Friday, December 30, 2005

Last Post of the Year

I've been searching for something to write about for my last post of the year, and I haven't really found it. So I'm going to fall back on something I'm always ready to write or talk about, the Greatest Fight of All Time.

It's a good year for such talk; the fight happened 30 years ago this past September. It was the third meeting between Ali and Joe Frazier, and every single thing about the fight was absolutely perfect.

It's actually almost weird when you start running down the various aspects of the whole spectacle, and realizing that even in hindsight there is absolutely no possible way you could have ever made the fight better.

The fight itself was great enough, and we'll get to that. But just the setup was incredible. Here's a quick list of things that happened before the bell ever sounded to set up the greatest fight ever.

1) Both guys in the best possible shape.

Anybody who watches modern heavyweight boxing knows that nowadays this basically never happens. Part of that is the fact that modern heavyweight boxers generally aren't that athletic; if they were they would be linebackers. But even for the era, the shape Ali and Frazier got into was breathtaking. Ali looked like a god. Frazier's cardio conditioning and weight management was probably the best anybody has accomplished in the history of the sport.

All you really need to know about the shape these guys were in was an exchange between Ken Norton and Don Dunphy before the fight started. Don speculated that Ali would be coming in at 219 pounds on fight night, and Norton corrected him, saying that given the conditions in the arena Ali probably needed to come in with a little extra weight to sweat off. Norton said Ali was probably coming in at 220.

Nowadays if a heavyweight fighter comes in in no more than 5 or 6 pounds over his normal fighting weight, he's considered to be in OK shape for the fight. Ali and Frazier's weight was being managed right down to the ounce.

2) The Ringside Announcers

If he hadn't soured on boxing and gone into hiding after his third fight with Ali (he did continue to compete), I truly believe Ken Norton could have become the greatest color analyst in boxing history. He has a beautiful voice, he's incredibly intelligent, boxers really like him so they tell him all kinds of inside stuff, just a perfect combination of attributes for somebody in the booth.

Meanwhile the blow-by-blow was being done by Don Dunphy, who was an old boxing guy from way back who had been at basically every significant heavyweight fight going back to the beginning of Joe Louis' career. He wasn't a great broadcaster by this point, so late in his career (though I'd be excoriated by a lot of boxing people for saying that), but his august presence was really felt at key moments in the fight, and his objectivity became a great foil for Norton's obvious pro-Frazier point of view late in the fight.

3) Ali's Prefight Antics

Without #1, this would have been just the same old shit Ali always pulled. But given the training he put himself through to get in that kind of shape at 33, you know that Ali was taking the fight very seriously, and that he knew he would have to be at his very best to win. Yet before the fight he's as loose as can be, clowning with the crowd and even going so far as to run over and steal the gold trophy that Ferdinand Marcos had made for the winner. A real comic moment, especially given the fact that the promoters obviously didn't think it was very funny.

Whenever I watch that I think of an interview I saw with Bruce Lee once. Lee talks about the fact that one of the big things people do that hurts them in fights is they are very tense. And when you're tense, you are basically blocking your own punches, making them slower and less powerful. When you throw a punch, only the muscles involved should be tense, and then only at the exact moment of striking.

Ali was like that just as a matter of personality. He understood the gravity of the moment better than anybody, but it wasn't yet time to strike. So he relaxed, and waited for his chance. Amazing.

4) The Two Idiots

For some reason, the broadcast team consisted not only of Norton and Dunphy but also of two other guys: Flip Wilson, a sort of B-list comic actor, and Hugh O'Brian, who was a biggish action star at the time (he was actually in Game of Death with Bruce.) These two guys bring nothing to the table at all in terms of analysis (though Wilson at least prerpared a catchphrase, "Joe is starting to smoke!") but they are essential to viewing the broadcast because they give some perspective on what it was like to be a regular person there watching this ridiculous fight.

Dunphy and Norton are both pretty reserved. Both do describe the fight at one point as as one of the greatest of all time, but for the most part their professionalism keeps them on a pretty even keel. Whenever they pass the mike to Wilson or O'Brian, they are just flabbergasted with how incredible the fight is, almost to the point of speechlessness. O'Brian at one point says of Frazier "It's unbelievable the amount of times he got hit on the head, that he could keep coming," which despite being a pretty clunky comment sums up Frazier's performance pretty well. What's really incredible is that he says this I think at the end of round 9 or 10, when the worst of the beatings (in rounds 11, 13 and 14) are yet to come.

5) The Conditions

The fight was contested in Quezon City in the Phillipines, just north of the equator, inside a building just large enough to hold the spectators, and the building did not have air conditioning. It was so sweltering that spectators were passing out from the heat. For that reason you can't really get a total sense of what the fight was like on television, because you had to be there to appreciate the extraordinarily tough conditions under which these guys were competing.

6) Historical Implications

It's easy to forget that at the time the fight was made, Ali was still fairly fresh off a spectacular but very weird win over George Foreman in a fight in which Ali had been a fairly heavy underdog. In the months then Ali had turned in lackluster winning performances against a couple of B-minus type fighters and appeared to have lost a lot of his skills. Frazier and Ali's second fight had been OK, but it wasn't a great fight and it was marred by some poor refereeing.

Had Ali lost the fight, he probably would have gone down as maybe a top-five all-time heavyweight, behind Marciano and Louis and probably a couple other guys, maybe even Floyd Patterson.

After the fight, there was no question that Ali was either the very best ever or just slightly behind Joe Louis. With one great performance fight Ali leapfrogged over almost all of boxing history.

The Fight Itself

I encourage people to watch the fight, so I won't describe it in detail. If you are interested in seeing it let me know; I can arrange it. The list I'll provide here can function as sort of a viewer's guide to help you get the most out of your viewing experience.

1) The First Round

After the first round Flip Wilson proclaims "I do NOT think this will go fifteen rounds." It's a humorous statement for two reasons - one, it's completely obvious, and two, it basically turns out to be wrong. In any case the first round is among the fastest first round in the history of heavyweight championship fights. There is no "feeling-out" period of any kind; the fighters just go at it.

2) Frazier's Fight Plan

Eddie Futch, Frazier's trainer, came up with a great fight plan for Frazier, and he executes it extremely well. Basically the idea is to wear Ali down with precise body punches without throwing himself out when Ali is shelled up in a defensive posture. In theory, Ali should run out of gas in the middle rounds, which actually happens more than once, but Ali is too great, and he's in too good of shape. Joe can't quite take advantage and Ali recovers quickly each time.

3) The Middle Rounds

The middle rounds are easy to overlook when you know the outcome, but it strikes me each time I watch the fight just how close Frazier is to turning the fight around in the sixth, seventh and tenth rounds. If he could have landed any left-right combinations he could probably have knocked Ali out. Unfortunately for Joe, he lands punches only one at a time.

4) The Final Rounds

Though Frazier's performance was great for a lot of reasons, the most amazing thing about it is the fact that he was able to remain on his feet for the whole fight. In the 13th round, Joe is hit with so many brutal punches that even knowing the outcome it's easy to think several times that he's going to go down. The 14th round is even worse. An unrealistic beating.

5) Norton and Dunphy

Norton and Dunphy are a great pair in this fight because Dunphy has gotten old and a little blind (on the two separate occasions that Frazier loses his mouthpiece as a result of a right hook from Ali, Dunphy misses both), but is very objective, while Norton is in his physical prime but is extremely pro-Frazier.

The upshot of this is that in the early going, Norton's analysis is right on and he is able to correctly call a few things that the other announcers miss. After the eighth round, for example, Dunphy seems convinced that Frazier won the round or possibly evened it up in the final minute, but in reality Ali landed many, many more clean shots in the round and was definitely ahead, which Norton points out. This is actually the beginning of Norton's bias seeping through, as he says pleadingly "Joe has got to find a way to stop getting hit so much."

(It's worth noting that the judges did award some even rounds and 8 was probably one of them. The Filipino judge actually scored three rounds even, which is insane in a fight with this much action, but Dunphy wasn't totally off base.)

In the later rounds, though, as things start to get a bit desperate for Frazier, Norton stops being able to see the most ominous developments for what they are. The clearest example is after the 12th round; Dunphy observes that Frazier seems finally to be tiring, and that when he had Ali on the ropes he didn't seem to be able to generate any power. Norton counters by saying he thought Eddie Futch had told Joe not to throw himself out on the ropes, just to score to the body. But Futch must have known by that point, as Norton did, that the chances of Joe winning a decision were essentially none. His only hope was to knock Ali out, and he wasn't going to do that by throwing shoe-shiners to Ali's ribs.

In reality Dunphy was wrong, too; Frazier's conditioning never gave out in the fight, but Ali had landed a right hand to Frazier's jaw at the end of the eleventh round that didn't look like much, but which was essentially the straw that broke the camel's back. Joe is't tired in the 12th so much as his coordination is shot - he is never quite able to shake the cobwebs after that punch (which came at the end of a long series of scoring combinations by Ali.)

You can't fault Norton too much for rooting against Ali - Ali had taken an extremely close split decision from Norton in their rematch in 1973, in a fight that many people (including Norton) thought Ken had won. After Norton got knocked out by Foreman and Ali regained the title, Norton felt that Ali was ducking him, and even up to the Thrilla in Manila Ali was saying that he planned to rematch Foreman and then retire, without fighting Norton a third time. In a little "insult to injury" moment the previous March, Norton had knocked out Jerry Quarry to win the shitty alphabet belt Ali had vacated when he recaptured the world title from Foreman.

Add to that the fact that Norton and Frazier were close friends, and that Norton was a Marine and Ali was the poster child for the antiwar movement, and you can see why Ali was not Norton's kind of guy.

In the end Ken would get his wish. Almost a year to the day after the fight in Quezon City, Norton and Ali fought a rubber match for Ali's world title. They fought in Yankee Stadium in New York, about two weeks before I was born. It was a great fight, but sadly, we're out of time. Maybe next year.

Happy New Year everybody.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

No Holds Barred

Agressiveprogressive over at Kos brings us an op/ed from the normally execrable Bob Barr, whose commitment to civil liberties, while somewhat malleable, turns out to be sincerely held. I won't say that's unique among prominent Republicans, but it's rare enough to be refreshing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Mission Accomplished!

The Kurds are preparing to secede from Iraq, according to Knight-Ridder.

The Kurds have readied their troops not only because they've long yearned to establish an independent state but also because their leaders expect Iraq to disintegrate, senior leaders in the Peshmerga -- literally, ''those who face death'' -- told Knight Ridder. The Kurds are mostly secular Sunni Muslims, and are ethnically distinct from Arabs.

Each successive round of triumphalism among war supporters - the first after the Mission Accomplished stunt, the second after the "transfer of sovreignty" stunt, the third after the capture of Hussein, the fourth after the January 15 elections, the fifth after the semi-adoption of a semi-constitution in October - has been progressively more pathetic and counterfactual.

But the crowing on pro-war op/ed pages after the recent elections in Iraq handed almost unchecked control over Iraq to allies of the most powerful hostile theocracy in the region (as That Other Blog predicted at the beginning of 2004) really takes the cake, not only because the elections were a resounding defeat for all of the U.S.'s supposed goals in Iraq, but also because the picture you get from reading actual eyewitness reporting from people inside Iraq is now so bleak, so explosive that there is a sense that absolutely anything could happen, and that it probably won't be very good.

Now we learn from Knight-Ridder that the Kurds, our putative allies, are mounting an actual fifth column inside the Iraqi military (which your tax dollars are paying for, by the way) with the intent of turning on the central government at a decisive moment and plunging into an inevitable pissing match and probably an eventual hot war with Turkey over the fate of the Turkish Kurds.

Oh yeah, and meanwhile, in the South...

[The Kurds'] strategy mirrors that of Shiite Muslim parties in southern Iraq, which have stocked Iraqi army and police units with members of their own militias and have maintained a separate militia presence throughout Iraq's central and southern provinces. The militias now are illegal under Iraqi law but operate openly in many areas. Peshmerga leaders said in interviews that they expected the Shiites to create a semi-autonomous and then independent state in the south as they would do in the north.

Hey, look on the bright side, America. At least we got Afghanistan licked.

The winter fight is the latest sign that a group now calling itself al-Qaida in Afghanistan is trying to emulate the aggressive tactics used against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Messages from the Afghan group have recently appeared on the same jihadist Internet sites as those of al-Qaida in Iraq, led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, said terrorism expert Rita Katz.

"They see in Iraq what's successful, so they say, 'Let's do the same thing in Afghanistan,'" said Katz, who heads the SITE Institute, which seeks to educate the public about Islamic terrorists.

It's the Reverse Flypaper Theory! We fight them over there so they can go over there to that other over there, and... Ah, fuck.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Spelling out the Letter of the Law

One of the great things about the Internet age is that when there is a specific legal dispute in the news, we can all become experts. All you have to do is to look up the text of the law, compare it to the facts of the case, and make your own assessment.

Right about now the Bush-allied press is gearing up for a real head-in-the-sandathon regarding Bush's blatantly illegal orders to the NSA to spy on Americans. And unfortunately that portion of the "liberal" press that makes its money by speaking in measured tones and qualified language about absolutely everything is singing from essentially the same hymnal.

The new script is "only crazy people think Bush violated the law." The idea is that there is this arcane law on the books and there are complicated quesions about what it says, and big minds are wrestling with it, etc. If you want the prototype column, Krauthammer helpfully brings it to us today.

In an attempt to assess the valdiity of this new script and determine if in fact the Ape Man is crazy for thinking Bush obviously violated the law, let's excerpt some key passages from the 1978 law Bush is accused of violating.

US Code

(1) Notwithstanding any other law, the President, through the Attorney General, may authorize electronic surveillance without a court order under this subchapter to acquire foreign intelligence information for periods of up to one year if the Attorney General certifies in writing under oath that—

(A) the electronic surveillance is solely directed at—

(i) the acquisition of the contents of communications transmitted by means of communications used exclusively between or among foreign powers, as defined in section 1801 (a)(1), (2), or (3) of this title; or

(ii) the acquisition of technical intelligence, other than the spoken communications of individuals, from property or premises under the open and exclusive control of a foreign power, as defined in section 1801 (a)(1), (2), or (3) of this title;

(B) there is no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a United States person is a party; and

Let's run through this quickly. The president, through the AG, can authorize warrantless wiretaps. So far so good. Bush is in the clear! But we go on.

The communications intercepted must be exclusively between foreign powers! Well, in this case, the communications were always between a US person and a foreign power, except in a few accidental cases where they were between a US person and another US person. Let's go on further.

The AG must certify that there is "no substantial likelihood that the surveillance will acquire the contents of any communication to which a US person is a party." OK, well that's a problem, because in this case of course the wiretaps were explicitly wiretaps of communications to which a US person was a party.

Uncle Kevin was on yesterday alleging that these laws are "dubious." He provided no explanation for what he meant by this, other than that "Congress and the public may not be willing to support them." I'm not sure what evidence there is of that, particularly since Judiciary and Intelligence are already gearing up to hold hearings. There is certainly no evidence at this point that "the public" doesn't support the law, since the story didn't even break long enough ago to do reliable polling.

I'm not sure what to make of this, other than to guess that it's the typical intellectual torpor that seems to afflict the older generation of liberals, and makes them next to useless in any political fight. Everything is ambiguous by definition, so no judgment can ever be rendered and no stand can ever be taken. Perhaps I'm misunderstanding him, but seriously, if you can't draw the line here, you basically have no principles at all.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Bad Math

In my travels I've found several bloggers discussing possible penalties for Bush's illegal spying on American citizens. A few point out quite correctly that in fact Bush would face one count per instance of federal spying. So if that 18,000 number is correct, Bush is on the hook for approximately 90,000 years in prison and $180,000,000 in fines.

Good News From the Judiciary and Intel Committees

Here's an early sign this wiretap scandal is playing to a different script than previous scandals. Five Senators delivered a letter on December 19th to the chairmen of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees asking for joint hearings on the issue of Bush's warrantless wiretaps.

On the Judiciary side Arlen Specter, who is not a Bush loyalist, is probably willing to get started right away. Pat Roberts, who is the Intel Committee chair and a shameless Bush bootlicker, will almost certainly refuse. However, as noted at the linked page, since there are five committee members requesting the meeting, they can call it themselves after seven calendar days, which would mean next Tuesday (Monday is a federal holiday.)

These hearings would be a really big deal, though of course any impeachment proceeding would have to originate in the House.

Daou Report Predicts Disappointment

Salon's Daou Report is predicting that this Bush scandal will follow the predictable pattern.

I can't say he's wrong, but I do dispute the following:

10. The story starts blending into a long string of administration scandals, and through skillful use of scandal fatigue, Bush weathers the storm and moves on, further demoralizing his opponents and cementing the press narrative about his 'resolve' and toughness. Congressional hearings might revive the issue momentarily, and bloggers will hammer away at it, but the initial hype is all the Democrat leadership and the media can muster, and anyway, it's never as juicy the second time around...

The difference here is that in the eyes of many of Bush's supporters, there is no long list of scandals. If you mentioned such a thing to a Republican they would probably have very little idea what you were talking about, as they believe that those scandals are essentially made up by a Bush-hating press.

In this scandal, the wrongdoing is undeniable. The only questions are legal ones, not factual ones.

This seems disorienting to those in the "reality-based community." To us, Bush's twisting and massaging of intelligence in support of his already-decided policy of invading Iraq is a fact. Bush's coverup of the burning of a CIA operative is a fact. Bush's directive to Justice to write legal briefs in support of torture is a fact.

To the right, these things are not facts. They simply deny them, because it is possible for them to do so as long as their hero continues his lame denials. In this case there are no denials to be made. Bush approved illegal, warrantless wiretaps of American citizens. He admits this. The report now is that some 18,000 people were spied on without a warrant.

There are two positions to take here - either it is all right for the government to spy on its citizens without a warrant or it is not. I have lost a lot of faith in the institutions of American society, but I do not think they can truly swallow this.

In the coming weeks we will find out for sure.

The Law Bush Broke

There was a question in comments earlier about exactly what law Bush broke when he authorized warrantless wiretaps of US persons. You can read the text of the electronic surveillance portion of the statute at this Cornell webpage.

My favorite part is excerpted below:

(a) Prohibited activities
A person is guilty of an offense if he intentionally—
(1) engages in electronic surveillance under color of law except as authorized by statute; or
(2) discloses or uses information obtained under color of law by electronic surveillance, knowing or having reason to know that the information was obtained through electronic surveillance not authorized by statute.
(b) Defense
It is a defense to a prosecution under subsection (a) of this section that the defendant was a law enforcement or investigative officer engaged in the course of his official duties and the electronic surveillance was authorized by and conducted pursuant to a search warrant or court order of a court of competent jurisdiction.
(c) Penalties
An offense described in this section is punishable by a fine of not more than $10,000 or imprisonment for not more than five years, or both.
(d) Federal jurisdiction
There is Federal jurisdiction over an offense under this section if the person committing the offense was an officer or employee of the United States at the time the offense was committed.

Federal prison for not more than five years. Sounds about right to me.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

More Ape Man Litmus Tests

From James Wolcott:

If you hate Ali, your soul is shriveled and dead.

Bush the Uniter

One of the worst things about Bush - and it's a long list - is how he alienates people from one another. The combination of his strange cult of personality and his massively irresponsible leadership creates a situation where I am routinely forced to look around at my fellow Americans, including some that I know well and respect, and wonder what on earth is wrong with these people that they aren't positively sick to their stomachs over what Bush is doing to the country.

I always feel conflicted in these moments. My friendships are more important to me than politics. But in this particular moment, as I'm trying to digest the information that Bush authorized secret, warrantless wiretaps and then concealed it (to the point of materially lying to the public about it several times) for years, I can't help but feel that from this moment forward, it will be very hard for me to spend any significant amount of time with anyone who is not openly outraged by this behavior to the point of wanting George W. Bush immediately impeached and thrown in prison.

Ethridge explained earlier how people can justify Bush's behavior to themselves. And that's fine for them; it's between them and god, or their ego and their superego or whatever. I myself cannot countenance such an attitude, not pushed to this extreme. I am not a nationalistic man, and it takes a great deal to stir any nationalistic ardor in me. But today I must stand up and say that supporting the illegal, warrantless use of a federal spy agency to eavesdrop on phone coversations is a crime against America and everything it stands for. From this day forward, if you are a supporter of this president you are an enemy of this country.

Often we on the left get accused of hating America. Well, I love America. Of all the societies in the world, this is the one I would most want to live in, despite all its many faults. Indeed, that's why I live here. But if we cross this line, today, and fail to hold our president accountable for abusing his office and violating the rights of every single American, then we're just a warm, rich Russia or a big, temperate Cuba.

We mowed down the amber waves of grain years ago. The spacious skies are long since choked with smog. All we've got now is an experiment with rule by the people and their representatives serving at the people's pleasure, instead of rule by the wastrel sons of the idle rich.

I once believed in a far-off but attainable national unity. I believed that we were all essentially after the same goals, but stubbornly insisting on pursuing them in different ways. I believed that in time, with great difficulty, we could become truly one nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

That dream is fading today. If George W. Bush serves out his term of office, the Republic is dead.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

So Far Only Bill Kristol Smart Enough to Use Ape Man Defense

A lot of right-leaning Democrats LURVE Bill Kristol. Whenever they're asked to name some fundamentally freaked-out right-wing nut sandwich that they agree with (agreeing with a few fundamentally freaked-out right-wing nut sandwiches is how right-leaning Democrats maintain "credibility" with their corporate constituencies) most Blue Dogs will come up with Bill Kristol.

Let me say at the outset that I am not in this group. I don't like Bill Kristol on any kind of human level. However, I have to say, the man is a brilliant political tactician and media man. He has an image that the left desperately needs someone to cultivate - radical policy positions, moderate image. What we get on the left is the opposite: guys like Howard Dean (whom I like), who has moderate polcy positions and a radical image.

In any case, I have to give Kristol tactical credit for being the only right-winger I've seen so far try out The Ape Man Defense on the domestic spying issue. Think Progress brings us the story of Kristol on Fox saying how we should all be thankful that President Bush had the moxie to authorize a domestic spying program.

This is a great defense. Not because it makes sense; in fact precisely because it doesn't. Since this is such a black-and-white issue (the president broke the law, full stop) the best hope for the right wing is to use their considerable media empire to advance the argument that Bush broke the law because he had to do so in order to save Americans. Of course this is idiotic - the President controlled both houses of Congress and could have easily had the law changed. It's the political equivalent of pushing all-in with a pair of fours. But the White House has lived for the last five years on the principle that if it pushes all the chips into the middle at the right moment, the Democrats will fold, no matter what hand either side holds.

The Republicans have made the decision to stand and fight on an issue that is, on the merits, a total loser, to the point of threatening to undermine the legitimacy and political solvency of the entire Republican party.

If recent history holds, the Democrats will back down. If that happens, I think I speak for a lot of the party's hated "activists" when I say that will be the final straw. I am as committed to major-party politics as any political radical can possibly be, and I will say unequivocally that if the Democrats allow the GOP to get away with illegal, warrantless NSA investigations of American citizens, I will never vote for another Democrat as long as I draw breath.


Friday, December 16, 2005

Washington Post: Bush is a Criminal

This report actually originates with the New York Times, but I like to link to the WaPo because they have this nifty little thing that links back to your blog when you link to one of their stories.

In any case, they are reporting that Bush broke the law. Not "may have broken" or "allegedly broke" or any of that happy crappy. Bush told the NSA to spy on Americans without a warrant. There are laws against that and while there are some grey areas, they aren't big enough to fit this conduct into.

We are about to witness, of course, the very counterfactual contortions to which I alluded in the Froomkin piece I wrote for DU the other day. It won't do to cover this story straight, because there really is no "other side." The United States has laws. Bush broke them. There's not really much else to it.

But of course it won't do in modern journalism to cover the story this way. We must be objective, by which we mean of course ignoring objective reality and bringing you the subjective interpretations of "both sides." If there aren't two sides, you have to invent one.

We can't say for certain what form that will take, but I have a guess. Debate in the dailies and on the weekly screaming head shows will focus on whether or not it was a good idea, in a broad sense, for the NSA to have the right to spy on Americans. Republicans will no doubt argue that in the "War on Terror" law enforcement needs new expanded powers and blah blah blah.

Of course, all of this GOP blather will be completely irrelevant. If the president feels he needs to do something that is currently against the law, his recourse is to have the law changed. This avenue is particularly open to a president whose party controls both houses of Congress AND is enjoying, as Bush was at the time, the more or less blind support of nine-tenths of the electorate. Indeed, much about US law enforcement WAS changed back then, by a piece of legislation called the PATRIOT Act, which is currently up for extension in the Senate.

Put differently, it's fine to have a debate about whether the president ought to be able to order warrantless wiretaps of American citizens, or whether he ought to be able to authorize torture, or whether he ought to be able to call Dominoes in a disguised voice and order a hundred pizzas to be delivered to Ted Kennedy's house.

We can talk about any and all of those things. But we have to have the conversation before the president does it. If there's a law, and someone breaks it, there's no conversation to be had at that point about the prudence of the law. It's a crime. Period.

And unfortunately for the GOP (and, even more unfortunately, for the sanity of the discourse), there's no way to cover that in a balanced way. Bush is a criminal. You can count on journalists like Dan Froomkin to tell you that, and to call others to account for trying to obscure it. That's why you won't find his work in any major print daily.

Get Left Out

As regular readers may already know, my favorite male nonfiction author is Joshua Frank. His book "One Market Under God" changed my life completely, totally shattered my entire political philosophy and forced me to construct a completely new one, which process is still ongoing to this day.

What's the Matter With Kansas is possibly the most misunderstood book I've ever read, probably because a great majority of the people who took time to pass judgment on it never bothered to actually read it.

Now Frank has another book out called Left Out, Frank's analysis of the 2004 election and what really caused the Democrats to lose an election to probably the most beatable incumbent Republican in recent history.

I haven't read a word of it, but in the tradition of critics of What's the Matter with Kansas, I'm going to go ahead and call it the most insightful, fact-based analysis of the 2004 presidential election yet written. Of course the difference here is I'm probably right.

If I don't get the book for Christmas I'll buy it and review it in January.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Abject Apology

One skill that I have that's in fairly short supply in the general population is the ability to recognize when I'm acting like a jerk and apologize for it. I had to do it this week at work (I remote-controlled a colleague's machine in a pinch, thinking he was out to lunch - in fact he was at his desk) and I am going to do it again on the blog. I'm not going to read any response to my earlier comment on the Guacamole post because I wish I hadn't made it, and I don't particularly care to see what exact form my well-deserved comeuppance might have taken.

The baby is sick with a fever and I'm obviously spoiling for a fight, for no good reason. I apologize to Ethridge and to the rest of the readership, and I'm going to leave it there. My bad.

Instead of dwelling on all of that, let's turn our attention to a long-delayed DU article that happens to be about Dan Froomkin and Eugene McCarthy. What do they have to do with each other? Well, actually nothing. But read the article anyway.

The Froomkin Effect.

Two Tuesday Gems

I stopped reading the Poor Man for a while after he posted something pretty heartless and mean-spirited about someone that I know in passing. However, I eventually went back, and today I'm glad I did. Here's a spectacular and unusually heartfelt post about the nonexistent Katrina reconstruction effort.

These are our friends, our colleagues, our treasured national history that are being kissed off without the problem of how to help them even being considered on the most base level. As a nation, is that our character? We’ll let this happen? We’ll let some drunk jackass with no life skills surrounded by jackals and petulant royalty completely blow this off? I wish, after the last five years, I was surprised.

It's still very disorienting to me that there are people, not just out there somewhere in the ether but actual people that I actually know, that do not consider the Bush presidency to be among the worst management disasters in human history. I've asked before, but here it is again - what has to happen before we accept that Bush is a horrible, awful, transcendently inept president? Does an American city really have to get nuked? Is that what it's going to take? I'm sure happy I don't live in the prime candidate anymore. Jeebus.

On a much lighter note, Sam Seder was on CNN yesterday taking on Bob Knight (not the basketball coach). The subject - the War on Christmas.

As regular readers no doubt know, I am unusually uncomfortable with "culture war" issues because I find the common liberal prancing and preening on most of these issues to be way beyond distasteful and counterproductive. I think the single greatest thing that could happen to the Democratic party is if all our great minds could stop making fun of poor, assumed ignorant southerners and actually sit down and figure out what is behind the unfocused anger that drives so much of our cultural discourse. There are a lot of legitimate grievances there, but because Democrats don't understand them and aren't interested in them except as a punch line, the Republicans are able to continually channel all that anger into these ridiculous wedge issues that kill us at the polls time and time again.

All that said, this is really, really fucking funny.

Take a look.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Politics of Guacamole

As a big believer in making food from fresh, scratch ingredients, I am often taken aback by Americans' alienation from their kitchens. I'll be the first to admit that I don't cook for myself nearly enough, but I do my best, and it's always rewarding.

[shit, that reminds me i need to soak the lentils. be right back]

One of the most illuminating experiences I ever had was the first time I made pancakes from scratch. If you've never done it you won't believe me, but here it is - pancakes from scratch is no harder than making them out of the box. The difference in quality isn't mind-blowing, but it's significant. And you can make them out of ingredients you probably stock at all times.

There's a different but unrelated strain of curmudgeonliness that I also suffer from, and that is my somewhat agrarian-minded offense at the market's overwhelming preference for extremely storable, shippable foods.

This is one of those areas that free-market enthusiasts like to pretend don't exist. The preference of the market for storable, shippable food is a direct consequence of the industrial export system, not the result of any set of consumer tastes. I could go off on the Red Delicious apple here, but I will restrain myself. Suffice it to say that no one, or almost no one anyway, actually prefers this abomination to a real eating apple, yet it's the biggest-selling apple on the market despite not being significantly cheaper than the much better apples. According to free-marketeers, this cannot happen.

Instead I will sing the praises of a food that flies in the face of every market reality, that should without any question have dropped off the face of the planet decades ago but which endures and grows in popularity even today because it is just so fucking good.

Yes, I'm talking about guacamole.

Guacamole is literally impossible to ship or store. Many, many attempts at creating shippable, storable pseudoguacamoles have been made; all have failed utterly. If you try to store real guacamole you'll find that the absolute longest you can store the stuff in the refigerator and have it still be edible when you take it out is about 12 hours, and you'll only achieve that after you've been working with the stuff for probably years. Your first several attempts to store guac in the fridge will probably buy you about an hour before the stuff turns brown.

[In case you're interested, here's the secret - you have to put the pits of the avocados in the guac, and the container must be exactly big enough to hold all the guacamole. If there's an air gap between the top of the guac and the top of the container, you might as well not cover it at all.]

As I said, it's always rewarding to cook for yourself. But when you make yourself a really good soup or curry or something, you know in your heart that there's a can or a box out there that could do a passable version of the same dish in about a tenth of the time.

When you make guacamole, you eat it with the knowledge that there is no other place in the world that you can buy or steal anything like it, other than your own kitchen, with your own hands.

And nothing is quite so delicious as that.

Culture of Corruption

Whenever a lot of high-profile scandals shake the government, the party in power is always at pains to portray the problem as one of a small number of individual bad actors who did not taint the institution itself, or the party running it.

Certainly in the abstract this explanation is possible, if not always plausible. And it can be very difficult to really prove anything to the contrary, since perception of the big picture is always at least partially a matter of feel, and subject in the mind of the perceiver to great influence by emotional and other factors.

There is more than the usual amount of evidence, however, that the scandals currently plaguing the House, Senate and White House are truly the product of a culture of corruption in the halls of power.

What's striking about many of these cases is not the grandiosity of them but the opposite - the petty, almost careless way so much of these bad acts have gone down.

Take Bill Frist, for example. He's accused of intervening in his supposedly blind trust to save himself some unknown amount of money that is almost certainly negligible in terms of his total net worth. Frist would never, ever have taken such a foolish risk unless it didn't occur to him that what he was doing - which he no doubt knew to be illegal - could possibly have any serious negative consequences.

In other words, the very facts of the Frist case strongly indicate that what Frist was doing was not at all unusual among powerful Republican members of congress, and that such "sighted" blind trusts have been at least an open secret for some time.

Even a better example is this rather hilarious example brought to us by Josh Micah Marshall. Bob Ney apparently tried to hide a bribe by pretending he turned $100 into $34,000 on two hands of some card game in a casino.

Leaving aside the fact that there is no card game in any casino I've ever been to that pays out at 18:1, a TPM reader points out that Ney's cover story is actually lifted directly from one of the most famous movies of all time, Casablanca.

What this means is that Ney believed that he could use essentially any cover story at all, no matter how ridiculous or obviously fabricated, and that he would never be caught because no one would bother to even read it.

This is a serious sign of decay at the root of our democracy.

Michael Kelly and the War

In comments last week RBP asked about my opinion of Michael Kelly and his involvement in selling the Iraq war.

I've tried several times to comment about it and what I write never comes out with quite the right tone. I think that's true a lot of times when a political opponent dies who was not one of the Bad Guys. I would never write a Thompson-style Nixon obit for a guy like Kelly.

At the same time, I have nothing nice to say about the man. I wish he hadn't died in the Iraq war, but then, I wish that about a lot of people. I think it's best to leave it at that.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tips on Being an Employee

Note: These are not tips on being a GOOD employee. In fact, if you're a good employee you probably don't need these tips nearly as much as the rest of us. But I realized today that I have picked up some skills along the way that are difficult to practice, but that can really help you.

1) If you say you're going to contact someone, do it, even if it's just to say you didn't do what you said you were going to do.

People hate being ignored on a personal AND professional level, whereas they only hate being behind on a professional level.

This is one of the toughest things to do for me. The fantasy is that "maybe they forgot." They didn't forget. Call them and tell them they aren't going to get what they were expecting. Half the time you'll find the person is relieved they don't have to do their end of things right then.

2) If you screw up, take ownership of the mistake BEFORE someone else blames you for it.

This is so crucial, and it took me several jobs to discover it. Not only will your boss or coworker appreciate this behavior for its own sake, it puts you in a position to be able to suggest ways to avoid the situation in the future WITHOUT your suggestions sounding like excuses.

2a) "I screwed up, BUT..." is not taking ownership of your mistake.

In fact, it puts your boss or colleague in the position of having to tell you that your screwup was unacceptable, even though you admitted screwing up. It's the worst of both worlds. It's hard to say "I screwed up, and I need to do better" and leave it at that, but when you do it you'll find that's often the end of it, as long as you don't make it a habit.

3) When someone else makes a mistake, it is not necessary to blame them, or even to mention them.

This is somewhat unfair advice for me to give because my boss is very astute. She knows whose fault something is. So if something gets screwed up and I say "I should've double-checked it" she knows that in reality the mistake was made by the person who did it, not the person who didn't check behind them.

If you have a bad boss, you may feel the need to point out when something is someone else's fault. The problem is that your coworkers will of course also feel the need to do this. Eventually you will find yourself in a terrible work environment. The other problem is if you have a bad boss, he's not making decisions on any rational basis anyway, so you might as well keep your soul intact. In the end he's going to act like an ass no matter what you do.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Dyncorp Told Us So

Let me begin by saying that DynCorp, a rival paramilitary firm, is hardly a disinterested party in all this. However, having seen the video of the (presumably) Aegis Defense personnel gleefully murdering civilians in Iraq, I can't help but find this DynCorp letter to the Bush administration a bit chilling.

Lt Col Tim Spicer asserts that the soldiers who shot an unarmed teenager in the back, having searched him, did no wrong. In our view this is a totally unsuitable individual to be awarded such a potentially controversial contract in Iraq. Individuals linked to private security companies have been linked to allegations of torture and murder in Iraq. The US Government and President Bush can ill afford the possibility of future scandals in particular where you have been forewarned that private security in Iraq is the responsibility of a company led by an individual who asserts that soldiers under his command and who commit murder should not be subject to the rule of law. This administration and the Government Accountability Office will not be in a position to plead ignorance to a future Congressional or Senate Committee should it find itself investigating allegations of human rights abuses by private security companies.


Fancy Meeting You Here, Lieutenant Colonel Spicer

Now this is an interesting story.

Readers of the old blog may remember, way back in early 2004, that I spent some time chasing a story that, for reasons I never understood, wound up petering out.

The story was that a plane full of mercs was detained in Zimbabwe on its way to capture the president of Equatorial Guinea in a bloodless coup (Plan B was a bloodful coup). What made the story really interesting was that according to one press report out of Barbados, the plane's point of origin was an Air Force base in North Carolina.

Immediately after that piece of information was published, the story more or less disappeared from the US press. No one ever mentioned this report outside of Barbados, to my knowledge.

I spent a lot of time trying to research and report on the story myself. I talked to the original owner of the plane, who said he knew fuck all about the whole thing, and I believed him. So that was a dead end.

I talked to the new owners of the plane, and they were very polite and responsive and for obvious reasons they were uninterested in telling me anything at all. Surprisingly they did answer factual questions and they answered them truthfully, with one possible exception that I'll get into in a later post.

The interesting part was who the new owners of the plane turned out to be - Sandline International, a paramilitary organization affiliated with Lt. Col Tim Spicer, who is quoted in the piece linked from Kos.

Just as I was getting somewhere in my investigation, Sandline International suddenly dried up and blew away. You can check their website here.

Now that Spicer is back in the news, I'm feeling a strong pull to get back into this story, easily the most complicated and interesting story I've ever pursued. I don't really have the time right now, but when has that stopped me before? Stay tuned.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Interesting Non-Debate

Well, the call for a debate on an immediate Iraq pullout was a bit of a bust. The responses ranged from "you're right, out now" to "maybe it is time to consider getting out now."

All the posts were interesting (except one that I deleted, heading off Gresham at the pass), but there were two contributions that I wanted to share on the front page:

Heatkernel provides a link to a very thoughtful Salon article regarding the dim prospects for any foreseeable benefit accruing from a continued American presence in Iraq. I'm not endorsing the article wholeheartedly as I have some disagreements with it, but hopefully I can get into that later. It is a very clear and compelling case for withdrawal no matter how you slice it.

Also, Uncle Kevin came through with an interesting analogy that I really like. I particularly like it because this principle is in a way the other side of the coin to a principle he elucidated to me when I was about 15, and that lecture has stayed with me for 14 years and given me a lot of insight into various problems.

Uncle Kevin said:

What we have here is clash between the "Pottery Barn" rule and the the "Humpty Dumpty" rule. Just because we "broke it" doesn't mean we can fix it.

The current argument for staying is to complete the process that Wolfowitz and company started. Basically, that would be constructing a government from scratch. They would argue it takes time and that they are meeting their "milestones".

What you are arguing is a classic systems engineering predicament. If one completes a flawed process will one have a flawed product? In otherwords, can you do everything right, and still get it wrong. Managers argue that no process is perfect so it is valid to execute a flawed process or nothing would ever get accomplished. My problem with this argument, in this context, is that not all processes will accomplish something. Proven processes can accomplish something. That's how we know how to cook. But just throwing food on the stove doesn't necessarily accomplish anything.

There are precious few, if any, examples of the current strategy actually accomplishing what we claim to be pursuing, and plenty of them to the contrary. However, arguing the Humpty Dumpty rule does pit the "it can't be done" crowd against the "hey, at least we're trying" bunch. And usually someone trying gets more support than effectively a "nay sayer".

Friday, November 18, 2005

Why Murtha is Right

The title of this post is lifted from a Newsweek article of the same name.

The body of the text is lifted from the comments to the previous post.


Let those of us who continue to call for an pullout from Iraq beginning today concede an important point:

It is completely, totally, criminally irresponsible to destroy a country and then leave it in chaos. There is absolutely no question about that. Here, then, is the question - the question no one who supports the indefinite continuance of a U.S. war in Iraq seems to be willing or able to answer.

The consequences of a U.S. pullout from Iraq beginning in November 2003 may well have been dire. By all serious accounts, the consequences of a U.S. pullout beginning today, two years later, would undoubtedly be much more dire.

What, specifically, do we expect to happen that will reverse this trend? When, specifically, will the trend reverse, and how many U.S. soldiers will have to die before those consequences sink back down to around the level they were two years and over a thousand US troops ago?

Put another way, those very few of us who were calling for a US pullout from Iraq were assured that by this point, Iraq would be closer to stability. We know today the opposite is true. Now, many more people, majority in some surveys, have joined the call for a pullout beginning today. Again we are told that Iraq, at some point in the future, will be more stable than it is today.

What caused those who argued against a pullout in 2003 to get it wrong, and what have they changed about their reasoning that allows them to get it right now?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

With Us or With the Wingers

As news junkies already know, a hawkish Democratic senator has called for a more or less immediate pullout from Iraq. There is much beard-pulling about this in the liberal commentariat, while on the right there's, well, take a look.

And I thought that we would talk a little bit about what's at stake, because I think that the attack on 9/11 is something that Americans have not forgotten, and I think they understand that the aggressive operations of America's military have helped to keep the insurgents in the war against terror off balance.

That's why Americans today are able to go to parks, go to schools, go to the grocery store, live life without fear of having a second 9/11 attacks, and that's why four years have expired without a second attack on our homeland: because we've aggressively projected America's fighting forces in the theaters in Afghanistan and Iraq, and they are doing a superb job.

I post this not so that we bearded liberal folk can laugh at the silliness of the Republicans. Yes, the very first "substantive point" (loose terminology) made in this press conference is "Nine Eleven!! Nine Eleven!! Terra!!" and that's darkly humorous in its hamhanded wingnuttitude.

But the real point of this post is directed to anyone who reads this blog who is not currently strongly in favor of an immediate pullout from Iraq. As longtime readers know, I have argued forcefully for just such a pullout for over a year, and continue to advocate it. Since I have begun advocating an immediate pullout, the situation in Iraq has, by all serious accounts, become much worse.

I renew that call today and would like any liberal or moderate readers who favor continuing the American military presence in Iraq to read the above-linked PC carefully and decide whether you agree with its basic thrust.

If you don't, please realize that what you have just read represents the public case for your position. If you feel uneasy about that, you need to do some serious thinking and decide whether or not you really favor what it is you think you favor.

Just a thought.

Houston Chronicle Mentions Protocol III

The Houston Chronicle is, as far as I can tell, the only U.S. publication to date to make reference to Protocol III of the Geneva Conventions in covering the white phosphorous issue.

Anyone who has seen this elsewhere (in a US publication) please let me know.

Articles mentioning Protocol III in the context of the white phosphorous attacks on Fallujah have also appeared in Turkey, England, Scotland, Iran, and Italy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Press Laziness Lets War Criminals off the Hook

Forbes has an article today in which a US military spokesperson plays dumb about white phosphorous.

'We don't target any civilians with any of our weapons, and to suggest US forces were targeting civilians with these weapons would be wrong,' he said.

Now of course it's against military policy to target civilians with any weapon. But as we noted yesterday, that's not the issue here. Someone needs to ask the Pentagon whether it has a policy of using white phosphorous in cities in violation of the Geneva Convention.

The relevant protocol is easy to find. Surely reporters covering this story have researched this and read up on it. Right?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

White Phosphorous - Setting the Record Straight

The Pentagon today has finally admitted that White Phosphorous was used as a weapon in Fallujah.

The money quote is in the lead paragraph (gotta love the British press sometimes):

"It was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants," spokesman Lt Col Barry Venable told the BBC.

From this we know that the 30% or so Americans (and higher percentage of bloggers, it seems) who will defend absolutely anything that the U.S. military does, no matter how heinous, are now required to lean pretty much exclusively on the "White Phosphorous is not a banned munition" argument.

It is true that White Phosphorous is not a banned munition. That's because its primary purpose - illumination - is specifically allowed under Protocol III of the Geneva Convention, even if there may be an incidental effect of fire, burns, etc.

HOWEVER, Protocol III also states the following:

It is prohibited in all circumstances to make any military objective located within a concentration of civilians the object of attack by air-delivered incendiary weapons.

This ends the argument. The U.S. fired incendiary weapons into Fallujah, a densely populated city. It is illegal to fire incendiary weapons into a densely populated city. Period.

There are a lot of old teaching stories that deal with the human desire to argue. A man who fancies himself wise will come upon two men having an argument, and he'll explain the disagreement simply and clearly and in such a way as to moot the entire affair.

The men generally fall upon the "wise man" and kill him. What the wise man was not quite wise enough to realize is that the two mens' objective was to argue, not any higher goal.

This, at least in part, is the reason that you will not find any major newspaper that will print the portion of the Geneva convention I quote above. There's no angle in ending an argument definitively by pointing out the obvious.

NOTE: The U.S. has not ratified the portion of the Geneva convention that this is excerpted from. This makes the use of WP legal under US law. I would be overjoyed to see the White House mount this defense. It would be honest, and it would allow Americans to see what their government is really like. We have refused to sign this portion of the Geneva convention specifically so that we will be able to legally fire incendiary weapons into crowded cities, which activity of course has the entirely foreseeable consequence of burning to death many innocent men, women and children.

Liberal Hawks are Stupid

I don't have time to really break down this post by William Arkin on the Washington Post foreign policy blog. But if you read the whole thing you get an incredibly illuminating glance at just exactly what kind of analysis can pass for "serious."

At the Post, an opinion qualifies as "serious" as long as it accepts no moral or ethical constraints on U.S. foreign policy and concerns itself only with the practical consequences of that policy and its implementation.

In other words, shorter William Arkin:

Melting civilians to death with chemical weapons is bad because it means we might be losing.

Ye gods.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Great Movies

Today I was idly thinking about creating a list of my favorite movies. I figure it would take weeks to really get it down the way I want it... what a waste of time. Instead, here's a list of great movies off the top of my head. If you haven't seen any of them, check em out. Depressing cast to them today, for obvious reasons.

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhall)
Dead Man (Johnny Depp)
Broken Flowers (Bill Murray)
Trainspotting (Ewan McGregor)
Legally Blonde (Reese Witherspoon)
Leaving Las Vegas (Nicholas Cage)
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (Johnny Depp)
Bamboozled (Damon Wayans)
The Hours (Meryl Streep)
Pi (the guy who did Pi)



Goodness gracious.

ON EDIT - Scroll down to the "question of the day."

Welcome Washington Post Readers!

The Washington Post has a new "who's blogging" feature, and I'm one of the bloggers whose page they've linked to on the Roberts story. Unfortunately the functionality doesn't work quite right and it just points directly to the blog rather than the relevant post.

So if you're here from the WaPo and you didn't come here for some weepy bullshit about the Shins, try this link to the actual post in question.

Enjoy, and do come back! Feel free to leave a comment, though if you're interested in selling me some construction equipment, I've already got several magnanimous offers, thanks.

Dancing like the King of the Eyesores

Some things can't really be explained. Unfortunately for me, one thing I've never been able to explain is the deep sadness that infects me regularly. Only people who know me well even know this dull ache exists at all - it manifests itself usually as just irresponsible, callous or mean-spirited behaviour.

One of the reasons I started writing was that I wanted to find a way to describe this feeling that I have, that dominates me in my weaker moments. After all, my life is nothing so much as a story of running frantically from this feeling as if it were a burning building, then crawling back inside it like a child returning to the womb.

Grabbing hold of that ancestral yearning has proved much more difficult than I could have ever imagined. When I read old work of mine, I can see the truth I'm trying to excavate dancing just below the page, visible to me but hidden from everyone else.

In other words, through writing I've found a way to describe where I already am, not a way to get where I want to be. There may be a lesson there somewhere.

But never mind all that. Today I bring you a tiny window into the morphine that splashes in my heart when I'm "in it." It's an oldish song from a newish movie, a movie that could have been great, but in the end was just good. The director couldn't finish it off, probably because the material was too close to home, and too far from the truth.


Behold The Shins' "New Slang."

And because the diction can be tough, here's the key so you can follow along:

Gold teeth and a curse for this town were all in my mouth.
Only, i don't know how they got out, dear.
Turn me back into the pet that i was when we met.
I was happier then with no mind-set.

And if you'd 'a took to me like
A gull takes to the wind.
Well, i'd 'a jumped from my tree
And i'd a danced like the king of the eyesores
And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well.

New slang when you notice the stripes, the dirt in your fries.
Hope it's right when you die, old and bony.
Dawn breaks like a bull through the hall,
Never should have called
But my head's to the wall and i'm lonely.

And if you'd 'a took to me like
A gull takes to the wind.
Well, i'd 'a jumped from my tree
And i'd a danced like the kind of the eyesores
And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well.

God speed all the bakers at dawn may they all cut their thumbs,
And bleed into their buns 'till they melt away.

I'm looking in on the good life i might be doomed never to find.
Without a trust or flaming fields am i too dumb to refine?
And if you'd 'a took to me like
Well i'd a danced like the queen of the eyesores
And the rest of our lives would 'a fared well.

Stop and Think

Pat Roberts, chair of the Senate Intel committee, has learned a valuable lesson from this whole unprovoked war of agression business.

"I think a lot of us would really stop and think a moment before we would ever vote for war or to go and take military action," Sen. Pat Roberts (Kan.) said on "Fox News Sunday."

Before we laugh too long at this guy, let's remember the gravity of the situation here. Our government unleashed a war that, in terms of civilian casualties, has brought the equivalent of ten September 11th attacks to bear upon innocent Iraqi civilians. That's not adjusting for population (which I find to be distasteful as it misunderstands the fact that each death is important for its own reasons.) That's the hard number, using the very most conservative estimates available. That's the dead bottom of the number of innocent people we might have killed in Iraq. The real number could be ten times that (that is, one hundred September 11th attacks,) we don't know.

Leaving aside the fact that people (including me, though I'm consistent) stated over and over that the September 11th attacks could never be justified, the only thing that could possibly remotely justify this foreseeable consequence of our war is if that war had been undertaken for rock-solid reasons of international security and stability.

Anybody who can look into their heart and say that the preceding condition has been met (and they do exist, in great numbers), good for you. For the rest of us, let us sit back a moment and digest the fact that the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence admitted this weekend on national TV that he voted to invade and occupy a country that no one ever asserted had ever attacked the United States, and that he voted without even thinking about it.

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Republican leadership.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Klosterman - A New Hero

It's been a great long while since I read a new author who describes me when he's describing himself. Except for the part about being apolitical, but even that is not totally wrong. I... just read it. Genius stuff.

Klosterman Channels the Ape Man.

This quote is fabulous, and quite possibly cannot be improved upon.

"How can you be against this?" my forward-thinking associate always asks. "Why would you prefer a system where referees get things wrong? How can anybody be idealistically against accuracy?" I counter by pointing out how instant replay slows the game down (which it does), and how it stops referees from making decisive decisions (which is becoming more and more common), and that any game played by imperfect humans should only be controlled by equally imperfect humans (which -- I suppose -- is kind of like arguing against stem-cell research). Certainly, part of me believes all of those things. But part of me also knows those three responses overlook some rather obvious truths, and part of me knows that tendency is conscious. And the reason I am willing to overlook what's obvious is because I would rather understand an old problem than feel alienated by a flawed solution. Which, I suppose, is precisely what conservatism is.

Exactly. Exactly.

Two Hard and Fast Rules

1) No matter how hungry you still feel after that first one, do not, repeat DO NOT eat a second reuben.
2) Supporting war means never having to say you're sorry.

On the first topic, bleauggghhhhh.. I feel awful.

On the second, I think we're now seeing the ultimate consequence (you know, other than tens of thousands of innocent people killed for no good reason) of the Democrats' craven support for Bush's Iraq invasion. Afraid of being labeled soft in the short term, the Dems have provided the GOP with talking points in the long term that - in a refreshing departure from usual GOP talking points - are completely true.

Democrats DID support President Bush's Iraq war. Democrats DID hype the nonexistent threat posed by Saddam's nonexistent nuclear weapons, and they did it in the basis of the same shitty evidence as the Republicans.

Of course, there were some Democrats who didn't. In a sane world, we would be turning to those people as a party and asking them to take the lead on castigating the Republicans. But no. We've got Delaware Joe Biden and the rest of the guys who all couldn't wait to suck Bush's dick in 2002 lining up to pretend like they were dragged kicking and screaming into this war.

Some American generation, some day, is going to have to face up to the real implications of this country's cultural bias in favor of aggressive war. Until that happens, there will be another Iraq, and another, and another. Until, of course, we finally invade a country that really DOES have a nuclear weapon. And then our last chance will finally be gone.

Ignorant, self-important, warmongering fuckasses.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

After Further Review...

Apparently they aren't into Instant Replay at the White House. I can sympathize - I've always felt that video replay basically gives the officials two chances to screw up instead of just one.

But when it comes to official transcripts, it can be hard to explain why the documents can't be squared with the video. Editor and Publisher has the story complete with a humorously snarky headline, and American Progress has the video.

Doubly hilarious because the dispute is over a quote about "accuracy."

Now I'd like to give a caveat here - it could very well be that the White House is right, and McClellan did say "I don't think that's accurate" and the "I don't think that's" wasn't picked up by the microphone. But this is a good example of the "calling in sick when you're well" phenomenon. If I call in sick to work once a week, and then get some rare disease, my employer is going to think I'm goldbricking even though I'm actually sick.

The White House spins, prevaricates, obfuscates and denies reality so often that it's impossible to give them the benefit of the doubt in a situation like this.

Too bad for them.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Gresham's Law - And a Thank You

Recently I've realized that I need to give up message boards again. I've had to do this in the past, and I always backslide. This time it's going to be more difficult, because I don't plan to give up reading blogs. I do, however, plan to give up reading the comments.


Well, I guess I'd break the question into two parts. First, the question is why do I read message boards to begin with? The answer is that there are people out there who really have a lot to say, and have an interesting perspective. The prospect of reading a debate or discussion among such people is very attractive.

Unfortunately, such debates cannot really occur. They may begin as such, but a version of Gresham's Law invariably takes over - Bad Money drives out Good Money.

Every discussion thread always devolves into an argument among the three biggest idiots on the thread. 100% of threads are like this. There is no way for a serious discussion to occur on any message board that's frequented by a large number of people.

But those first few posts suck you in, and soon you find yourself wanting to respond to one of the idiots. It's maddening.

So in addition to notifying everyone of my swearing off of message boards, I also wanted to thank my own commenters, who have made sure that Gresham's Law cannot take hold on THESE comment threads. We've taken a little troll bait in our day, but as far as I know we have no regulars who qualify as idiots.

So thanks, all you non-idiots out there. The Ape Man appreciates your erudite presence on his comment threads.

[edited to remove the nonsense phrase "frequented regularly."]

Judy Gone

Judith Miller has finally been fired for her role in causing the NY Times to once again be the laughingstock of the journalistic world.

That's not exactly how it's being presented, of course, but I think we can all read between the lines.

There's a lot of funny stuff here, mostly in the form of Miller quotes:

I have chosen to resign because over the last few months, I have become the news, something a New York Times reporter never wants to be."

Yeah, Judy Miller just loathes the spotlight. Her and Terrell Owens.

Though some colleagues disagreed with my decision to testify, for me to have stayed in jail after achieving my conditions would have seemed self-aggrandizing martyrdom or worse, a deliberate effort to obstruct the prosecutor's inquiry into serious crimes.

Pure comedy. Miller is mind-bending in her ability to live in an absolute fantasy world with regard to the essential framework of the story in which she is operating. Reminds me of, I don't know, some kind of neocon wingnut.

Good riddance to bad rubbish. Though of course she'll be on the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal in ten months or less.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Carry Me Back to Ole Virginia

As most of you already know, I've recently relocated to Richmond, VA, and I've recently found out that my first guvna, will be a Democratic guvna.

Life is Sweet.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

The Hiatus

Very sorry for the extended hiatus. I've recently relocated to Richmond, VA and things are very hectic. Next post should be a real humdinger. Stay tuned.


Friday, October 21, 2005

Attention Math Geeks

As most of you probably know, I'm very much into odds and handicapping and the like. I got into an argument with a random stranger about the Pick 3 lottery on the bus, and it was very maddening because I found that while I am absolutely convinved that he is wrong and I am right, I cannot actually demonstrate this because I lack the probability background.

I won't describe the argument itself for fear of prejudicing you, but here's the question:

If I run the "Pick 3" experiment over and over again, eventually I will observe every possible outcome from 000 to 999. The question is, how many times, on average, should I expect to have to run the experiment before I have observed all those results? Or, to put it a different way, what is the percentage chance that I will achieve all 1000 results before I have run the experiment 10,000 times?

I can actually come up with a pretty close approximation of the answer to this question by writing a program that defines an array with 1000 entries in it with all of the entries set to 1 initially, and whenever the test returns a number, the corresponding spot in the array is set to zero. The program terminates and reports on its results once the sum of all the numbers in the array is zero.

So I'm actually less interested in the actual answer to the question as the "how" of answering the question. I need to know the formula that an actual probablity person would use to determine this algebraically.

At issue is the correctness of my guiding maxim as a gambler, that no betting strategy can give a series of negative expectation bets an overall positive expectation.

New Spam Technique

One of the most interesting things to me about the Internet is the struggle between spammers and end-users who don't want to get spam. There is a lot of good spam filtering out there now, but in my opinion we will never significantly reduce the nuisance of spam until we come up with a new mail transfer protocol that can actually verify the sender somehow. I'm working on this along with I assume the rest of the population.

In the meantime, the back-and-forth is fun to watch. One new technique I'm noticing is that you'll get a spam email that is basically just text pulled from some news site, and the link to whatever site they are hawking is just there in the middle.

This is a neat innovation. Annoying, but neat.

Judy May Be Going Back To Jail

Now, people do forget things. But I would advise any of my readers who ever find themselves before a grand jury to avoid the following situation:

Prosecutor: Ms. Blogreader, did you have a meeting at the White House with Wesley Wrongdoer any time before July of 2003?

Ms. Blogreader: No, Mr. Prosecutor, I don't recall any such meeting.

Prosecutor: Are you sure? Think hard.

Ms. Blogreader: No, Mr. Prosecutor, I have no memory of any meeting at the White House with Wesley Wrongdoer before July of 2003.

Prosecutor: 'Cause see, I have this Secret Service log book here, and here's your name, and the time you arrived, and the length of your meeting with Wesley Wrongdoer. And it's signed by you. Twice.

Ms. Blogreader: Oh, THAT meeting.

Like I said, people forget things. But exchanges like this, well, they just don't go over well with perjury juries.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

More Popcorn! More Popcorn!

This exchange actually occurred today. Repeat, this is not a parody. This exchange actually occurred in the White House briefing room.

QUESTION: Is it true that the President slapped Karl Rove upside the head a couple of years ago over the CIA leak?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Are you referring to, what, a New York Daily News report? Two things: One, we're not commenting on an ongoing investigation; two, and I would challenge the overall accuracy of that news account.

QUESTION: That's a comment.

QUESTION: Which part of it?

QUESTION: Yes, that is.

QUESTION: Which facts --

SCOTT McCLELLAN: No, I'm just saying -- no, I'm just trying to help you all.

QUESTION: So what facts are you challenging?

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Again, I'm not going to comment on an ongoing investigation.

QUESTION: You can't say you're challenging the facts and then not say which ones you're challenging.

SCOTT McCLELLAN: Yes, I can. I just did.

Now, this is funny stuff. But there's an interesting backstory developing here. The report being discussed is this one from the Daily News, which is not the most well-respected paper. Even so, this is the first story of its kind, that connects Bush directly to the Plame leak, albeit after the fact. Up until now it seems like most of the stories coming from "sources with knowledge of the case" have been talking up Cheney's involvement.

This could be a shot across the bow of the White House from Cheney's people, saying "don't forget we're all in this together."

Fitzgerald in the Windy City

Uncle Kevin is skeptical that Fitzgerald would really indict that many people. Let me start by saying he may be right. However, it's definitely worth remembering that when Fitzgerald took on the Daley political machine in Chicago, he did not use a "tread lightly" approach.

Instead, he just threw everybody in jail.

Thirty people were indicted in the case, and twenty-two were convicted of crimes.

I should also note, though, before we start salivating too much, there was a long lag between when the first indictments handed down in that case and when Daley, the head guy, actually started feeling the heat. So it may be some time before Bush's or Cheney's own feet are held to the fire.

Has The CIA Morphed Into a Liberal Think Tank?

See, when I headline a post like that, it's obviously funny. Because I'm not, you know, a complete nincompoop.

What's really strange about this piece is that it makes a lot of sense, if you ignore the title, and the fact that the erosion of the capabilities that the author quite rightly calls the CIA's appropriate core competency has been 100% the fault of the Bush White House and their asinine approach to intelligence-gathering as a means to advancing predetermined policy goals rather than as an end unto itself.

Thus the article serves as a nice reminder that Bush defenders aren't stupid, they're just locked into a reality framework that does not allow them to question whether the Bush administration might be the problem rather than the solution.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blast from the Past

Longtime readers may remember a DU article by a dashing, massively sexy columnist (who has since given up the virtual ghost) which made mention of a man named Larry Johnson, a "former" CIA analyst who was spearheading a counterattack of the Bush administration by current and former CIA pros outraged over the outing of Valerie Plame.

If you've ever seen Johnson on TV, he is one scary fucker. His eyes are like blacklights.

Anyway, LJ apparently had lunch today with somebody who has knowledge of the Fitzgerald probe and he is saying there could be up to 22 indictments coming. Here's the post in its entirety:

Had lunch today with a person who has a direct tie to one of the folks facing indictment in the Plame affair. There are 22 files that Fitzgerald is looking at for potential indictment . These include Stephen Hadley, Karl Rove, Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney, and Mary Matalin (there are others of course). Hadley has told friends he expects to be indicted. No wonder folks are nervous at the White House.

Emphasis mine. If 22 people including the vice president are indicted, I think we can officially call this whole thing a pretty big deal.

In related news, there are apparently unsubstantiated but widespread rumors floating around that a hasty exit for Deadeye Dick may be in the offing. The US News piece makes it clear that these are just rumors, percolating among junior staffers. But it's not completely beyond the realm of possibility that there might be some truth in there.

Speaking from experience, let me caution everyone to take it easy and not expect this all to happen fast. We may not have any indictments at all until next Friday, and even then the GJ could be extended. But this is definitely the strongest sense I've had since back in the heady days of 2003 that strange things are afoot at the Circle K. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 17, 2005


Not with a bang, but a whimper.

CIA leak probe 'widening to include use of intelligence.'

Translation: Patrick Fitzgerald is now investigating the Bush White House for lying the nation into war.

Pop some popcorn.

Hey Sports Guy - Rate this on the UC Scale!

I'm sending this in an email to Bill Simmons. Boy howdy, this is some funny shit.

There's plenty here, but if you're in a hurry, this one sentence is really all you need.

Now, at this point, it is customary for women to immediately reject any assertion that women's rights are wrong as the Talibanistic ranting of an embittered man who has been denied ready access to attractive women's bodies. In the interest of dismissing this red herring, I merely note that few men fortunate enough to possess a turbo Porsche and a record contract at 23 have any reason to be bitter about the hand that life has dealt them.

Yep. He has a Porsche, so there's NO WAY he's got a chip on his shoulder about his ability to attract women. NO WAY.

Conservatives Gearing Up the Waterworks

Here's another up-is-down sort of piece from the roots conservative online presence, echoing a lot of the same arguments we saw in the American Thinker piece a week or so ago. This one comes from The American Daily; as far as I know the two outlets are not affiliated.

One interesting note before we get into the actual text - the author of this post is part of "Accuracy in Media," which tries to bill itself as the conservative answer to FAIR, which is perceived by archconservatives as being an unltraliberal group.

So this is a glimpse of sorts into just the sort of "accuracy" Accuracy in Media is interested in.

The case has been a revealing and disappointing look into how Bush administration officials tried to work with various reporters, in order to counteract false accusations about the administration’s Iraq policy that had appeared in the press. In the end, they failed. It’s a failure that demonstrates the folly of trying to curry favor with the liberal press.

The only "accusations" material to this case are that the Bush administration overstated the extent of Iraq's nuclear program. It is now known that there was no such program. In what way, then, were these accusations false? Accuracy in Media doesn't get into that.

In the same way that Democrats still call the shots on Capitol Hill, despite a Republican Senate majority, the Times and other liberal media forced the Bush administration to agree to their demands for an investigation in the CIA leak case.

Here's the chronology being described here. Robert Novak, a conservative columnist, leaks the name and occupation (CIA operative) of Valerie Plame in a column. Then the CIA demands an investigation, and John Ashcroft, a Republican, recuses himself from the case. Jim Comey, a Republican, appoints Patrick Fitzgerald, a Republican, to head the case going forward.

Even if we accept what you might call this very strange description of the facts of the case, the logic of the article is extremely tortured. In what way does Miller's testimony "exonerate" administration officials? If we take the most generous view possible, we could say that Miller's testimony may offer some mitigating circumstances. But none of it changes the fact that Scooter Libby and Karl Rove disclosed the identity of a CIA operative to the press in an effort to take heat off the White House, then repeatedly lied about it to a grand jury and, at least in Libby's case, tried to put pressure on Judy Miller not to reveal the substance of her conversations with Libby.

These are crimes. Once the indictments come down (especially if Cheney is somehow mixed up in all this) you can expect conservatives to try to draw a parallel between the current investigation and the Clinton/Lewinsky scandal. But the piece of the Clinton situation they conservatives were never able to accept is that when you file secondary charges like perjury and obstruction of justice, it really does matter what sort of behavior was at the root of the initial investigation. Obstructing an investigation into a campaign of intimidation by the White House against a administration critic is fundamentally more serious than obstructing an investigation into a President's reputation as a playboy.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Note to All

I posted a comment to this effect on someone else's blog during the Katrina debacle, and I'd like to reiterate it in a more general way here.

While I'm alive, and in great danger, honor and respect me by coming to save my ass. In exchange, after I'm dead, you can take all the fucking pictures you want.

Robert Fisk puts it differently.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Antiwar correspondence

I've written some emails in the past couple of days that deal with issues that, for whatever reason, I've had trouble putting into words on the blog. It's about the nature of the resistance to the Iraq war, and also anger at the folks who probably could have done something to stop it, but didn't.

I thought I'd post them here because although I would like to write something that sums all this up and that's designed specifially for blogorific consumption, I doubt that will ever happen. So here are the emails; see what you can get from them.

The first one is to Josh Micah Marshall, and in copying it over I noticed some editing errors. The version here makes more sense than the one he actually received.

The second is an email to Ethridge in response to a link he sent me to this Rolling Stone article about the peace movement.

Dear TPM:

If I really did materially misstate your position, I apologize. I consider that a very serious charge and I hope you believe me when I say that is not and was not my intention. It's a hard accusation for me to deal with because I don't have anything concrete from you. As I said I know you don't have a lot of time to devote to this and I'm truly not simply trying to demand your attention; I know you must deal with that almost constantly.

I don't expect you to look at this today, but even though it's long I'd respectfully ask that you find some time in the near future to at least look at it and consider my attempt to provide you some background on why I wrote what I did, and why this means so much to me, both on a personal level and because of the very real and destructive division in the Democratic party of which this dispute is symbolic.

First of all, I said I'm a longtime reader of TPM and I am. It's not because I like to torture myself; I think you're one of the great young minds in the Democratic party and if the Washington Post swapped you out for absolutely anybody on their Op/Ed page I would consider it one of the great moves in the modern history of opinion journalism. That probably comes across as flattery, and I guess it is, but to mitigate that I'll tell you I have a real low opinion of the Post's Op/Ed page. :-p

Back to February 2003...

I was supposed to attend the Valentine's weekend protest in New York, but I had a German national staying with me who was nervous about getting arrested (and he had a back injury, or claimed to), so we stayed in the District. I remember you posted a
picture of the snow in Dupont Circle and I felt a real kinship with you because not only had you posted something vaguely laudatory of the protests (focusing mostly on the international protests, which were very large) I was out there walking around Dupont in the snow that day, and I had this feeling that we really were going to stop the war. It seems silly now, with things so far along at that point we were going to war no matter what, but I felt like it might really happen, the war might really be averted. I remember that Sunday night it was so quiet and you could look out into the blackness of Rock Creek and see the boughs heavy with snow, all the way back to the vanishing point. War felt so far away, so crazily wrong that it could never come to pass. I had just gotten engaged the previous weekend and I felt indestructible.

About a week later you ran I think the second piece of your Ken Pollack interview where the two of you were sitting around worrying about whether things had gone a little pear-shaped and maybe this wasn't such a good idea. You didn't express any reservations about the positions the two of you had taken in the interview, particularly Pollack's assertion (hard to square with the actual document) that the Blix report was a "smoking gun" proving Saddam was hiding a major weapons program.

I remember reading this and actually getting teary. It took a while for me to really place what hurt so much about reading this and realizing that you weren't going to change your position on the war, that at best you would concede not that it was wrong for the world's hyperpower to launch an aggressive war on a defenseless, poor country, but that maybe it might cost too much or something.

The reason I felt all this betrayal at the writings of someone I didn't know was because it became clear in that moment not only that yes, we really are going to do this, to make this horrible mistake, but also that it wasn't going to be solely because of the right's control of all three branches of government, their essentially unchecked power to do whatever they want. We were going to war in Iraq at least in part because the people that I considered my allies had spent months pushing the storyline that the only serious position on US/Iraqi relations was supportive of some sort of war aimed at deposing Saddam Hussein, and that no one had ever made a convincing case for any reasonable alternative, despite the fact that I'd spent the past six months reading about seven hundred versions of exactly that, all of which made a hell of a lot more sense to me than Ken Pollack's book, which I had read on your recommendation. I felt like someone dying in a room full of doctors, trying to scream and no one can hear him.

Again, let me make it clear this isn't just you. It's dozens of liberals at Slate, The New Republic, the Washington Post, the New York Times, everywhere. And now there's this tension in the Democratic party between people like me and those we count on to be our voice in the mass-media discourse (not to mention our elected officials, but I'm still naive enough to believe they basically go where we lead them.)

It's very hard for us to square our respect for our opinion leaders with the fact that we were let down on what is without any question the defining issue of our generation. And it's been even harder to watch as they've all found numerous creative ways to avoid admitting what is so obvious to anyone who will look at what they wrote from June 2002 to March 2003, that despite some whimpers at the end about how badly Bush was blowing the runup to the war, they spent that critical time mostly carrying water for the bad guys.

I completely understand your protestations that you have to call them like you see them. That's the piece of all of this that's very hard to articulate. I'm glad you call them like you see them. I don't want you crafting analysis of real-world policy questions based on what you think will be good for the Democrats, and bad for the Republicans. Leave that kind of crap to Instapundit.

What I need you to hear from me is that you saw this one wrong, and for reasons that go deeper than just a simple error in judgment. A tie goes to the runner, and a shaky case for war, even a very slightly shaky case for war, is no case at all. It is much worse to get it wrong when you're wrong in calling for the destruction of another country. I want to understand that you understand the gravity of that reality.

Now as I conceded in an earlier email, it's possible you actually have come clean on this and I just missed it. But the tone of the recent writing that I have read from you on the matter certainly suggests otherwise.

Again let me reiterate that I am only writing you this because I respect you, and I want to understand with clarity what your feelings really are on this subject. But this is bigger than just you and me having an argument over email. Obviously I'm a very small fish, and you're a very big one. The steel cage match between What I Think and What You Think is moot, because what you think actually has an influence over people with power, whereas What I Think influences the 50 people who read my blog and the Democratic Underground front page articles, a grand total of probably five hundred people.

This exchange is emblematic of a tension, though, that is strangling the Democratic party. Intraparty animosity over Iraq remains the biggest obstacle to Democrats coming together to sweep the 2006 elections, which by all rights we ought to do. But how can I stand beside my Democratic allies and really do the work that's necessary for this election cycle when there's this horrible unresolved conflict just festering between us?

The bottom line is that if you and all the others who supported this war still don't think you did anything wrong, not only can't we work together, we SHOULDN'T be working together, because we aren't working for the same things. We need to come to terms with this and part ways.

I don't think that's reality, however. I think it's just really hard to be the first guy to stand up and say "I was totally, dead wrong. I gave critical support to a war I should have unequivocally opposed. I'd do anything to go back in time and do it over again, but I can't, and I'm sorry."

Again, I don't expect a response. You're probably deaing with 50 of these right now. I just want you to hear me. I'm not some crazy person, as I hope you can tell. I'm just a guy who's been waiting all my life for that moment when I understand what the hell the grownups are thinking, and I'm almost thirty with a baby daughter, and I'm starting to think I'm never going to get it.

It would be excellent, I think, if you found time in the next couple of weeks to deal with some of these issues and the others that have no doubt been raised by other loyal antiwar TPM readers in response to your post.

Thanks for your time and your attention to my words.


AP Short


Very good treatment of this; one of the better
articles I've seen. The situation is very complex.
I've written about it, but not at great length or

On the surface, here's the main issue. The full-time
antiwar movement (meaning people who are antiwar
generally as opposed to people who are anti-Iraq war
only) is a lot of very different people, academics,
writers, labor organizers, community organizers, etc.
They do a ton of great work at a local level that no
one ever hears about, and they are really the backbone
of the antiwar movement.

The public face of the antiwar movement is street
protests. They are the only thing the antiwar
movement really does that anybody who isn't part of
the antiwar movement or directly involved with some
aspect of their activities ever sees.

Now here's the part that very few people understand,
because they haven't been part of the movement at a
high level, a planning level. Putting on an antiwar
protest is basically event planning. It's no
different than putting on a convention or a county
fair or any other large public gathering of people.

Event planning for large numbers, especially large,
unpredictable numbers, is a really difficult task.
You have to have permits. You have to have trash
cans. You have to have Port-a-potties. You have to
get the word out. You have to get buses. You have to
do a thousand things. There are a couple of groups
that have it down, United for Peace with Justice and
International ANSWER.

UFPJ is an organization I have a lot of respect for.
Their core politics are a little different from mine,
but not fundamentally so. They're socialists, mostly,
but it's a broad, grassroots coalition of bona fide
activists who built the organization from the ground

International ANSWER is basically a Maoist cult. It's
a couple of megalomaniacs and their loyal horde of
weirdos. They have a huge amount of money and nobody
really knows where they get it.

So what used to happen back in the post-September 11th
days when the core antiwar movement was trying to
distance itself from ANSWER was that UFPJ and the rest
of these disparate groups would sit down and form a
steering committee and say "We're going to have a

And so you go to the calendar and you pick a date.
Then you form subcommittees like the logistics
committee, the outreach committee, the media
committee, etc. You apply for permits. You print
flyers. You go "wheatpasting" (wheatpaste is the glue
you use to put up posters.)

Then, about two months out, ANSWER decides they are
going to have a protest the same day. They have a big
stage and a bunch of speakers people have actually
heard of, musical acts, etc. They've printed 50,000
full-color signs. They have posters up everywhere.

So now the problem becomes, what do you do about this
if you're UFPJ? Back on April 20, 2002 (I was on the
logistics committee for that one) what we did was just
to say "well, there's not much we can do. We'll have
ours and they'll have theirs and it's OK."

And then you show up to the march and it looks like an
ANSWER march. The speakers on the stage are there at
ANSWER's invitation. The nice-looking signs all say
ANSWER on them. As far as actual numbers, ANSWER
probably put five thousand people in the street, but
it looks like they planned the whole thing because
their shit is everywhere.

After the April 20th experience, antiwar groups
decided that in the future, it would be better to
allow ANSWER to be part of the coalition from the
beginning because then at least we could exercise some
control over their message. So a provision was put in
place for the next march that if any of the three
major groups involved in the coalition objected to a
given speaker, that speaker would not be invited.

Well, the result of that was that ANSWER blocked an
antiwar rabbi from speaking at the march. This became
a big distraction and it was the big story of the
protest, made worse by the fact that ANSWER has a very
well-earned reputation for anti-semitism. So the
effort to reign in ANSWER actually winds up allowing
them to flaunt probably their worst feature, from a
Public Relations perspective.

For the most recent protest, the solution that was
tried was simply to prevail upon ANSWER to enforce
some message discipline. From my perspective, I would
say it worked really well, better than it ever has

But in the end it's still an ANSWER rally, and at
ANSWER rallies there are going to be people chanting
"Death to Israel" and other crazy shit (though I did
notice that for the most part they were chanting this
in Arabic, which I guess is a step in the right
direction from a PR standpoint.) That's just reality.

So you have this big swath of the population that
looks at street protests and says "this antiwar thing
isn't for me." And you can understand where they are
coming from because I don't want to be part of a
Maoist cult chanting "death to israel" either. If I
hadn't been involved in the movement I wouldn't have
the understanding that I do, that this actually
represents a small fringe element in the movement that
happens to have a ton of money and manpower that it
uses almost exclusively on protests.

The problem is, even if you are able to completely
purge ANSWER from the movement, at great expense in
terms of effort and focus, where does that leave you?
As you see in the article, even UFPJ is considered
way, way outside the mainstream. What people who
aren't involved in the movement don't understand is
that if you take away UFPJ and you take away ANSWER,
there are no protests. They simply don't exist. A
protest has to be planned, organized and executed, it
doesn't just spontaneously happen because people
oppose the war.

And so the question of whether to "forge ahead in the
mainstream" doesn't really exist for the antiwar
movement. We can highlight the antiwar piece as we
did at the September march, but we can't just make the
socialists and the "anti-globalization" people
disappear. Those people ARE the antiwar movement.
They print the fliers, book the speakers, file the
permits, pack the buses, and pay for the sound system.
You can't kick them out of the club - it's their

So Russ Feingold wants the antiwar movement to adopt
as our core platform that the Iraq war is bad because
it undermines the War on Terror. Well, that isn't
going to happen, because 100% of the leadership in the
antiwar movement, right down to the guys who design
the fliers, thinks that the War on Terror is a fraud.

This is very emotional for people who have opposed the
war all along, too, because it hurts for all these
people to show up two years into it and say "well, the
war is bad, but you people are never going to be able
to stop it with all this jibber-jabber, you need to be
more like us." Well, we tried to stop this war before
it started, and you guys were all supporting it. I
didn't have a vote in the Senate and I did what I
could. You had a vote and you pissed it away because
you were afraid if you voted against the war your chin
wouldn't look sharp enough when you ran for President

So it's complicated, emotional stuff. Hard to
overcome. But we're doing our best.