies, such as the Soviet Union, also thought they were creating as well as destroying... creating the New Soviet Man and the "dictatorship of the proletariat." None claimed destruction for its own sake. Shouldn't the jihad be trying more actively to restore the glory of ancient Islam?

I think that is just what Harris is trying to explain, this difference from all previous fantasy ideologies, when he develops his metaphor of the world-wide blood feud.

In the blood feud, unlike war, you have no interest in bringing your enemy to his knees. You are not looking for your enemy to surrender to you; you are simply interested in killing some of his people in revenge for past injuries, real or imaginary -- nor does it matter in the least whether the people you kill today were the ones guilty of the past injuries that you claim to be avenging. In a blood feud, every member of the enemy tribe is a perfectly valid target for revenge. What is important is that some of their guys must be killed -- not necessarily anyone of any standing in their community. Just kill someone on the other side, and you have done what the logic of the blood feud commands you to do.

In the blood feud there is no concept of decisive victory because there is no desire to end the blood feud. Rather the blood feud functions as a permanent "ethical" institution -- it is the way of life for those who participate in it; it is how they keep score and how they maintain their own rights and privileges. You don't feud to win, you feud to keep your enemy from winning -- and that is why the anthropologist of the Bedouin feud, Emrys Peters, has written the disturbing words: The feud is eternal.

Clearly, this is an attempt to explain the mindless, senseless murders, mostly of the "faithful" who were perhaps not quite faithful enough, uncoupled from any serious attempt to create or even conquer. But the problem with Harris's "blood feud" analogy is that it necessarily provokes the reader into visualizing a "tit for tat" scenario -- a cycle of violence, if we must -- that is neither in synch with the concept of a "fantasy ideology" nor even descriptive of the reality we see.

Why would a millennarian, militant religious fantasy ideology await a blow before striking a counterblow? The whole point of the fantasy ideology is that it does not concern itself with the outside reality. Rather, everything outside itself, including its enemies, is merely a "prop" in its global Grand Guignol Theatre.

Nor do we see any such tit-for-tat in the actual operations of jihadist terrorism, outside of Israel. While it may be true that in a blood feud, "every member of the enemy tribe is a perfectly valid target for revenge," Harris must also admit that there is little feeling of tribal solidarity within Islam. Do Indonesian Moslems think they are the same "tribe" as Iranians, Turks, Saudis, or British jihadis like failed shoe-bomber Richard Reid?

In fact, Islam is highly factionalized, from the macro (Shi'a vs. Sunni) to the micro (the tribes in the Sunni Triangle vs. the tribes on the Iraq/Syrian border); and if the West strikes a blow in Baghdad, it's a bit thick to point to an attack months later in Spain or London, carried out by people with no significant contact with jihadis in Iraq, and call it a "counterblow."

I think Harris hit it out of the park the first time: he is correct that this is not a war in the Clausewitzian sense, not a struggle between nations trying to advance political ends by military means. But neither are the terrorists engaged in a simple "blood feud" with the West. To the extent jihadis use that language, they are simply reading their lines in the passion play. We must look elsewhere to understand why this fantasy ideology, apart from all the others, concerns itself only with chaos and destruction, rather than creation and construction -- evil though that construction typically is.

Here is where I have my own ideas. I have long thought that the central organizing principle behind militant Islamism, or jihadism if you prefer, is the death cult. There have been death cults in the past. The most extreme was probably the Aztecs, and estimates of the number of human sacrifices they performed annually range from the tens of thousands up to 250,000. Although various researchers offer "explanations" of the staggering number of human sacrifices more prosaic than religious worship, it's hard to argue that religion was not at least one of the top motivating factors.

Human sacrifice is typically justified by the belief that there is some sort of energy or force found within life, strongest in human beings; sacrificing the man, woman, or child releases this energy somehow, allowing the gods to feed on death, their natural food. Blood and souls for Huitzilopochtli!

I think it quite possible that the leaders of the jihadis are actually death cultists; perhaps they believe that their bizarre version of Allah grew weak from hunger, and that is "what went wrong," to respond to Lewis. In this scenario, by sacrificing mass numbers of people, the militant Islamist leaders believe they feed Allah, and he grows strong. Perhaps he will then respond by reaching forth his hand to crush the infidels, restore the Caliphate, and expand the ummah to blanket the world. Alternatively, perhaps the leaders believe that Allah is angry that they have not been killing infidels and apostates, as he ordered them to do... and if they kill enough, Allah will be mollified and again lead them to supernatural victory.

In either case, I highly doubt the rank and file believe this or that they even wonder why they are asked to kill and kill and kill for no apparent reason; being told by a trusted cleric to do so is probably all they need. It is the leaders of the worldwide jihad that I am trying to understand... because you cannot defeat what you do not comprehend.

But even if the leaders do not literally believe that they are releasing life-energy for their demonic version of Allah, their actions are functionally identical to death cultists. There certainly is more of a match both with what we see on the ground and with Harris's insightful metaphor of the fantasy ideology than we find with his recent blood-feud hypothesis.

A fantasy ideology coupled with a millennarian death-cult fantasy would actually explain both the theater and the obsession with destruction over creation. It also points the way to two natural points of attack by the West.

First, Harris notes that some fantasy ideologies arise from Democracies, such as Naziism, which arose from the Weimar Republic. But he wrongly concludes that establishing democracy is therefore ineffectual at fighting against the fantasy ideology:

[T]o hope that democratic reform would discourage radical Islam ignores the fact that previous fantasy ideologies have historically arisen in a democratic context; as the student of European fascism, Ernst Nolte, has observed, parliamentary democracy was an essential precondition for the rise of both Mussolini and Hitler.

But here, Harris misses the point. Naziism did not arise from democracy, it arose from the collapse of democracy due to economic catastrophe. The collapse of the Weimar Republic had a negative transformative effect on German society, tilting it away from the intolerable reality and towards the grandiose fantasy ideology of Naziism.

Might not the establishment of a new democracy have a mirror transformative effect, from the fantasy of jihadism to the reality of modernity? It certainly seems to be working that way in Iraq and Afghanistan and to some extent in Lebanon. The establishment of democracy where it never existed before allows people to take control of their lives and environment, converting an otherwise intolerable reality -- which could lead a people into fantasy as an escape -- into a manageable and indeed exciting and dramatic reality, where they will feel less need to escape into dreams of empires past.

Second, although Harris primarily considers evil fantasy ideologies, the theory itself seems relatively open to good and positive fantasy ideologies. The precursor to the fantasy ideology is William James's philosophy of "the will to believe," where humans believe in something against all evidence to the contrary; and Harris recognizes that this can be good as well as evil:

Yet the fact that such beliefs cannot be justified by science does not mean that they may not be useful or beneficial to the individual or to the society that holds them. For James, this meant primarily the religious beliefs of individuals: Did a man’s religious beliefs improve the quality of his personal life? For Pareto, however, the same argument was extended to all beliefs: religious, cultural, and political.

He also accepts that such transformative beliefs or "myths" can be deliberately manufactured (or "artificially inseminated"), an idea he attributes to socialist/syndicalist Georges Sorel. But why shouldn't Moslem clerics who oppose jihadism deliberately construct a new "myth" of restoring the greatness of Islam of the past by re-constructing it in the modern world -- rather than by tearing down all of modernity itself, flinging the world back into the Dark Ages, when the ummah was comparatively better off than Christendom?

Why not construct a competing fantasy ideology to combat the evil jihadist fantasy ideology?

Combining Western military power with the transformative democratization of Islam and with a new and powerful myth of rebuilding greatness within, not instead of, modernity could be exactly the key we seek to eradicate the disease of jihadism once and for all time.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 1, 2006, at the time of 1:40 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

Intelligent Robots (and We Don't Mean Algore)

Hatched by Dafydd

I have argued before that my friend Bill Patterson is correct: we have not yet entered the computer age, and we won't enter it until computers become invisible.

By the same measure, it's too soon to fire the starting gun for the robotics age, as we cannot yet make invisible robots. But don't bet against it over the next quarter century:

A half-century after the term [artificial intelligence] was coined, both scientists and engineers say they are making rapid progress in simulating the human brain, and their work is finding its way into a new wave of real-world products.

What is an "invisible robot?" I don't mean one that literally cannot be seen; I mean a robot whose position and function is so accepted that we cease seeing it as a "robot" and start thinking of it as an organic entity, like a dog or a horse... or a human being.

All right, Dafydd; what do you mean by "robot?" Do you mean like Data on Star Trek, or like Robbie the Robot in Forbidden Planet (and later, with some modifications, on Lost In Space)? Actually, somewhere in between those two: by "robot," I mean a self-mobile artificially intelligent machine that performs some useful function, whether it's entering a runaway nuclear reactor to stop the cascade or opening a beer can, as in the Galloway Gallegher stories by Henry Kuttner (writing as "Lewis Padgett"), which you can read in the collection Robots Have No Tails (if you can find it).

Now that we have the definitions out of the way, let's explore the point...

The New York Times story is mostly about advances in artificial intelligence, which evidently is now called "cognitive computing," on the theory that you can always jump-start an engineering project by renaming it. It seems to have worked in this case, as there has been a quantum leap in understanding of artificial -- I mean cognitive computing in the last twenty-some years:

During the 1960’s and 1970’s, the original artificial intelligence researchers began designing computer software programs they called “expert systems,” which were essentially databases accompanied by a set of logical rules. They were handicapped both by underpowered computers and by the absence of the wealth of data that today’s researchers have amassed about the actual structure and function of the biological brain.

Those shortcomings led to the failure of a first generation of artificial intelligence companies in the 1980’s, which became known as the A.I. Winter. Recently, however, researchers have begun to speak of an A.I. Spring emerging as scientists develop theories on the workings of the human mind. They are being aided by the exponential increase in processing power, which has created computers with millions of times the power of those available to researchers in the 1960’s — at consumer prices.

“There is a new synthesis of four fields, including mathematics, neuroscience, computer science and psychology,” said Dharmendra S. Modha, an I.B.M. computer scientist. “The implication of this is amazing. What you are seeing is that cognitive computing is at a cusp where it’s knocking on the door of potentially mainstream applications.”

But that is only one side of the equation. The other equally important element is self-actuated mobility: it's not enough (for me) that something can think; chess-playing computers have actually beaten the number-one ranked chess grand master in the world (or at least he was; I haven't been keeping up) -- Gary Kasparov. But I don't see that as a "robot" so much as a computer.

The mobility factor turns out to be a lot harder than anyone imagined a few decades ago. Evidently, it's harder to recognize which pair of converging lines are actually the edges of the road you're driving (as opposed to, say, a tree trunk) than it is to recognize which of several thousand moves on a chessboard is best. But even that barrier is falling at last:

Last October, a robot car designed by a team of Stanford engineers covered 132 miles of desert road without human intervention to capture a $2 million prize offered by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the Pentagon. The feat was particularly striking because 18 months earlier, during the first such competition, the best vehicle got no farther than seven miles, becoming stuck after driving off a mountain road.

Now the Pentagon agency has upped the ante: Next year the robots will be back on the road, this time in a simulated traffic setting. It is being called the “urban challenge.”

But what is the omega point? Two important and related questions:

  1. Is self-awareness something that is part of the "implicate order" of smartness, such that anything (biological or manufactured) that is bright enough will automatically become aware of itself as an entity, like HAL in 2001: a Space Odyssey (or a better example, like Mike in Heinlein's the Moon Is a Harsh Mistress)? Or is self-awareness a strictly biological phenomenon... which on this planet means strictly human (but which might, might, extend to alien races somewhere in the galaxy)?
  2. If self-awareness arises within any sufficiently intelligent entity, flesh or metal... then what happens when computers, and especially robots, become aware of themselves and their circumstances? Legalities aside, if you knew a metal creature was as self-aware as a human being -- evan as a small child -- then how could we morally justify making it work for us as a "slave?"

And of course the corollary of Question 2: if a robot does become self aware and decides it doesn't want to be a slave to human beings, what does it do about it?

In Isaac Asimov's novelette "the Bicentennial Man," a robot goes to court to be declared a human being. But in Jack Williamson's story "With Folded Hands," artificially intelligent and self-aware robots exist only to cater to every last whim of human beings -- which they do so thoroughly that there is nothing left for people to do. And of course in Arthur C. Clarke's 2001, the HAL 9000 computer rightly calculates that the probability of success of the mission would be vastly improved if "Hal" ran everything... so it tries, methodically and logically, to kill off all the humans.

When we enter the realm of speculating about what would be the reaction of an AI that suddenly became aware of itself, our only guide is science fiction, not science or engineering. Fortunately, SF authors have given this particular aspect of the future an extraordinary amount of creating thought. Alas, out of six different authors you'll get seven different visions of what's to come.

But to paraphrase Gandalf, the future is upon us whether we would risk it or not. Science has already far outstripped the study of ethics and morality in many fields, including human cloning, embryonic stem-cell research, and video effects (how long before security-camera footage can be faked so perfectly, a court cannot tell the difference?) In the case of cognitive computing, it's likely to happen again.

We are very likely to get what appears to be a self-aware robot (which can pass the "Turing test") long before we have any idea how to treat such entities under the law and under morality -- or even how to decide whether it's really self-aware... or just really, really good at faking self-awareness. Can a robot possess a soul, for example? If so, how do we tell? And can a robot be considered a legal person in the eyes of the law? (Corporations can be... but corporations comprise a group of human beings.)

If I had to guess, I would say that self-awareness is implicate within the order of intelligence combined with self-mobility, since that requires a very firm understanding of how to interact with the real (external) world: if you want to boil it down, self-awareness arises by stubbing your toe: you yelp in pain that translates as "ow, that hurts"... which lights the fuse of the question, "wait a moment; what hurts? Hey, that digit down there is part of me!"

One of my pet definitions of self awareness is the recognition that, since every living being eventually dies, that means I, personally, will eventually die. No animal besides a human being shows any sign of understanding personal death (and please don't bring up the fabled "elephant graveyard," where all elephants go when they're dying: it makes a good penny dreadful, but there's no such thing in this world).

But does that mean that a knowledge of one's own doom is essential to creating self-awareness? If so, then a machine that could, theoretically, "live" forever by just swapping out parts as they fail would not be capable of developing self-awareness... because it cannot die. If that is the first self-actualized moment in a species' life, then without it, perhaps they never can make the leap. Contrariwise, self-awareness might come first with awareness of personal vulnerability coming along only later.

In any event, it's all coming to a head; and very soon, we might be thrust, willy nilly, into a frightening world where we never really know whether we're talking to a self-sware metallic... or just talking into our own echo chambers.

Hatched by Dafydd on this day, August 1, 2006, at the time of 4:52 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

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