Good News Retracted?

My skepticism about the permanence of the recent good news from Iraq seems like it was justified. Hopefully we'll get that trend back, but it currently looks like it was an aberration.
Violence across Iraq has spiked in recent days, with more than 200 people killed since Sunday in clashes, bombings or shootings — despite U.S. and Iraqi officials' claims that a new security operation in the capital has lowered Sunni-Shiite killings there, which had risen in June and July.

The violence has included some of the fiercest fighting in months between the Iraqi army and Shiite militiamen loyal to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr in Diwaniyah, 50 miles south of the capital.

Monday's fighting was significant because it pitted mostly Shiite Iraqi soldiers against the militia of one of the country's most prominent Shiite leaders. It also illustrates the complexity of the security crisis in Iraq — with Sunni insurgents fighting U.S. troops in the west, Sunnis and Shiites killing one another in Baghdad and now Shiites battling Shiites in the south.

Those last two paragraphs illustrate why our "they stand up/we stand down" strategy likely will not bear net positive results. The very forces we are training to replace us end up fighting sectarian battles amongst themselves and thereby perpetuate and inflame the civil war.

The article goes on to say that Iraq has seen temporary decreases in violence before, when special measures were taken, but the fighting has always flared back up in short order. If only we had a couple of million magical robot policemen we could deploy to the region, that would solve this problem.


Bush and Katrina Admissions

Here's a surprise from President Bush on this benighted anniversary.

When Mr Bush visited Betsy's Pancake House on a tour of New Orleans, one of the waitresses asked him: "Mr President, are you going to turn your back on me?"

"No ma'am, not again," the president promised. People in the restaurant laughed but many of the city's residents, particularly black people, believe they were abandoned when Katrina struck.
"Not again." Wow. I mean, sure, he was playing the guitar and eating birthday cake on vacation while people drowned in their attics and fell dead in their lawnchairs at the superdome, but I never expected him to cop to it. Bizarre.

Incidentally, this episode reminds me of what is required to get Bush to cut short one of his legendary vacations. He'll rush home to sign a bill to "save" a brain-dead woman with no chance of recovery to please the rabidly pro-life segment of his base, but he sees no reason to inconvenience himself when the National Weather Service issues a hurricane warning that reads like a chapter from the end times, directed at a city that is more than a dozen feet below sea-level. I believe that, to this day, the religious right is the only force that has been able to compete against the urge to vacation. Imminent terrorist attacks and destruction of American cities don't hold a candle to the draw of the Ranch and brush clearing.


Ahmadinejad the Dove

Juan Cole has the goods on Ahmadinejad's speech opening the new heavy water reactor in Iran. In it, the President of Iran clarified (again) his "Israel should be wiped from the map" rhetoric.
Kayhan reports that Ahmadinejad said, "Iran is not a threat to any country, and is not in any way a people of intimidation and aggression." He described Iranians as people of peace and civilization. He said that Iran does not even pose a threat to Israel, and wants to deal with the problem there peacefully, through elections.

"Weapons research is in no way part of Iran's program. Even with regard to the Zionist regime, our path to a solution is elections."

Ahmadinejad seems to be explaining what his calls for the Zionist regime to be effaced actually mean. He says he doesn't want violence against Israel, despite its own acts of enmity against Middle Eastern neighbors. I interpret his statement on Saturday to be an endorsement of the one-state solution, in which a government would be elected that all Palestinians and all Israelis would jointly vote for. The result would be a government about half made up of Israeli ministers and half of Palestinian ones. Whatever one wanted to call such an arrangement, it wouldn't exactly be a "Zionist state," which would thus have been dissolved.

The schlock Western pundits, journalists and politicians who keep maintaining that Ahmadinejad threatened "to wipe Israel off the map" when he never said those words will never, ever manage to choke out the words Ahmadinejad spoke on Saturday, much less repeat them as a tag line forever after.

Supreme Jurisprudent Khamenei's pledge of no first strike against any country by Iran with any kind of weapon, and his condemnation of nuclear bombs as un-Islamic and impossible for Iran to possess or use, was completely ignored by the Western press and is never referred to. Indeed, after all that talk of peace and no first strike and no nukes, Khamenei at the very end said that if Iran were attacked, it would defend itself. Karl Vicks of the Washington Post at the time ignored all the rest of the speech and made the headline, 'Khamenei threatens reprisals against US." In other words, on Iran, the US public is being spoonfed agitprop, not news.
That's Juan Cole for you - cutting through the BS and thereby playing right into the hands of the terrorist Mullahs in Iran. Oy.


This is an insightful take on our fact-phobic partisans and the deleterious effects they have on our Democracy.


Crazy Krauthammer

Krauthammer calls for war:
Realistically speaking, the point of this multilateral exercise cannot be to stop Iran's nuclear program by diplomacy. That has always been a fantasy. It will take military means.
This died-in-the-wool neoconservative goes on to at least pay lipservice to the consequences of such an attack on Iran.
There would be terrible consequences from an attack. These must be weighed against the terrible consequences of allowing an openly apocalyptic Iranian leadership to acquire weapons of genocide.
Yes, there would be terrible consequences. Are those consequences worth paying to stop Iran from getting closer to acquiring a bomb? A bomb that experts say is years away? And do we really think that the self-avowed holy men of Iran would commit national suicide by attacking - or enabling an attack on - Israel?

I know that difficult decisions are sometimes called for, and the consequences of those decisions must be borne by the American people. I, personally, am immensely attached to being able to drive to work, buy my food in a grocery store, and generally not be forced into what is now thought of as poverty to prevent Iran from getting a bomb before the turn of the next decade.

In response to General Kristol's question of "why wait," I would say that getting off our dependence on foreign oil is a good reason to wait. Give me 5 years of Manhattan-Project grade investment in alternative energy and efficiency, then I'll be able to seriously consider an attack on Iran to protect Israel.


Not an NPT Violation!

It turns out that the Non-Proliferation Treaty violation I was so worked up about a couple of days ago wasn't what it appeared to be. Via the Corner, who you can always trust to keep you up on "You're Going to Die"-type news:
I finally got more on yesterday's AP story about Iran's barring inspectors from its enrichment facilities. The upshot is that Iran has not blocked IAEA access to any of the facilities where it is currently conducting uranium enrichment (as the wire story seems to suggest). That would indeed have caused an immediate international crisis. What happened, according to a diplomat close to the IAEA, is that Iran blocked access to a certain part of the deeply buried commercial-scale Natantz enrichment facility that is still under construction. Planned nuclear facilities under construction are subject to occasional preparatory inspections, and here one team of inspectors was recently refused access. But they haven't tried to go back, and they don't expect to be denied access again when they do go back. Ergo, the AP story is accurate but critically imprecise.
Mario then goes on to say, "In sum, Iran has now committed another serious breach of the nonproliferation treaty..." But I can't find the violation, since inspectors are not required to be allowed unfettered access to construction areas. I mean, sure, it would have been nice to let them in, but they weren't required. Who knows, maybe the inspectors would have been crushed by lumbering machinery had they entered. In any case, it doesn't pose a threat or a serious violation, since we have tabs on their nuclear material to the extent that they shouldn't be able to divert some of that material into a clandestine program.

Good News from Iraq?

I'm not sure this story makes sense, but here's the lead:
U.S. generals: Baghdad Violence Curbed

BAGHDAD, Iraq — A security operation was helping to curb an increase in violence in Baghdad in recent months after a surge of bombings and shootings, America's two top generals in the Middle East said.

Still, there was more violence Thursday, with three car bombs in Baghdad and a series of bombings and shootings across the country that killed 16 Iraqis and two U.S. soldiers. Another U.S. soldier was killed Wednesday, the military said.

On Friday, a police officer was killed in a drive-by shooting in downtown Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, police Capt. Laith Mohammed said.

U.S. authorities attributed the reported improved security situation in the city to a joint American and Iraqi operation to deal with violence in the capital. The U.S. military has said the operation, for which 12,000 troops were redeployed to Baghdad, aims at curbing mostly sectarian warfare.
This security initiative has been going since the formation of the permanent government, hasn't it? Or are they contending that a single new Stryker Brigade was enough to significantly decrease violence? They're essentially saying that a 15% decrease in deaths this month is a huge achievement. It's definitely good news, but is it real? I pray that it isn't a temporary (or hallucinatory) gain, because that would be genuinely good for America and the region. Excuse me, however, if I don't hold my breath. There's an ample track record from the Bush Administration to justify some skepticism.

France, Douchebag Nation

The French have really pissed me off lately, and I'm not a hater. First, they pushed through the Israel-Lebanon ceasefire by leading everyone to believe that French troops would provide the "backbone" and command for the international force that would take insert into southern Lebanon. Then, after the resolution was passed, they quickly backed out of the lead role - going from talk of 3500 troops down to 200 "military engineers." Fuck you, France.

Their shenanigans continue today, with this story about how the French think that 15,000 troops would be too many:

The number was "completely excessive", Chirac told a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris.

"It doesn't really make sense. So what is the right number, 4,000, 5,000 or 6,000? I don't know," he said.

Italy has offered up to 3,000 troops and France boosted its pledge to 2,000 on the eve of the Brussels meeting. Belgium pledged to take part in the force on Friday. Other possible troop contributors include Spain, Poland and Finland.

About 150 French soldiers arrived by ship in Lebanon's southern port of Naqoura on Friday to join 50 extra troops already sent as part of France's initial offer of 200.
It's good to hear that the French have been shamed back up to 2000 troops, but it's still disgraceful. Totally jerkleague.


Well, Shit, Iran.

The Iranians are calling our bluff. They wont just give in to our demands to make us happy and get what they want along the way. They have to be big men and not give anything up first. Well, that certainly changes the calculus, doesn't it? As hopeful as I was that the Iranians would play ball, we were asking them to give up the key concession we desired before talks would even begin. I suppose it's not surprising they would refuse, especially with how badly Iraq has been going these last three months and the Hezbollah victory against Israel.

I read this news with dread, because this refusal to subjugate themselves puts it on the table. By which I mean, this puts crazy cowboy-man antics on the table. The inspectors getting shut out of Natanz is a putative NPT violation, for god's sake! If even a shade of a case can be made that they're going off the reservation in regards to their actual treaty obligations (not ones we wish they had, like the Additional Protocols), then this is big shit. It's the causus belli that our political leaders will use to march us right up to war. Brinkmanship, here we come, despite the fact that intelligence sources and nuclear technology experts hold the Iranian bomb as being at least 5 years away.

And you know why we'll be put through this dangerous game of chicken? Because without a healthy dose of fear and brinkmanship, the White House would lose the midterm elections in a landslide. Instead, we're going to have constant invocations of the threat of nuclear terrorism, and how Bush resolutely "Will Not Allow" them to get a bomb. The Democrats, as a the saintly yet damned voice of reason will get clobbered for saying "We don't think war with Iran is a good idea." We will be right, and we will be pilloried as traitors who want to see our cities nuked. We'd rather protect the rights of terrorists not to be eavesdropped on than protect our wives and children, the Republicans will hold. There will be a vote to authorize military force in October (again). It will be disgusting.

And then, when the dust settles and the Republicans have increased their congressional majorities, the nuclear threat will mysteriously disappear, because getting tough with Iran cannot be anything but rhetoric. The Republicans will "come to realize" that Iran cannot have a bomb for a couple of years, at least. Not only is this a strategic fait accompli, but also because it is possible that people in high places (The Joint Chiefs) would take otherwise inappropriate action and veto such a war from outside of the Oval Office.

The only political counter to this most despicable of October surprises is strength. The public needs to see the Democratic Party as one that will unfailingly fight to protect America. The key word is fight. That's why we need to be hitting, hard. Boxing. We need to be stating what at this point is obvious from Bush's rhetoric: he's planning a series of wars just like Iraq. We need to be yelling about the Republicans making us less safe through their stupid, needless wars and their domestic sloth in regards to homeland security. Do you trust these jokers to take us into more Iraqs? We need the whole party chanting this in chorus. All the time. ALL THE TIME.

And, in fact, it may be too late. Prepositioning yourself strength-wise makes it look natural when you act like a jerk down the line, calling the Republicans weak on defense for wanting war with Iran now. We should say the neoconservaties are crazy people, bent on war at all costs. We should say that their pigheaded reliance on the military, while refusing to talk to anyone, makes us less safe. If we're not already prepositioned by the time the rhetoric heats noticeably on Iran, then we'll look like political opportunists even though we have strategy and a deep desire to do what's best for the country in our hearts. We'll look craven, and weak, even though our ideas are the only ones that can win this war. At that point, strength through agressiveness will still be the remedy, but it would be vastly better to start early.

Of course, in the same breath as an attack, a "hopeful plan for America's War on Terror" must be espoused. When detail is called for by opponents, only a few sentences are called for. "The Freedom Agenda is a good start, but it's not just freedom to vote that combats extremism. The ultimate calming power is that of consumerism - the middle class. If people have air conditioning and pimped rides, they aren't going to want to blow themselves to pieces. We want the freedom agenda, just not at gunpoint."

... Ok, so maybe that's not a message for the entire Party. But the point is that excessive detail is not required. A couple of sentences of what we would do instead, or better, followed by a pivot back into attacking the rubber-stamp Republicans. If more detail is pressed for, then the facts of our Republic can weigh in, since only the President commands the military.

They key is to attack, and just as importantly, not waver an inch when your opponent calls foul. Strength is a funny thing. The facts just don't seem to matter much to the voting population. What matters is the perception of personal strength. And from a group sociology viewpoint, I think that makes perfect sense.

Dean's Boxing Speech

This, from Dr. Dean, is the kind of political performance that I like to see (youtube link). Dean hits them again and again with rhetoric like "you cannot trust the Republicans to keep you safe," or "you cannot trust the Republicans with your money." This is exactly the correct approach. Fight, attack, and do not back down. The Republican's tenure in the majority has offered a veritable feast of foibles to attack, and we need to take advantage of the opportunity.

Presidential Law Breaking

The District Court ruling late last week dealt with wider legal issues than I was hoping would be settled. I am most interested in the Program's legality in respect to FISA, a federal law with criminal penalties for its violation. It was nice of her to rule that the Program is also unconstitutional, both in respect to the fourth and the first amendments, since that rules-out any shenanigans from the deplorable Specter Bill.

The real kicker, though, is whether or not the legal justifications for the Program mitigates the clear violation of FISA - an almost unanimously enacted law that no one has ever suggested was unconstitutional until the current scandal erupted. Judge Taylor's ruling left no doubt that the inherent powers of the President are derived from the Constitution, and therefore all exercises of those powers must adhere to the Constitution as well. Her ruling holds that President Bush has authorized the violation of FISA, a law with criminal penalties, for nearly five years. To preserve the rule of law in this country, what penalty should be assessed for this lawbreaking?

I, personally, do not yet support impeachment of the President. A censure resolution against the President should be enacted immediately, however, making it clear to the Executive that a time of war does not allow him to make and revoke laws as if he were the legislature. As Judge Taylor said, we have no hereditary kings in America - something the legislature needs to ensure. If, however, the President persists even after Censure, then impeachment becomes imperative. If President Bush continues his illegal Program after these rulings, he must be removed.

Censure is a light penalty for the scope and intent of these violations, I know. I'm applying a political calculus here, wherein I don't really want the Democrats to contemplate going down the impeachment road precipitously before the midterms. The acrimony that such a proceeding engenders would not be helpful to the progressive cause in America, so it should be avoided if possible. If we can get him to respect the Constitution and abide by the laws duly enacted under that constitution, then I think the danger is repaired and I can live with a chastened President Bush until January '09.

Generals Recognize Insanity When They See It

General Barry McCaffery on Meet the Press this past Sunday, talking about the possibility of military action against Iranian nuclear sites:
The notion that we can threaten them with conventional air attack is simply insane. First of all, we're more vulnerable than they are to having the Persian Gulf closed, to having 130,000 troops 400 kilometers up into Iraq with a Shia population on our supply lines. Nevermind our allies who I think are terrified by this, you know, the notion that we would use air power to go after 70 some odd nuclear sites.
The answer on this one is build alliances, do aggressive diplomacy, and stop threatening military action.
The emphasis was in his voice, by the way.

It looks like the military planners - the ones wearing the uniforms, who I have always respected and whose competance has never been in question - have got the strategic implications of war with Iran figured nicely. Either that, or they read this blog to get all their inspired analysis.

Bush's Press Conference

The transcript of Bush's Monday Press Conference is available at the White House's web site, wherein he reiterates that Iraq had nothing to do with Al Qaeda, Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, and Iraq did not have WMDs in the period prior to the invasion. He also repeated that "We're not leaving, so long as I'm the President. That would be a huge mistake."
Q: A quick follow-up. A lot of the consequences you mention for pulling out seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?

BUSH: I square it because imagine a world in which you had a Saddam Hussein who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who would -- who had relations with Zarqawi.


Now, look, I -- part of the reason we went into Iraq was -- the main reason we went into Iraq at the time was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction.


BUSH: You know, I've heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived and, you know, kind of -- the "stir up the hornet's nest" theory. It just doesn't hold water as far as I'm concerned. The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were --

Q: What did Iraq have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

Q: The attack on the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing, except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- Iraq -- the lesson of September the 11th is take threats before they fully materialize, Ken. Nobody's ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq.

So, given that Bush supporters think the reasoning behind going to war in Iraq is solid, how many countries would the Bush supporters have us invade? Well, lets look at the criterion for invasion. We invaded Iraq to disarm a threat from weapons that didn't exist, before those arms could potentially be manufactured. Also, Iraq had had nothing to do with killing any Americans, but Saddam had to be removed because terrorists with no ties to Saddam had killed Americans. All of this is according to our President. Brilliant.


Wow... Much Worse

My "No Bad News" Iraq Rule has a "especially bad news" exception, and this qualifies with room to spare:
Gunmen, some on rooftops, ambushed Shi'ite pilgrims walking in their tens of thousands to a sacred shrine for a major festival in Baghdad, killing up to 20 and wounding more than 300, Iraqi officials said.

"Most of the attacks are taking place when pilgrims are crossing the neighboring areas into Kadhimiya," a Health Ministry spokesman said, referring to the northern suburb where the shrine is the focal point of the two-day religious ceremony.

Twenty pilgrims were killed and 300 wounded, spokesman Qasim Yahya Allawi said.

Heavy security was meant to lower the ever-present danger of sectarian strife at a festival with a bloody history. Last year rumors of a suicide bomber sparked a stampede that killed 1,000 people, mostly women and children.

300 wounded with rifles and machineguns? That's starting to look a lot more like the classic civil war that everyone caricatures. There's the perception that the Iraqi violence isn't a civil war because it isn't a hot civil war, in that the attacks comprising it are done clandestinely with carbombs and the like, rather than through pitched street battles between Sunni and Shiite. Well, perhaps this will convince the doubters.

Juan Cole adds that this occurred in an area of Baghdad that has recently received 3500 additional troops to help with security concerns, and a vehicle curfew was in effect to prevent carbombings. Additional, yet insufficient, security forces are becoming a familiar refrain, eh?

Kerry on This Week

Kerry is laying an egg on This Week. Just thought I'd mention it.

Sunday Morning and Rumsfeld

John Harwood from the Wall Street Journal and General Barry McCaffery on Meet the Press have both just talked about needing "new civilian leadership in the Pentagon." Lieberman reminded us of his call for Rumsfeld's resignation on Face the Nation. McCain reiterated his lack of faith in Rumsfeld on Meet the Press as well.

As I've said, Rumsfeld will have to go before the midterms. Loyalty is important, and all, but keeping their congressional majorities trumps loyalty handily.


Massive Plot? Maybe Not! Part II

I had hoped that someone would do the work of enumerating the "deadly plots" that our fine Counter Terrorism efforts have saved us from. Drum sums it up nicely, if not exhaustively:
So: was this a serious conspiracy? Or was it like the plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge that turned out to be a mentally disturbed dude with a blowtorch? Or the financial district alert in New York City that turned out to be based on information more than three years old? Or the plot to blow up the Sears Tower that turned out to be "more aspirational than operational"? Or Jose Padilla? What news about this plot are we going to discover buried on page A13 a couple of weeks from now?
We've been driven to cynicism, but it is historically justified cynism. We are the partisanized moderates of the Democratic Party who have been taught not to trust our President by his own deeds.

In the specific case of the SkyBombs, yet more evidence has surfaced about the plot's "deadliness." Add this, from Thomas Greene of the Register (of which I am excerpting too much), to your mental appraisal of the validity of this particular alert:

Better killing through chemistry

Making a quantity of TATP sufficient to bring down an airplane is not quite as simple as ducking into the toilet and mixing two harmless liquids together.

First, you've got to get adequately concentrated hydrogen peroxide. This is hard to come by, so a large quantity of the three per cent solution sold in pharmacies might have to be concentrated by boiling off the water. Only this is risky, and can lead to mission failure by means of burning down your makeshift lab before a single infidel has been harmed.

But let's assume that you can obtain it in the required concentration, or cook it from a dilute solution without ruining your operation. Fine. The remaining ingredients, acetone and sulfuric acid, are far easier to obtain, and we can assume that you've got them on hand.

Now for the fun part. Take your hydrogen peroxide, acetone, and sulfuric acid, measure them very carefully, and put them into drinks bottles for convenient smuggling onto a plane. It's all right to mix the peroxide and acetone in one container, so long as it remains cool. Don't forget to bring several frozen gel-packs (preferably in a Styrofoam chiller deceptively marked "perishable foods"), a thermometer, a large beaker, a stirring rod, and a medicine dropper. You're going to need them.

It's best to fly first class and order Champagne. The bucket full of ice water, which the airline ought to supply, might possibly be adequate - especially if you have those cold gel-packs handy to supplement the ice, and the Styrofoam chiller handy for insulation - to get you through the cookery without starting a fire in the lavvie.

Easy does it

Once the plane is over the ocean, very discreetly bring all of your gear into the toilet. You might need to make several trips to avoid drawing attention. Once your kit is in place, put a beaker containing the peroxide / acetone mixture into the ice water bath (Champagne bucket), and start adding the acid, drop by drop, while stirring constantly. Watch the reaction temperature carefully. The mixture will heat, and if it gets too hot, you'll end up with a weak explosive. In fact, if it gets really hot, you'll get a premature explosion possibly sufficient to kill you, but probably no one else.

After a few hours - assuming, by some miracle, that the fumes haven't overcome you or alerted passengers or the flight crew to your activities - you'll have a quantity of TATP with which to carry out your mission. Now all you need to do is dry it for an hour or two.

The genius of this scheme is that TATP is relatively easy to detonate. But you must make enough of it to crash the plane, and you must make it with care to assure potency. One needs quality stuff to commit "mass murder on an unimaginable scale," as Deputy Police Commissioner Paul Stephenson put it. While it's true that a slapdash concoction will explode, it's unlikely to do more than blow out a few windows. At best, an infidel or two might be killed by the blast, and one or two others by flying debris as the cabin suddenly depressurizes, but that's about all you're likely to manage under the most favorable conditions possible.

I particularly like the idea of smuggling a champagne bucket into the bathroom.

Victory for the Constitution! Defeat for the Royalists!

Yes, Yes, Yes! Thank God for an independent Judiciary! A ruling(.pdf) against the NSA Spying Program has come down from Judge Anna Diggs Taylor of the Federal District Court in Detroit. In it, she tears apart the feeble legal justifications for the program. I'll leave the lawyer's work to the professional, and just hit the parts that rub my Constitution-lovin' ass the right way.
In this case, the President has acted, undisputedly, as FISA forbids. FISA is the expressed statutory policy of our Congress. The presidential power, therefore, was exercised at its lowest ebb and cannot be sustained.
Well, duh. I'm so glad I don't have to argue this anymore with conservatives, but it's frustrating it had to come to a judge's ruling to settle such a clear argument.

Also from the decision:
We must first note that the Office of the Chief Executive has itself been created, with its powers, by the Constitution. There are no hereditary Kings in America and no power not created by the Constitution. So all 'inherent power' must derive from that Constitution.
If anything ever deserved a big fat BOOYA, that does. "No Hereditary Kings!" Preach it, sister!

Of course, the right-winger's reactions to this will be fun and disturbing to watch. I give them 24 hours before someone makes a threat on the Judge's life. To start it off small, I've seen 2 items thus far. RedState is saying that "Judge Rules Defending US Citizens Unconstitutional," and the Corner calls it a "Terrorist-Friendly Ruling." There you go. Royalists, the lot of them.


Feel the Ignorance!

From Bush's press conference at the end of the Israel-Lebanon War:
QUESTION: How can the international force, or the United States if necessary, prevent Iran from resupplying Hezbollah?

BUSH: The first step is -- and part of the mandate in the U.N. resolution was to secure Syria's borders. Iran is able to ship weapons to Hezbollah through Syria. . . . In other words, part of the mandate and part of the mission of the troops, the UNIFIL troops, will be to seal off the Syrian border.

See if you can figure out the problem with that statement, using MaxSpeak's map below as a guide:

Massive Plot? Maybe Not.

Ok, this is starting to look bad. Blair's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, observes the following:

None of the alleged terrorists had made a bomb. None had bought a plane ticket. Many did not even have passports, which given the efficiency of the UK Passport Agency would mean they couldn't be a plane bomber for quite some time.

In the absence of bombs and airline tickets, and in many cases passports, it could be pretty difficult to convince a jury beyond reasonable doubt that individuals intended to go through with suicide bombings, whatever rash stuff they may have bragged in internet chat rooms.

What is more, many of those arrested had been under surveillance for over a year - like thousands of other British Muslims. And not just Muslims. Like me. Nothing from that surveillance had indicated the need for early arrests.

Then an interrogation in Pakistan revealed the details of this amazing plot to blow up multiple planes - which, rather extraordinarily, had not turned up in a year of surveillance. Of course, the interrogators of the Pakistani dictator have their ways of making people sing like canaries. As I witnessed in Uzbekistan, you can get the most extraordinary information this way. Trouble is it always tends to give the interrogators all they might want, and more, in a desperate effort to stop or avert torture. What it doesn't give is the truth ...

So, it's quickly starting to look like this will plot will take it's place with the other exaggerated threats the Bush Administration has "saved" the American people from. My personal favorite was the plot to "blow up" the Brooklyn Bridge. A plot concocted by a mentally disturbed man with a blowtorch.

I'm sure someone will do the work of listing off all of the plots that have ended up being more "aspirational than operational." I'll link to it when they do.

(hat tip, Sullivan)

Stoller's Take on Allen's Non-Apology

MyDD has a great take on the Senator Allen slur and subsequent "apology."

The more I think about this racist episode, the worse it looks for Allen. SusanG points out that no one on the Democratic side will take this apology seriously. There's some dispute in the comments about racist appeals in Virginia, and whether racism turns right-wing voters off of a candidate.

Here's the thing, though. Regardless of whether coded racism sells, apologies for not being politically correct do not. Think about that for a second. George Allen just apologized to the liberal media, to liberal bloggers, and to liberal Democrats for being insensitive in matters of race.

I think Mr. Big Tough Republican just knuckled under to the PC police. If I were Jim Webb, I'd say something along the lines of 'Look, apologize, or don't. But be a man about it.'

If Allen can be pushed around by a 20 year old college student's hurt feelings and runs crying like a little girl to the liberal media to apologize, how's he going to stand up to, well, anything at all?

"Look, apologize, or don't. But be a man about it." Yes. That's boxing.

Sen. George Allen, Racist

By now we've all heard of Senator George Felix Allen Junior's little racist "gaffe." If you haven't yet seen the video, here it is at YouTube. I particularly enjoy the "welcome to America, Sand Ni&&er" sentiment at the end. Welcome to America, indeed.

Now, I know that some people will read Allen's non-apology apology and be convinced. Maybe he did mean to call him Mohawk. After all, "Mohawk" is a normal word, and maybe he just has a speech impediment. It would be indecorous to make fun of the disabled.

But what if he did know what he was saying? First, Allen has well-documented racist leanings. Unfortunately, that article is behind a subscription wall, but it doesn't paint a pretty picture of this noose lovin', dixie-horn playin', stars-and-bars wavin', gerund-exploitin' American. Additionally, there are the tales told by George's younger sister, Jennifer Allen, in a book she wrote about her childhood. The author of the TNR article characterizes Jennifer's take on her brother thusly:
The book paints Allen as a cartoonishly sadistic older brother who holds Jennifer by her feet over Niagara Falls on a family trip...and slams a pool cue into her new boyfriend's head. 'George hoped someday to become a dentist,' she writes. 'George said he saw dentistry as a perfect profession--getting paid to make people suffer.'
Ouch. That's some sibling rivalry, right there. Strangely enough, my younger sister and I never got along better than we did on family trips, so if dangling his sister above her watery doom is the ceiling, imagine how he treated her at home!

Now I know you might be thinking that there's a little sticking point in how a Senator from Virginia - a bona fide regular guy - would know what was originally a French ethnic slur referring to Northern Africans. Well, it turns out that Senator Allen's mother is from Tunisia, and George speaks fluent French!

This is America, after all, so perhaps you don't know where Tunisia is:Yup... that's right. North Africa.

We report, you decide. He either knew that Macaque is a word, or he was mispronouncing Mowak. Seems like a toss up, right?


Democrats and National Security

Strength and aggressiveness are politically isomorphic. Attacking your opponent makes you strong, and disarms many of the attacks they can use against you in response. In this election we have an historic opportunity to convince the electorate that the Democratic Party is the one that will keep America safe, and we can only convince them through aggressiveness.

The Democratic Party is the only political party that takes our national security seriously. The Republican Party has given us empty gestures and pre-ordained wars that have nothing to do with combating terrorism. The empty gestures are best illustrated by the National Guard troops that "protected" our airports in the days after 9/11. They were armed with M16 rifles - very effective at letting the populace know we mean business. Unfortunately, M16s are ranged weapons, poorly suited to use in close quarters. And then there's the fact that they weren't loaded... Maybe I should have mentioned that first? It's clear that their priorities are focused on things that are highly visible, regardless of their effectiveness. Iraq is a symptom of the same priority - it was the "we gotta hit them hard for 9/11" thinking that so much of the country still thinks is valid. The only benefits of these policies have been political ones for the Republican Party, not actual security for the American People.

So many events are converging to convince the American people that Republican policies have made them less safe. The War in Lebanon implicates the ascendancy of Iran. The terrorist attacks we've seen around the world give lie to the "flypaper" strategy for Iraq. In fact, even every "terror alert" or "foiled plot" has started working against the Republicans, since they've tied the war in Iraq so successfully to the War on Terror. We are reminded with every alert that the flypaper has worn out, leaving us in Iraq... why? The rate of deaths, the rate of attacks, the hours of electricity, the employment and readiness of armed forces - every indicator you can measure is headed in the wrong direction. If we aren't approaching victory in Iraq, and the flypaper isn't working, then why should we continue dying? Why should we continue killing? We are profiting not at all from the price we are paying.

The Democrats need to realize that politics is more like boxing than like chess. You need to take ruthless advantage of your opponent's weaknesses, and right now that weakness is their tragically misguided, militant approach to national security. The Democratic Party is the only party that understands that, although the terrorists are a serious threat to America, they are not a threat that can be met with military force. We need intelligence, we need special forces, and we need law enforcement. What we emphatically don't need are more wars, more innocent deaths, and more anti-American terrorists created as a result. That's the strategy we've had, and do you feel safer?


Politically, Iraq is becoming enough of a disaster that the Bush Administration is going to feel compelled to make a highly visible change to their strategy before November. But there are no more troops to call on, and it's well documented that leaving=losing in Bush's mind, so what adjustments are possible? There's only one big one: Rumsfeld.

His replacement will be yet another instance of a policy from the Bush White House that does nothing to actually protect us, yet is big and splashy enough so that people can talk about how it is a change for the better. I cannot see how swapping chiefs at DoD will change any facts on the ground, or even change the ever-increasing momentum towards chaos that is Iraq.

Any chance we can pawn Lieberman off on the DoD? That'd be a godsend.


Worst Orders EVER

You've got to be kidding me. Apparently the DoD mucky-mucks sometimes give orders to their inferiors in the form of PowerPoint slides rather than the old style "action plans" or even "fragmentary plans." Yes, instead of an actual, gamed-out battle plan, the Department of Defense staff feel that mission statements and shiny graphics should do nicely in areas where specificity is difficult. You'll be floored by this example (click for larger):
Now we know why our Iraq strategy has been so Foobar from the beginning! We've been relying on people having to interpret that dreck into specific orders. Talk about the ultimate abdication of responsibility! "I did too have a plan for the post-war peace. You just didn't synergize the workflow to avoid sectarian incompatibilities like I outlined in my PowerPoint orders! Not my fault!"

Heaven help us.

Bush of the Bouncing Ball and Politicizing Alerts

It has been well established at this point that the Bush Administration had a coordinated plan to push a politicization of the UK terrorist arrests. They knew about the coming revelation, and stacked up their "terrorist-sympathizer" rhetoric to make the most of the opportunity. Well, I say the UK plot is worth discussing politically, because it is yet further evidence of the dangerous incompetence with which the Administration has been pursuing the War on Terror.

The serious amongst us Americans realize that as adults, you deal with the most important problems first, no matter what the context. Well, we knew this liquid explosives attack was a problem, according to this NYTimes Editorial:
The most frightening thing about the foiled plot to use liquid explosives to blow up airplanes over the Atlantic is that both the government and the aviation industry have been aware of the liquid bomb threat for years but have done little to prepare for it. What saved everyone was apparently superb intelligence work by the British, who apprehended the terrorists before they could carry out their scheme. It is unlikely that any of the scanning machines or screening personnel deployed at airports would have detected the potentially destructive materials before they could be carried aboard."
We knew this was a threat, and we did nothing to deal with the danger it has represented every single day since 9/11. These are the lowest requirements for the War on Terror, and we are not even attempting to meet them. The last time I was on a flight, the swarthy man with the B.O. near me could have blown a nice hole in the plane with this bottle of carry-on shampoo and a couple of disposable cameras. Perhaps, as in the case of Osama bin Laden, President Bush wasn't concerned about that threat. He didn't think it was "important."

Instead of behaving like a serious-minded adult in dealing with the many threats of terrorism, our President chased the pretty bouncing ball into Iraq. We pursued the false machismo strategy of invading another country that had nothing to do with Anti-American terrorism instead of trying realistic remediation of these real-world dangers. If there is known offense technology that pierces our defenses - especially in the airline industry - we need to be doing everything we can to eliminate that threat. If that means inconveniencing people by not allowing them to take carry-on liquids, then so be it. Require all bags to be checked, or whatever other steps you need to take to ensure my safe travel. There is no excuse for knowing of an operative threat and doing nothing to address that threat. Even Microsoft takes security more seriously.

This is the pattern we have seen over and over. The big, showy displays of so-called "toughness" get implemented while actual threats are glossed over and their fixes left undone. When politics is in play no one likes fixes that aren't sexy, and there's nothing sexier than dropping a brace of 500lbs bombs on a den of terrorists. It's so sexy, in fact, that you don't even really need to be sure it's terrorists that you're hitting. Politically, back home, it's the same no matter what you end up scattering to the winds in a hail of shrapnel - as long as the footage is good, the message gets delivered.

So, because no conservatives like the positively Clintonian method of addressing problems through "small bore initiatives," our vulnerabilities remain unaddressed. Our rail lines are completely unsecured, our ports don't screen the containers shipped into the States, and our borders are almost completely open. With the revelation of this UK plot, we are reminded that even our airlines - supposedly secured after 9/11 - still have gaping security holes just waiting to be exploited.

How is it, then, that the Administration can claim that it is the loyal opposition who are soft on terrorism? With so many threats left unaddressed, how is it that these supposed "grownups" consider themselves "serious?"

I pray that the Democratic Party will put its dukes up on this one. Politics is much more like boxing than it is chess, and this is our opportunity to show the country we can attack weakness as well as the Republicans. Through those attacks on weakness, we will show our strength and make the American people even more comfortable with the thought of Democrats protecting them.


Israel's Grand Strategy?

The widely referenced mystery of Israel's poor performance in this war has puzzled me. They are the only modern military in the middle east, after all, and tend to positively wipe the floor with their enemies. So, I was thinking of possibilities for the grand strategy behind Israel's war against Lebanon, and I allowed myself to jog out into shadow-conspiracy territory. We've heard reports that the war was planned in detail years in advance, and that Israel was just waiting to spring the plan. That means the detailed war-plan that they followed was crafted by the Sharon government, not the Olmert. Therefore, they can't be considerred "squishy." This is the Butcher of Beruit's plan, after all.

So, setting aside for the moment the possibility that the Olmert government, endorsed by Sharon, just doesn't have the guts to follow the plan, then what the hell is going on? How can we make sense of all the handwringing about Israel's indecisiveness (which is really just a cover word for ineffectiveness)?

Well, just for giggles, what if they are following the plan? What if the IDF are trying to look somewhat ineffectual - using the number of rockets coming into Israel per day as a measuring stick? The argument would be that they can't simply squash all the Hezbos, but that they need to cut off the supply of weapons to Hezbollah in order to secure Israel... since those weapons are largely Iranian, that might mean that they feel compelled to strike against Iran. This would offer them the chance to strike at Iran's nuclear plant simultaneously.

If you believe that a Shiite Bomb seals the fate of Israel, then you have no choice but to destroy the nuclear capability before it becomes an existential threat. We just happen to have a crazy man as the President in Iran, thereby giving that view more credence. But luckily, he doens't have any power to do anything like that. The Supreme Jurisprudent holds those keys, and I'd like to think that a self-avowwed holy man would at least balk at the national suicide he would be committing by enabling nuclear terrorism against Israel.

It makes us not talking to Syria or Iran make more sense as well.

But the fact is, they still can't attack Iraq without using Iraqi airspace, and they really can't do that while we're there. I think that would spark an open revolt against our occupation that could be potentially painful. Here's the kicker: What if there is another way for them to strike the sites without sending sorties through Iraq? Bing-bing! There is another way. They're called low yeild nuclear weapons on the Jericho II missiles we helped them build.

Lord hear my prayer: stay the finger on the nuclear triggers. That would almost certainly be the end of my comfy lifestyle, and I am so attached to my comfy lifestyle.


Massive Plot Foiled

Here's a useful Q&A on the airline plot that the British foiled today:
British authorities' arrest Thursday of two dozen suspects in what they called a terrorist plot to destroy [up] to 10 planes on their way to the United States created huge disruptions at airports as officials scrambled to implement new security measures.
Not to toot my own horn, but this passage reminds me of something:
British officials say terrorists aimed to simultaneously blow up 10 aircraft heading to the U.S. using explosives smuggled in hand luggage. U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the terrorists planned to use liquid explosives disguised as beverages and other common products and set them off with detonators disguised as electronic devices.
Oh, what the heck: Toot!

On the same subject, we have yet more proof that getting Joe Lieberman out of the party is a good thing:
"“If we just 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," Mr. Lieberman said at a campaign event at lunchtime in Waterbury, Conn. "It will strengthen them and they will strike again."”
That is exactly the sort of thing you are not allowed to say as a self-described "loyal Democrat." This time, he's not only smearing Democrats in general, but 60% of the American people who believe that withdrawal from Iraq is the best strategy going forward. As nice a guy as I'm sure he is personally, I know him only through statements like that one. Good riddance to foul, reality-divorced rubbish.

How Gullible Can You Get?

There are a couple of patterns that I've noticed over the last few years. First, no matter what happens, the RNC and their footsoldiers tell us how good it is for the Republicans and President Bush and how bad it is for Democrats. Over and over again, we're told to expect poll bumps because of so-and-so development, and the stenographic traditional media passes it on uncritically. The latest example is the Lamont victory in CT. By embracing the "loony-left," the argument goes, the Democrats have married defeatism and shown their true terrorist-appeasing colors. I can't wait for Joe himself to start parroting that line - it's right up his alley.

The second thing is that whatever statement they make about the Democratic Party, the opposite is true. We all remember this National Review cover:Well now we find out that the person Rove most feared was Dean, because of Dean's clear opposition to the Iraq War, which wasn't going as well as the Republicans had hoped for (to put it mildly). (Doh! I read that about Dean this morning, and now I can't find the reference. I guess this makes me a fact-free blogger from this moment forward. Sigh. I fought it so hard.)

This is an advanced psychological technique called reverse psychology, and I've been using it to win Risk games since I was eight. There's nothing like manipulating an ally into backstabbing you while holding 45 armies worth of reserves in the cards.

Actually, this second strategy is also at work with the Lamont victory.

Ah. Here's a DailyKos article chronicling this pattern with multiple examples. I didn't have time to do that research anyway.

Obligatory Anti-Incumbent Post

I was gladdened by the election results this Tuesday. Both of my personal targets went down to defeat, which admittedly is not exactly a pop-the-cork moment, but is still satisfying. McKinney lost in Georgia, and Lieberman lost in Connecticut. McKinney was everyone's favorite whipping-girl, so that came as no surprise. Joe's loss in Connecticut, however, seemed like a real long-shot at first.

I wasn't opposed to Lieberman because of his stance on the Iraq War, although his divorced from reality view is problematic. If Lieberman's fantasy-world position on Iraq was my beef, then there are plenty of other Democrats deserving of primary attempts, and you wont hear me clamoring for more challenges. No, the problem is Joe's misguided "bipartisanship."

When you are in the Minority, defense of your own party is paramount. Instead, over and over again Joe Lieberman would savage his own party, bordering on the rhetoric used in the vilest of Republican attacks. Opposing a war that has manifestly hurt American security does not make me "soft on terrorism," Joe, and saying so raised my ire considerably. "Undermining the President's credibility" is not something the Democrats did, but something that President Bush himself did by taking us to war on false intelligence and without a post-war plan. Stating that Democrats who are critical of President Bush on the War "do so at our nation's peril" is a direct attack on the patriotism of those Democrats, and that simply cannot brook that from a member of the Party. I'm glad he's gone. Now he can do all the sniping he likes from the sidelines as an Independent. The Democrats are now united in their belief about and message on the Iraq War.


Lebanon Refuses Cease-Fire?

Well, this is a bit of a surprise, isn't it:
Mr. Siniora said he opposed the cease-fire resolution in its current form, saying it would not effectively halt the violence. "“It barely leads to a cease-fire," he said, with tears in his eyes. "“We want a permanent and full cease-fire."
That's an Arab government chosing to fight on against Israel. Weird. So weird it can't be a good thing.


Beruit: Before and After

This satellite imagery shows a part of why total war against guerrillas is a losing tactic. Click on it for a larger version.

Ouch. Those were multi-story apartment buildings.


Israeli Airstrikes

Here's a nice graphical representation of Israel's "War on Hezbollah." Click for a larger version:
That's funny... I thought I had heard that Hezbollah occupied the southern part of the country, and that Israel is only interested in removing the penumbra of missile terrorism from Lebanon. I wonder how destroying Christian TV stations in the north furthers that goal?

Guilt and a Moral Life

I'm watching Bill Donahue on The Colbert Report, and I must say, he's holding his own admirably. As a Catholic myself I agree with him on the value of guilt. Of course, he presents everything in the most starkly grotesque manner, but he has to get on TV somehow, right?

What he means is that guilt, in proper dosage, can be a curative for a damaged spirit and a guide for the moral treatment of others and ourselves. "Our culture teaches about the abandonment of constraint... I'm all in favor of guilt, as long as-" Colbert cut him off, but I feel certain he was going to go on to qualify it with something along the lines of "as long as you don't feel guilty about everything." Guilt over past sins serves as a warning against future sins, and coupled with the Catholic Sacraments its effects are beneficial. We don't call it the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the whimsy.

In the Medieval Age the Church functioned as the primary glue of society, keeping knowledge alive, providing structure and hope to an otherwise dire life, and most importantly, healing the wounds among the populace. When a sin was committed against someone, the Church stepped in and provided the moral authority to right the wrong. Back in the good old days of the eleventh century, Repentance and Penance were more tightly intertwined than they are today. The current fad of giving scores of "Hail Marys" or "Our Fathers" as penance for a huge range of sins is just that - a relatively new development.

When the Church was the government, Repentance for sins directly implied a fitting and personal Penance. Kill a neighbor's chicken and you owe him a chicken. If a replacement chicken is beyond your means, the substantial sweat of your brow would have sufficed nicely. This resulted in a society whose morality was enforced and effective. The disproportionately valuable benefit to society was the resolution of grudges that this practice shepherded. A grudge can be a dangerous thing - especially when living through the winter was a bit of a lottery.

Actually, I just saw the end of the segment, and I'm amazed. I think Colbert was beaten! Of the 20 or so Colbert interviews I've seen, I've never seen a guest do so well.

Now, I assume that Mr. Donahue and I would voluminously disagree on what actions are guilt-worthy. That's one of the nice things about the American Catholic Church - we're largely free to find our own way to salvation. He can have his strident view of doctrinaire morality, and I'll be happy to keep mine.