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Project Much?

Josh Marshall quotes one of his readers regarding John McCain's New Mexico speech from yesterday:

What a weird spectacle McCain's speech was this afternoon. It was as though McCain went out of the way to take every criticism that has come his way and attribute it to Barack Obama. In addition to being jarringly at odds with reality, it also seemed to undermine the larger questions that the campaign seems to want to be raising.

My wife said much the same thing. And it seems so obvious. The now-infamous Des Moines Register video shows a man so unable to master himself that he fairly seethes with anger -- so much so that the Register, a reputable if socially liberal newspaper, felt it appropriate to publish an op-ed on the topic as it related to McCain's suitability for Presidential office:

John McCain is angry.

You can feel it in the clenched muscles in his throat, the narrowing of his eyes, the controlled tone with which he handles a question he doesn't like, as if struggling to contain something that might spill out. We've seen that body language on TV. But around a Des Moines Register table Tuesday, the anger and tension were palpable. And unsettling.

The thing that bothers me a little is that in my experience, this kind of projection -- calling your opponent out for what you're doing -- usually works. People assume that no one would get that angry without good reason, especially if you've established a reputation for moralism and integrity.

The one hope is that McCain has indeed damaged his brand so badly that he has no reputation left to ground that impression in. (Discounting the "base", of course. The Republican base is rabid with frustrated fury by this time -- witness the un-corrected shout of "kill him" at a Palin rally over the weekend, or "terrorist!" in response to McCain's rhetorical question 'Who is the real Barack Obama?')

OODA Loops, Redux

I realize I didn't properly close out my comments on Steve Schmidt's OODA strategy. I was trying to convey the idea that force can be multiplied by technology: Schmidt could effectively pivot from one front to another instantaneously. It's analogous to a boxer facing an opponent who can't hit him hard enough for a knockout, but who can land small blows at will in lots of different places.

The point I wanted to make, but didn't, was that the weaker fighter can only win in this way if he's not so weak that his blows do no harm. Whether that's true remains to be seen, and it hinges largely on whether Nate Silver's insight on the nature of the Minnesota "outlier" poll is accurate. 

In any case, it's still unclear that's what Schmidt is doing. Whether he's trying to employ that kind of rapidly-shifting media buy is something that will become clear in the next few days. For it to really work with only 4 weeks remaining, I think he'd have to be shifting his buys just every few days, not once a week.

Disingenuous Question for the Moment

Byron York asks an interesting, if profoundly disingenuous question:

Let’s assume that FactCheck’s analysis is correct. Why shouldn’t McCain and Palin use the new, supposedly more accurate, numbers? When Palin said in St. Louis last week that Obama “had 94 opportunities to side on the people’s side and reduce taxes and 94 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction” — well, why not change it to “had 54 opportunities to side on the people’s side and reduce taxes and 54 times he voted to increase taxes or not support a tax reduction”? Wouldn’t that still be a damning critique of Obama’s stance on taxes?

Indeed, it might (but probably wouldn't*) be, if they would actually do that. What's curious and interesting is that they haven't.

It suggests to me that truth isn't actually what's important to them. And it must not be that important to York, either, since he doesn't deign to provide the obvious answer to his own question....

*Probably wouldn't be, because York's own stance on taxes is so remarkably silly.

So, it looks like the plan is to attack Biden

So it's looking like the Palin Plan will be to attack Biden rather than 'going to the top of the ticket', as most pundits have predicted, and then rely on spin to cast any counter-attack as bullying.

That makes sense, attacking is what she's good at. But I have to wonder if the tactical decision isn't based on the (profoundly flawed) premise that Biden will be vilified if he fights back. Let's remember that he was smart enough to figure out the game in the first place, and articulate enough to describe it in a way that got through to people. There's a good chance he's also going to be clever enough to pivot and fight back without looking like a bully. It's actually not that hard if you can hold your temper and keep smiling.

It could be as simple as acknowledging that "Yes, Senator Obama and I have had differences in the past, but so have you and Senator McCain. Why, you yourself hired a lobbyist to obtain earmarks for the town of Wasilla, and campaigned on support for the Bridge to Nowhere! So I'm sure you understand what it's like to have to change your talking points."

Past Debate Performance as an Indicator of Future Success

The NYT has a piece up now discussing Sarah Palin's gubernatorial debates. They point out that she didn't do too badly -- she could arguably be called a natural:

Her debating style was rarely confrontational, and she appeared confident. In contrast to today, when she seems unversed on several important issues, she demonstrated fluency on certain subjects, particularly oil and gas development.

But just as she does now, Ms. Palin often spoke in generalities and showed scant aptitude for developing arguments beyond a talking point or two. Her sentences were distinguished by their repetition of words, by the use of the phrase “here in Alaska” and for gaps. On paper, her sentences would have been difficult to diagram.

That reminded me of something James Fallows wrote in 2004:

This spring I watched dozens of hours' worth of old videos of John Kerry and George W. Bush in action. But it was the hour in which Bush faced Ann Richards that I had to watch several times. The Bush on this tape was almost unrecognizable—and not just because he looked different from the figure we are accustomed to in the White House. He was younger, thinner, with much darker hair and a more eager yet less swaggering carriage than he has now. But the real difference was the way he sounded.

This Bush was eloquent. He spoke quickly and easily. He rattled off complicated sentences and brought them to the right grammatical conclusions. He mishandled a word or two ("million" when he clearly meant "billion"; "stole" when he meant "sold"), but fewer than most people would in an hour's debate. More striking, he did not pause before forcing out big words, as he so often does now, or invent mangled new ones. "To lay out my juvenile-justice plan in a minute and a half is a hard task, but I will try to do so," he said fluidly and with a smile midway through the debate, before beginning to list his principles.

[Couldn't get a more direct source for this...]

The obvious key difference is that Bush performed legitimately well against Richards, speaking clearly and more or less eloquently and more to the point, on point. The point about Palin seems to be that (as a former opponent observes) she's a gifted bullshit artist:

Palin is a master of the nonanswer. She can turn a 60-second response to a query about her specific solutions to healthcare challenges into a folksy story about how she's met people on the campaign trail who face healthcare challenges. All without uttering a word about her public-policy solutions to healthcare challenges.

In one debate, a moderator asked the candidates to name a bill the legislature had recently passed that we didn't like. I named one. Democratic candidate Tony Knowles named one. But Sarah Palin instead used her allotted time to criticize the incumbent governor, Frank Murkowski. Asked to name a bill we did like, the same pattern emerged: Palin didn't name a bill.

And when she does answer the actual question asked, she has a canny ability to connect with the audience on a personal level. For example, asked to name a major issue that had been ignored during the campaign, I discussed the health of local communities, Mr. Knowles talked about affordable healthcare, and Palin talked about ... the need to protect hunting and fishing rights.

So what does that mean for Biden? With shorter question-and-answer times and limited interaction between the two, he should simply ignore Palin in a respectful manner on the stage and answer the questions as though he were alone. Any attempt to flex his public-policy knowledge and show Palin is not ready for prime time will inevitably cast him in the role of the bully.

On the other side of the stage, if Palin is to be successful, she needs to do what she does best: fill the room with her presence and stick to the scripted sound bites.

I keep coming back to Fallows, though. 

I bored my friends by forcing them to watch the tape [of the Bush-Richards debate]—but I could tell that I had not bored George Lakoff, a linguist from the University of California at Berkeley, who has written often of the importance of metaphor and emotional message in political communications. When I invited him to watch the Bush-Richards tape, Lakoff confirmed that everything about Bush's surface style was different. His choice of words, the pace of his speech, the length and completeness of his sentences, all made him sound like another person. Even his body language was surprising. When he was younger, Bush leaned toward the camera and did not fidget or shift his weight. He arched his eyebrows and positioned his mouth in a way that, according to Lakoff, signifies in all languages an intense, engaged form of speech.

Lakoff also emphasized that what had changed in Bush's style was less important than what had remained the same. Bush's ways of appealing to his electoral base, of demonstrating resolve and strength, of deflecting rather than rebutting criticism, had all worked against Ann Richards. These have been constants in his rhetorical presentation of himself over the years, despite the striking decline in his sentence-by-sentence speaking skills, and they have been consistently and devastatingly effective. The upcoming debates between Bush and Kerry will in an odd way be a contest of unbeaten champions.

To me this speaks to two possibilities: One, that Sarah Palin may have left behind aspects of the sweet-faced barracuda who artfully bullshitted Alaska voters. Two, that her essential nature might remain intact. We'll see how that plays out tonight.  

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At 4,800 female residents, that's how many rapes per year?

From the Boston Globe story about the idea that the town of Wasilla made rape victims pay to report a rape, this paragraph caught my attention:

After the Alaska Legislature banned the fees, Palin's handpicked police chief, Charlie Fannon, complained that the state's action would force the town to spend $5,000 to $14,000 a year to cover the costs. "I just don't want to see any more burden put on the taxpayer," Fannon said.

Now, supposedly the town didn't actually charge people to report rapes (by billing them for the rape kit that you'd have to use in order to actually get a rape charge to stick). That's actually not what I'm interested in, here: What I'm interested in are the rape statistics implicit in Charlie Fannon's statement.

Let's do some math. Now, I know that medical supplies and procedures are expensive under the current American medical system, so let's be conservative and assume that the real cost to the town for the billable parts of a rape kit are $200 each. That works out to between 25 and 70 reported rapes per year in the town of Wasilla, based on Fannon's cost estimates. That's in a town which might possibly have as many as 4,800 female residents, depending on whose demographic data you accept.

How does that compare with national averages?

The most recent data I could quickly find is from 1998, for a sexual assault rate (incidence of actual penetrative rape would be lower) of 34.4 per 100,000 persons. Roughly estimating, that's about .03% (math corrections welcome). With a total population of about 9,600, given 25 to 70 reported rapes per year, the town of Wasilla has a rape-rate of between about .3% and .7% -- that makes Wasilla's rape rate between 10 and 20 times higher than the national average for 1998, or about 260 to 730 per 100,000 persons.

What the hell are they smoking up there?

[Correcting my math.]

Poker Dreams. Or: Let's be clear how this is going to go.

I had a dream about poker last night. Barack Obama was in it, sort of, as a presence in the background, someone I knew was playing, somewhere. So was John McCain. I was getting together things for a rummage sale, and one of the things I was putting in was a poker set. Only, it was poker played with dice, and the game had been somehow "simplified" so that people wouldn't have to actually understand suits and hands and betting rules. The dice had arabic numerals on them. (In my dream, the old-fashioned dot-patterns were deemed 'too complicated'.) And there were lots of dice -- hundreds, possibly.

I'm generally not big on the idea that dreams are metaphors for life, but this one seems so relevant, so poetic, that I can't ignore it. See, Obama is a poker player. Supposed to be quite good at it. The most important thing in poker is to make decisions about your course of action that are based on what you actually know (is he showing his tell? what cards are face up? what have I got? is my gut telling me anything?), and then sticking to it until you know something that warrants changing your plan. McCain is a craps player. He throws dice. The most important thing in craps is that you have a lot of money, so it doesn't hurt so much when you lose it. Snap decisions don't matter one way or another, so intermittent reinforcement will tend to make those decisions stick with you as valuable more often than as detrimental.

John McCain will not be debating tonight. Sarah Palin will not be debating next week. John McCain will be maneuvered into position to take credit for a solution to the financial crisis as a favor from the Republican leadership, even though he'll have nothing constructive to do with it; in so doing, it will be made clear to half of America that he muddied the waters by injecting himself into the mix, and to the other half that he Took Charge And Got It Done.

I actually think there's an excellent chance there won't be any debates at all. He seems desperate to avoid them. Obama's best bet is to let it be known that he'll be available whenever McCain wants to carry forward with the planned debates, and keep pointing out that the Senate Finance Committee (which McCain has no part in) has actually been making excellent progress without intereference from the Presidential candidates.

At this point in time the campaign starts to look like a slow-motion train wreck: Palin is being shown for the lightweight she is, McCain is cracking under the pressure of trying to be something other than John McCain, and Obama is keeping his cool and sticking to his game. He seems to know what's in his hand, and to have known for months. Let the dice fall where they may: He's not playing that game. He's playing poker, not craps.

The Sarah Palin Nomination as an Insult to Sarah Palin

Judith Warner has had an epiphany:

Frankly, I’ve come to think, post-Kissinger, post-Katie-Couric, that Palin’s nomination isn’t just an insult to the women (and men) of America. It’s an act of cruelty toward her as well.

I think Sarah Palin is a pathological narcissist (and arguably, bully) with serious control issues. But it is becoming so much clearer how far out of her depth she's swimming that my inner David Foster Wallace is suggesting in his roundabout way that Ms. Warner has a point about this: If we ridicule the bullies, we just validate their approach.

Extending the Sarah Palin Goon Analogy

Sean Quinn's analogy between Sarah Palin and a hockey goon has been stirring my thinking on the matter. Especially the last part of his piece, where he points out that a goon is only as good as her [sic] line:

... Successful agitator Kris Draper of the Detroit Red Wings had the clutch Steve Yzerman for a lot of years. That worked. Detroit won Cups. They had parades.

Successful agitator Tyson Nash, when he was on my Blues, was stuck with the antithesis of playoff clutch, the easily thrown-off-his-game Keith Tkachuk. That didn’t work. No Cup. Even if Palin is successful in her task of agitation and distraction, which one is John McCain?

So Sean is apparently taking some comfort (or maybe just a professional interest) in the idea that McCain might not be able to capitalize on the chaos his goon has stirred up.

I had a couple of thoughts proceeding from this:

  • It's not entirely true. Hockey history (particularly in the US, where we love our goons) is full of teams who've leveraged goonish behavior to push teams of mediocre talent to the fore. The '70s Flyers are probably the paradigmatic case; I don't know hockey history well enough to cite other examples, but I remember lots of conversations about this from my hockey-fan friends. So the McCain-Palin electoral analogy would be that the Republican machine has the most incredible goon squad we've seen in American national politics since the 19th century. They're really really good at it.
  • Not directly related: How do you fight a goon? Why, with other goons, of course! This is the point where the Obama camp needs to organize its surrogates well and surreptitiously to go out there and goon it up on the goons. Since this is verbal combat, "naming the behavior" will be critically important: The cleverer equivalent of "I know you are, but what am I?" It's astonishingly applicable in this case. Attack: "Barack Obama is enslaved to earmarks" Retort: "I know you are, but what am I?" (Except, well, not "I". You get the idea, though.) See how the Earmark Queen deals with that.

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Quote for the Moment

Sarah Palin thinks she is a better American than you because she comes from a small town, and a superior human being because she isn't a journalist and never lived in Washington and likes to watch her kids play hockey. Although Palin praised John McCain in her acceptance speech as a man who puts the good of his country ahead of partisan politics, McCain pretty much proved the opposite with his selection of a running mate whose main asset is her ability to reignite the culture wars.

-- Michael Kinsley in TIME

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Sarah Palin: Hockey Mom, or Hockey Goon? Or: Cruelty Is Strength, And Strength Is Good, Episode #32589

Sean Quinn put very cleanly something I've been thinking about for a week and a half or so, ever since that cute "pitbull with lipstick" gauntlet-slap. They key is in understanding that she's not a "Hockey Mom" -- she's a hockey goon. Er, I mean, hockey agitator.

.... She's a hockey player. She’s a fourth-line hockey agitator, beloved by the home crowd, loathed by the opponents, injecting passion into both fan bases, the kind of home-team hero that no Stanley Cup winner goes without.

Once upon a time, I applied an NFL-replay mentality to hockey playoffs, holding on to outrages over missed calls, blatantly unfair officiating, double standards, and outright getting-away-with-stuff (which always led to an early spring exit for my beloved Blues). I wanted – and unreasonably expected – bad behavior to be proportionally punished.

And then several years ago I had an epiphany about the hockey playoffs – nobody is coming to save you. Initiators win, reactors lose. Expect adversity, because it's built in. The fourth-line, no-scoring-talent, pest agitators (or as we now call them, “energy guys”) have a specific job. Skate in, take a cheap shot, make it after the whistle. Make it against the rules. Stir something up. Put a wet glove in the other guy's face and rub it. Get the outrage flowing. Get the opponent not thinking about the game, get them thinking about your shenanigans. And what happens? The “victimized” team loses its composure, hitting back. The guy who hits second is always the guy who goes to the penalty box. [emph added]

Watching Sarah Palin this week, and the reaction to her by both sides, and all the talk of hockey mommery, I realized that this is who she is. She skates into the corner, throws up an elbow, and the Democrats cry: “Foul!” Hey! She said Obama has never passed a major bill – this is an objective lie! Hey! She ridiculed community organizing the day after Service was the theme! Technically people should punish her by not voting for her over this infraction!

It’s whining, and whiners hit back second and go to the penalty box on top of it.

FiveThirtyEight.com: Electoral Projections Done Right: Sarah Palin Is Not a Hockey Mom

And what's more, in the Code of the Goon, they deserve it. Cruelty is strength, and the weak deserve to be punished. It's the Republican way.

Heaven forbid we dare to name the behavior, as Joe Biden so eloquently did a few days ago.

“It was about how well placed -- and boy she is good -- how a left jab can be stuck pretty nice. It’s about how Barack Obama is such a bad guy.”

(Thanks also to the Daily Show.)

All of this, of course, is bullshit in the Frankfurtian sense: Truth is irrelevant, because the objective is to make a new "truth" on the ground, shaped out of power.

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(Addendum: Just because I'm curious whether calling a spade a spade on this will actually catch on, here's Google's results on 'sarah palin' hockey goon,

Triumph of the Passive Aggressive?

In contemplation of the "Eagleton Scenario", my razor-sharp political instincts immediately kicked in and I started thinking "this is all a ploy to pave the way for Vinegar Joe."

I mean, if you were Mitt or Tim, would you take the job at this point?

And what better way to force the divorced Jew down the throats of the rabid right than by having Tim and Mitt say 'no'? McCain could say "I wish THE MEDIA had been more open-minded, but they weren't, so now I'm choosing a man above reproach." Vinegar Joe.

And it wouldn't hurt that Lieberman may well be the only eligible (as in, American-born and over 35) senior Republican politician who actually still likes McCain at this point.

Not that McCain planned it that way, at least not consciously. I'm coming to think he doesn't think that much.

Then again: As I said, razor-sharp....

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Too clever for his own damn good

One of the interesting things accomplished by John McCain's selection of Sarah Palin as his running is the effective neutralization of Joe Biden's much-vaunted "attack dog" persona.

Well, at least until Obama praises her and says it's a great sign of positive change. 'One more hit against that glass ceiling,' I believe, were the words.

It wasn't as stupid a selection as it sounds like. But Obama isn't as stupid as McCain thinks he is, so it's kind of a wash. I'm betting that Biden can find a way to outclass her in a head-on debate without coming off as patronizing, and I'm betting that Americans are clever enough to recognize that a state senator from Chicago trumps the mayor of a small Alaskan city.

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Have You Seen Sam Nunn?

So I just want to know: Has anyone actually seen Sam Nunn "out of the country"?

I mean, if I were Barack Obama and I really truly wanted to put the fake on a bunch of zealous reporters, I'd make sure they were watching everybody but the one guy I was going to pick. The guy they're not watching because his spokeswoman says he's "out of the country."

ADDENDUM: Well, it would have been pretty darn amusing, at least.

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Those Words Evoke Invocation

If they don't understand the words you use well enough to know that you're talking nonsense, I suppose the argument must go, they deserve to be conned.

Victor Davis Hanson at the National Review is asking "Why is Obama foolishly evoking race time after time?"

I suppose Obama could fix that by coloring his skin white. (Isn't it interesting that Obama "evokes" race, but McCain doesn't. Kind of like the one-drop rule: If any color shows, it signals "race.")

I envision the shade of William F. Buckley jabbing fiercely at Hanson with a ghostly blue pencil, alternating with an whacks from an insubstantial Collegiate to pay Hanson back for mis-using the term yet again in the body copy.

But I imagine Buckley might be proud of Hanson for this adorable rhetorical sleight-of-hand:

Obama's problems with race have nothing to do with his half -African ancestry or his own experience with racism and unfairness, but boil down to his deftly wanting it both ways: reminding the Germans he is a different sort of American from what they're used to (false, they knew Rice and Powell well enough), while preempting by suggesting others will evoke race, but in a negative context.

So let me get this straight: The different look that Obama was talking about was dark skin? Since, you know (you did know this, right?) that both Rice and Powell are (snicker!) black.

Of course, it could be intentional intellectual sloth. Clever boy. "My opponent is a practicing heterosexual, and his sister is a known Thespian," as Earl Long is reputed to have remarked with all apparent sincerity. The key is to force the marked man to talk about his own marking. That way you can accuse him of bringing it up.

Triumph of the Mundane

I have seen the infamous "Hilary 1984" video, and I am profoundly unimpressed. Presumably the creator thought he was doing something profound, or clever, or both, but he's not really saying anything to anybody who hasn't already swallowed the "Hilary is the Anti-Christ" koolaid. Are we supposed to see Hilary Clinton as as "Big Sister"? Are we supposed to hear her words as Newspeak, just because we seem them juxtaposed with elements from Ridley Scott's bombastic vision-for-hire?

To cut to the chase: Does something become profound as soon as you mash it up with sacred (or at least iconic) (commercial) content? Ridley Scott rubbing off on Phil De Vellis, just by virtue of De Vellis getting his grubby mitts on Scott's footage?

My first feeling on viewing the mashup was disgust. I'm not quite the farthest thing from a Hilary Clinton supporter, but I'm not far off from that. She's more or less unelectable, as far as I'm concerned, and I do strongly suspect that she's got some control issues, as the therapists like to put it.

But this is just sophomoric. If I were Barack Obama, I'd be embarrassed to have supporters like that. Good thing I'm not Barack Obama, of course, because to get elected he's going to need a lot of supporters like that, and he can't afford to let them know they embarrass him...

My second thought was that you could pretty effectively cut the legs out from under Phil De Vellis's juvenile pseudo-intellectualism by just taking the same bombastic content and splicing in somebody else. Like, oh, I don't know, maybe...Barack Obama?

And so now I see that I'm not the only person who finds the whole thing kind of silly and puerile. Though honestly, I had something more like Everybody Loves Raymond in mind. That might actually border on profound.

Our Own Worst Enemy

A friend directed me to an excerpt found in the Nov./Dec. 2006 Pennsylvania Gazette, “Lowering the Temperature,” from Ian S. Lustick’s new book, Trapped in the War on Terror.  I found this to be a very realistic approach to terrorist activity,... one that encourages “confident resilience, not debilitating hysteria, and leaders acting out of courage and discipline rather than impulse and bravado.” 

 

In an interview, Gazette senior editor Samuel Hughes asked Dr. Ian Lustick:

 

Some people say we’ve abandoned protecting our infrastructure—the chemical plants and ports and whatnot. Is there a real threat to them, and should that be addressed better than it is now? Or is that part of the hysteria?

Dr. Lustick replied:

 

Consider this. For a Democratic candidate, the easiest thing in the world is to say what you just said, that instead of fighting the war in Iraq the government should be protecting refineries, ports, subways, cattle herds, the milk supply, skyscrapers, bridges, tunnels, and power plants. But if a wise policy is defined as that which protects every important thing in the country from any bad thing anyone might think of doing, then no policy can be wise and every official can be made to look foolish. My point is that to be drawn toward that tempting kind of argument is to be drawn into playing the War on Terror game and helping it to become even more in control of our lives than it already is.

 

We’ve got to turn away from a definition of the problem that gives every interest group the ability to invent the enemy and the dangers that it would profit from most if they existed. Instead we must concentrate our resources on the real enemies we have, and especially on making sure that nuclear-weapons grade materials do not get into the hands of the wrong people. That’s not done through warfare; that’s not done through loud, politically sexy campaigns. It’s done through discreet, professional intelligence and law enforcement, with surgical and mostly clandestine use of military force when necessary. It requires close and trusted cooperation with our allies in Europe and in the Muslim world. The kind of War on Terror rhetoric we’ve been pursuing is exactly what interrupts those important efforts and complicates them.

 

Since the election this past week, I’ve been reading about the pragmatic influence newly elected Democrats should bring to Washington and cities across America.  There is speculation on whether the Democrats have any good ideas on how to get out of Iraq without creating wider terrorism.

 

The question remains whether we’ll see a more rational approach in general to terrorism such as Dr. Lustick proposes or whether we’ll see more politicians playing into the War on Terror game set up by some of our current leaders. 

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Miers and the Far Right

Matthew Rothschild ruminates about â??Miers and the Rightâ? (The Progressive, October 12, 2005):

Iâ??m trying hard to figure out the intensity of the far rightâ??s anger about the Harriet Miers nomination.

Seems unlikely to me, anyway, that Bush and Cheney and Rove would have picked someone who was not a doctrinaire conservative.

So why are the reactionaries reacting so badly?

Because Harriet Miers was not one of their tried and true chosen few.

[...]

They crave jihad, and Harriet Miers doesnâ??t seem like a bomb thrower.

For many rightwing fundamentalists, itâ??s not enough that they stack the court. They also want justices to berate the rest of us as sinners as they take their seats.

Bush just hasnâ??t delivered for them, has he? Would Bush chance a possible GOP split?

In any case, weâ??re not hearing a lot from Democrats right now about this holy war surrounding Miers. Not surprising.

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The Rise of the Militarised State, Redux

There was a point in last night's speech that struck me, that I haven't heard anyone else mention -- the part where the president said this:

I also want to know all the facts about the government response to Hurricane Katrina. The storm involved a massive flood, a major supply and security operation, and an evacuation order affecting more than a million people. It was not a normal hurricane -- and the normal disaster relief system was not equal to it. Many of the men and women of the Coast Guard, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United States military, the National Guard, Homeland Security, and state and local governments performed skillfully under the worst conditions. Yet the system, at every level of government, was not well-coordinated, and was overwhelmed in the first few days. It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal authority and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a moment's notice. [emphasis added]

This is interesting in two ways:

  1. First, it can be seen as dodging responsibility. "It was not a normal storm", perhaps, but what would be "normal"? And doesn't it matter that all the qualified emergency management professionals knew what it would be like and understood the risks it posed?
  2. Second, because the final statement just simply isn't true. If FEMA had not been gutted by the Bushites, there's an excellent chance that the worst atrocities of the New Orleans floding, at least, would have been averted. Properly proactive officials at FEMA and DHS could have exercised their existing levels of authority to substantially ameliorate the impact. That they didn't says nothing about the level of authority they did have -- it only says that they didn't care enough to use it.

What I see happening already is Bush reframing the issue in terms of rigid, top-down corporate hierarchies like the ones he learned about in Harvard's b-school in the 1970s. In the current context, that means "to solve the problem, send in the Army", because the 1970s Harvard b-school model for corporate organization is based on military-style hierarchies.

Ironically, the US military establishment would most likely no longer support that analysis. They've spent much of the past thirty years trying to open up their command structures (to the degree that it's feasible given their mission) and re-instill the sense of initiative and dedication that are necessary for morale in tough going.

The relationship of business to the military, at least in America, is curious and interesting. In the run-up to the Second World War, the Army was particularly ill-prepared: Poor discipline, entrenched corruption in the enlisted ranks, poor organization. Business models and metaphors contributed to the reorganization. Through the course of the war, men like Robert Macnamara introduced systems theory and other b-school concepts into the management hierachy. The result was the Vietnam-era Army that failed its soldiers and its nation in no small part through hubris and arrogance and lack of attention to detail.

Meanwhile, American business was being reshaped on a more hierarchical, more military model. In other words, the two trends were mutually reinforcing. As the American military system failed in the 1960s and 1970s, so the American systems of business organization failed in the 1970s and 1980s.

George W. Bush was out of the loop both times. His dabblings in business in the '70s and early '80s were mostly in non-representative areas like oil wildcatting; his "successes" were in non-representative areas like real estate and professional sports. He has no actual experience with business success; he doesn't know that successful businesses don't work by enforcing rigid top-down hierarchies.

Trittinâ??s I Told You So

Claus Christian Malzahn of Spiegel Online serves a curve in the blame game as he blames German Minister of the Environment Jürgen Trittin for eliciting an â??I told you soâ? to Bush instead of sympathy for the victims of the hurricane.

Malzahn writes:

Apparently the Americans had it coming: "The American president has closed his eyes to the economic and human damage that natural catastrophes such as Katrina -- in other words, disasters caused by a lack of climate protection measures -- can visit on his country." Who wrote this? None other than Jürgen Trittin, Germany's minister of the environment.

At a moment when the dead on the Gulf Coast are still being counted, the German minister of the environment could think of nothing better to do than -- in an essay published Tuesday in the center-left daily Frankfurter Rundschau -- to blame the US itself for the catastrophe. The piece is 493 words long, and not a single one of them is wasted to express any sort of sympathy for the victims of the storm. The worst of it is that Trittin isn't alone with his cold, malicious tenor. The coverage from much of the German media tends in the same direction: If Bush had only listened to Uncle Trittin and signed the Kyoto Protocol, then this never would have happened.

Bullshit. Trittin's article is a slap in the face to all the victims.

Not all scientists agree with Trittenâ??s global warming priorities. And whether or not global warming has a direct relationship to Hurricane Katrina is debated.

But that's hardly the point at the moment. Right now, the situation calls for empathy with the people in the American south who are suffering the after effects of the massive storm.

It's not the American people's fault that the storm hit and they couldn't have stopped it. The Germans, on the other hand, could have done a lot to prevent World War II. And yet, care packages still rained down from US troops. Trittin's know-it-all stance is therefore not only tasteless, it is also historically blind.

Americans couldnâ??t stop it because more wasnâ??t done beforehand to avert the catastrophe. Even so, Malzahnâ??s point rings true. Bad timing for Trittenâ??s callous comments.

Barbs aimed at Bush fly fast and furious from Americans and foreigners alike. Some hit the mark better than others do. And critical assessment of this disaster is important. Right now though, during this stressful time, Tritten's biting, self-serving remarks do not feed or clothe or house or medicate suffering victims of this disaster.

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Will the Real MSM Please Speak Up?

The neo-conservative cabal has gotten back into gear and mobilised its counter-attack, as evidenced by this report from ABC affiliate KGO:

This week Simi Valley California Gold Star wife Melanie House flew to Idaho for a protest and then flew to Crawford.

ABC7's Mark Matthews: "Can you tell us if you're getting help in airfare to come down here?"

Melanie House: "What difference does that make?"

There is real reluctance to talk about who's paying, and the P.R. machine that's promoting Cindy Sheehan, but not everyone here is completely comfortable with it.

Perhaps it's merely my own subjectivity talking, but it seems to me that there's a real reluctance to talk about who's paying for and calling the shots with the P.R. machine that's promoting the ends of the neo-conservative cabal. I can't recall many discussions in the MSM about who funds right-wing "popular efforts." In this piece, there's some token attention to balance, but only about four of the piece's twenty-nine paragraphs are devoted to considering who funds the Republican counter-efforts -- and those paragraphs are buried at the bottom of the pyramid.

Some outlets do try to play fair. NPR, for example, points out [listen] that the President's counter-campaign has been mobilised in states where he has a strong base of support, and in front of hand-picked ("reliably friendly, mostly-military") audiences. But then, much as the punditocracy would like us to believe otherwise, NPR is not part of any usefully-defined "main-stream". Unless, of course, someone wants to explain how they could be part of the mainstream and part of the fringe at the same time. (Hint: There's a way to do it. But it might require that you tread on some intellectually slippery ground.)

It's frightening enough that the Bush regime are willing to do this to shape public opinion; it's even scarier when you start to become convinced (as I did a long time ago) that our President believes that the hand-picked audiences represent a real cross-section of American views.

"I've met with a lot of families," the President has remarked. "She doesn't represent the views of a lot of families." (Which of course means that she still could represent the views of a lot of families, since "a lot" does not imply "a majority." But I digress.) Now, he could be speaking with painful literalness. Parse out the sentence: It literally states only that a lot of people don't agree with Cindy Sheehan. Big news. A lot of people don't agree with the manufacturer's contention that Marshmallow Fluff sandwiches are wholesome food and not candy. (They're called "good parents.")

I fear it's more sinister -- or at least, more frightening -- than that: George W. Bush does not expose himself to contrary opinions unless he's compelled to, and it's hard to compel the President of the United States to do anything.

But again, I digress. The point is this: People who believe in the existence of a leftist media bias really need to do two things: First, start listening, really listening, with an open mind, to the news; second, come to understand that "leftist" is not synonymous with "stuff I don't like."

Really, I suppose the second should come first. It's kind of a necessary step before you can understand that people on the left hate some of the same stuff that people on the right hate: Crime, lying politicians, moral turpitude, callous disregard for human life, just to be going on with. But since the rightist positions have been almost wholly co-opted by religionistic moralists (and this is nothing new, by the way), every message that people on the right get tends to come in black and white terms: You are with us or against us. You love Jesus, or you love child pornography. You back the President, or you hate America.

It's a simplistic portrayal, sure; but the people in charge of trying to drive that portrayal like it that way. It's easier to manipulate people if you have hot-button terms arranged into superficially simplistic (and thus, ambiguous) statements. That most people don't adhere to these positions when you really start to look at their positions, kind of testifies both to the effectiveness of the technique (after all, people act in great numbers to support these simplistic ideals) and to the stubbornness of human intellect (after all, people still don't believe it entirely, once you cut through the ambiguity to get to their actual opinions).

Elizabeth Edwardsâ??s Support for Cindy

Eleanor Clift of Newsweek writes (Aug. 19, 2005):

Sheehan has been latched on to by lots of groups, with the notable exception of the Democratic Party. The party as a whole is terrified of doing anything that would leave them vulnerable to accusations theyâ??re not supporting the troops, or theyâ??re weak on national security, so they donâ??t get into the debate in any memorable way. Their risk-averse tactics bring back memories of the Kerry campaign, which was so frightened of making a wrong step, they couldnâ??t make a right step. The protest that began in Crawford and is spreading around the country got no help from the institutional Washington Democrats. It sprang from the grass roots, and thatâ??s why it may endure after Bushâ??s summer solstice ends and hound him for the rest of his days as president.

Well, it looks like some Democrats might not be entirely terrified, if Elizabeth Edwardsâ??s letter (via AlterNet) calling for support of Cindyâ??s right to be heard is any indication.

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John G. Roberts, Jr.

Restraint is a word that I should heed as I reflect on Mr. Bushâ??s Supreme Court nomination of John Roberts to replace Sandra Day Oâ??Connor.

Heâ??s conservative and a practicing, devout Catholic. (I never knew there was a St. John Roberts, whose name popped up in a search. The poor man came to an untimely death when he was hanged, drawn and quartered. Two of his fingers have been preserved.)

Anyway, John Roberts has three sisters, Cathy, Peggy, and Barbara. My sisterâ??s name is Barbara, and, no, weâ??re not related to John Roberts. Actually, watching him and his wife, Jane, on TV yesterday evening, I imagined them having just stepped off some old reruns of The Donna Reed Show. Squeaky clean. So, why do I still itch...

How John Roberts will respond to questions at confirmation hearings remains to be seen. I have sincere reservations, but Iâ??ll wait for substantive words from his mouth before completely indulging my fears.

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Thinking Bush

Leonard Pitts, Jr. begins â??A farewell to Oâ??Connorâ? (Detroit Free Press, July 13, 2005):

So now we say good-bye to Sandra Day O'Connor, the one Supreme Court justice who could not be considered in the pocket of either political extreme. She listened to the facts before making up her mind. Imagine that.

Later:

... the point is the sense one gets in her body of votes that there's a mind at work here. That her decisions were based not simply on ideology, but also on intellect.

Yesterday, President Bush consulted with Senate members regarding a new justice nominee. Heâ??s considering judges, non-judges, and even women (ahem).

According to Rick Klein of The Boston Globe (â??Bush urged to look beyond career judge,â? July 13, 2005):

Bush's meeting with the four key lawmakers was part of the White House's efforts to respond to senators' demand that they be consulted as Bush narrows his list of candidates for the court.

But Senator Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat and a senior member of the judiciary committee, said true consultation involves Bush offering cues as to his thinking to senators, not just soliciting advice.

"I hope we are not just going through the motions," Kennedy said in an interview. "True consultation is not a one-sided conversation. The president must share his thoughts with all of us as well."

Perhaps Mr. Bush was turning a new leaf when he said that he wanted Americans to know that his decision would be â??based upon a lot of research and a lot of thought.â? Really. That would be such a wonderful tribute to Sandra Day O'Connor. So, pray tell, is Mr. Bush thinking? Oh, excuse me. Strike that. (My error must have seemed so rude.) Correction: So, what is Mr. Push thinking,... er, Mr. Thinker pushing,... no, no, I meant to say,... uh,... wait a minute,.... need to regroup here. Bush and research and thought. Iâ??m overwhelmed.

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London is Burning

I'm having flashbacks. I managed to miss the Madrid attacks, or maybe there's just something in the circumstance of the moment that makes it hit me harder this morning. But I'm feeling a little numb right now. All I can think about is how convenient this will be for people who want to lock things down still more and more....

I'm not so worried about Britain; they've faced this kind of thing before, though it's a long time since they had to deal with it at this volume. And they're tougher (for lack of a better term) than we Americans, I think, about the preservation of their freedoms. They have a deeper understanding of the compromises involved and required to ensure "security". But that's a whole longish essay in its own right.

Co-ordinated attacks -- six bombs in five locations. [Correction: Four blasts, three of them deep in London's oldest tube tunnnels.] It's not like an IRA hit, and my small, cynical voice says the IRA could get some good PR out of this by pointing out that they often gave a heads-up and didn't try to hit in more than one place. But my contingency-planner's brain thinks that those IRA hits will have caused their emergency response to be cleaner, more efficient.

And while I'm numbed, I'm thinking also: What will be made of this by a people who've been taking casualties from terrorists, off and on, for more than thirty years? (Or, if you stretch your imagination to the Colonies, longer than that.)

Will there be instructive contrasts with Madrid (where they'd also been taking terrorist assaults for decades), and with the United States (where we largely make do with crime)?

Youthful Indiscretion

So some people seem to remember that Iran's new President-Elect was one of their captors during the time when they were held prisoner in the American Embassy in Tehran in 1979-1980.

Sorry if I seem like a bit of a hard-ass on this, but: So what? Even if they're right -- why should this have any bearing on how we deal with Iran? Vladimir Putin was a KGB man -- a member of the secret intelligence service of an enemy state. Abu Mazen was a terrorist, and we deal with him. Menachem Begin planned bombings for the Irgun during the Jewish insurgency in Palestine; he was responsible for the deaths of many non-combatants. But they were British, mostly, or Palestinian, so they don't matter to us.

Really, it seems as though we look for excuses to refuse to deal with other countries. And by "we", I mean the Vulcan Cabal, and by "other countries", I mean ones that might possibly oppose the hidden agenda of the Vulcan Cabal, which is American Hegemony, plainly and simply put. But I digress.

When former soldiers go to Vietnam as tourists, Americans expect them to be greeted with respect -- which, by and large, they are, at least as far as I've heard. And by and large, we treat old Viet Cong and NVA "terrorists" with respect when they come here. What's the difference?

I expect it has something to do with blood. People look at me like I'm a little off when I tell them this, but I really do think that bodies politic (the "American People", the "Iranian People") "think" (which is to say, "feel") in terms of blood sacrifice. This is all at a sub-rational level, of course; we find other rationalizations for our behavior, but in the end it's a ritual matter: Once blood is spilled, the nature of the discussion changes.

If you walk through the world for a few days looking at news reports, I submit that you'll start to see this view as making sense. We sacrificed blood in Vietnam. We have never sacrificed any blood in Iran. Not publicly, at least. Blood would have sanctified our humiliation -- it would have taken it to a new level, made it "serious".

So in Vietnam, we had a sense that we paid a price, in blood. Blood is real currency; humiliation is just getting taken. It's not real currency, not to most people. We're going to have the same sense of things with regard to Iraq, I predict. (Though I expect history to reliably fail to repeat: the dynamics will be very different in the long run.)

This isn't likely to happen with regard to Iran -- at least, not soon. We'd have to really go to war with them, and I like to hope that won't happen, because the price would be ... fantastic. It's not Iraq; it's a functioning state with a patriotic people, well-armed with real (as in non-imaginary) and extremely dangerous weapons.

I hear on NPR that Iranians don't think much about the hostage crisis. To them, it's part of the "American Satan" background noise. When people in the US do remember it (and I doubt that many do, at least accurately), they remember it as shaming, as humiliation: That those little pissants could thumb their noses at us in public and we could do nothing about it.... I was there -- that is, I was alive and politically conscious, 15 and 16 years old, at the height of my natural adolescent boy's obsession with respect and purity of purpose.

I remember it like a little scar. I remember how much it made me despise Jimmy Carter. He was responsible (in my mind, at that time) for making the US seem weak. I talked tough about it with my friends; I think that deep down, many Americans wanted to wake up one morning and find out that all those hostages had been killed. It would have made us victims, given us the "right" to start shooting. And I can tell you, we wanted to start shooting. We wanted that so badly.

A Lot of Cooks in the Kitchen

Yesterday evening Bush addressed the nation, looking squarely into the camera, saying:

We will stay in the fight until the fight is won.

Bush thus might have thrown Cheney and Rumsfeld out of the kitchen for the moment by effectively taking charge, ignoring their timing estimates for extracting those nasty insurgent ingredients from the Iraq mix. But that didnâ??t stop others from passing the master chef hat around as they took turns looking straight into the camera, adding their two cents.

Senator Joe Biden certainly stirred the pot a few times. I saw him over at ABC, talking about a â??disconnect between rhetoric and reality.â? He said we should use benchmarks, even if Bush didnâ??t want deadlines. And what about sharing the burden? What about additional help from the rest of the world?

I surfed channels over to CNN and there was Biden again. Kerry showed up, too, with his suggestions for more specifics needed. It seems Bush was using a different recipe this time around -- the hotbed of terrorism. Weapons of mass destruction or democracy rationales were filed back into the cookbook for the time being. I have to admit that Bushâ??s reference to 9/11 was irritating and could have been left out of the mix.

Biden, however, did hope that Bush was successful in getting across the message that more time was necessary to get the job done. Of course, whether Bush has any intention of adding othersâ?? specific suggestions to the recipe remains to be seen.

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The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But...

In a few hours, President Bush will attempt to garner support for the Iraq War with a prime-time speech from Fort Bragg, N.C.

Marc Sandalow of the San Francisco Chronicle states:

Even as he tries to rally a nation increasingly skeptical about the war's progress, there is no signal from the White House that Bush plans to offer a new direction, acknowledge missteps or reach out to critics.

New direction? Iâ??m not sure what the old one is. I do see a lot of mixed messages.

How long will it take to defeat the insurgency in Iraq? Per ABC, â??The World Today,â? Iraqi Prime Minister, Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, now says two years for security to be restored. Donald Rumsfeld earlier suggested it could take up to a decade or more to control civil conflict, but he has since backed off from his earlier estimate. And, of course, last week, Dick Cheney predicted the insurgency was in its â??last throes.â?

Ibrahim Al-Jaafari also said that the insurgency could be ended in less than two years if security forces were developed and countries cooperated in controlling borders.

John Kerry agrees that security forces and controlling borders are important. In fact, heâ??s gone so far as to issue â??The Speech the President Should Giveâ? in todayâ??s New York Times. Kerry says:

The first thing he should do is tell the truth to the American people.

Now, that would be a showstopper.

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