Friday, April 30, 2004

Re: Thank God We Rescued the Iraqis...

President Bush has this to say today from his rose garden (see here [ABC News]):

A year ago, I did give a speech from the carrier saying that we have achieved an important objective, that we had accomplished a mission, which was the removal of Saddam Hussein. And as a result there are no longer torture chambers or rape rooms or mass graves in Iraq. As a result a friend of terror has been removed and now sits in a jail. I also said on that carrier that day that there was still difficult work ahead....

Of course, he must have meant no more torture chambers or rape rooms run by Saddam.

Thank God We Rescued the Iraqis...

...from Saddam's torture chambers. I mean, that way we can hook the electrodes to their testicles ourselves. Adnan Al-Pachachi comes to the US's defense, noting that while Saddam tortured and killed his prisoners, the US only tortures the prisoners, but doesn't kill them. Of course, judging by Tuesday's Afghanistan article, it's only a matter of time before we start killing them too.

Alright, so clearly it's disingenuous to suggest that this is in any way US policy. However, I think it's entirely appropriate to suggest that the US government has completely failed in their task of preparing soldiers for the work required of them. Since the close of the Cold War the US army has been mostly used for interventions and peace-keeping operations. And the likelihood that we'll engage in a large-scale conventional war anytime in the next decade or so is exceedingly slim. Yet the military has stubbornly refused to accept that peacekeeping is an important duty that is required of them. Instead of preparing for it, they whine and moan each time that their soldiers are not prepared for this and don't know what to do, and, boy, what difficult and compromising position we're putting them in. Oh, poor me. The Bush administration came in with the same mind-set, and in 2002 they shut down the Army War College's Peacekeeping Institute (which, of course, only had a budget of $200k and a staff of 10 people anyway). So every time that the military screws up in Iraq and we hear the familiar refrain they were trying to perform a job they were never trained for, let's keep in mind that this is only the case because both civilian and military leadership refuse to admit the by-now obvious reality that peacekeeping is a vital part of the military's mission.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

And these people are running our country...

You know, I may have gotten this Wolfowitz guy all wrong--he really does know his stuff. Not.

Better Them Than Us

I don't generally find George Will to be a terribly insightful writer, but he's got a column in the Washington Post today wherein he suggests that a Sunni-Shiite civil war wouldn't be a bad thing since it would get them shooting at each other instead of at us. Now that right there is a prize-winner of a statement. If you're trying to find it in the column, this is after he brands the UN as useless, but before he suggests that we provide the Shiites with an incentive to crush the Sunnis. Who gave this clown a column in the Post anyway?

Figuring Out the New Rules

Joseph Nye has YASPC (yet another soft power column) on CSM. He acknowledges that the US holds complete military dominance over the rest of the world, but questions how useful this is in the face of evolving threats. The 2002 National Security Strategy correctly analyzed the problem, but came up wanting on solutions. This is not a problem that hard power alone can solve. Like the democracy article, this is nothing new, but it is a point that desperately needs a wider audience.

Democracy Is Hard

CSM is running a story about a shift in public opinion regarding democracy in Latin America. Disappointed by decades of poor performance from their major parties many Latin American voters are electing populist outsiders, who unfortunately are also struggling to bring improvement. Democracy is a difficult form of government. We've discussed this here before, but it bears repeating. It becomes particularly difficult if you lack stable civic institutions, a substantial economic middle class, and sound economic policies. Latin American nations suffer on all accounts. Their experience has not been so different from those of other fledgling democracies in Africa and South-east Asia. Even the former Soviet states, which are relatively better off in those regards, have struggled with democracy. This is the backdrop in which the US invasion of Iraq needs to be considered. The idea that we could simply remove Saddam Hussein and then Iraq would transform into a shining beacon of freedom and democracy in the Middle East was absurd from day 1. I think people in the US are slowly beginning to realize this.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

A People's History of the War on Iraq--One Radical's View

See what Howard Zinn has to say about our current predicament in the June Progressive Magazine. Zinn will be speaking in Madison on May 8, for anyone who might be interested...

Bringing American Standards of Human Rights to Afghanistan

Last week the government of Afghanistan executed Abdulah Shah by firing squad, the first execution since the Taleban lost control of the country. I guess we bring these occupied countries up to speed on some things more quickly than others...

Monday, April 26, 2004

Who's Helping Who?

Howard Kurtz caught a bit of news in his column today that is an interesting cultural sign of the times. He considered how much effort NBC went through to cross -promote the Trump reality show. Kurtz gives the following examples:

Katie Couric chatted up Donald Trump on "Today," which also hosted 14 fired contestants and aired audition tapes. "Dateline NBC" devoted chunks of two programs to the reality show's finale, including behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the winner. Not to mention an MSNBC poll on who should win, CNBC's preemption of Monday night newscasts for "Apprentice" reruns, and segments on NBC cable shows "Deborah Norville Tonight," "Capital Report" and "Scarborough Country."

But in talking with some of the key people a different picture emerges:

"I appreciate the fear that we might be shilling for shows," the NBC News president [Neil Shapiro] says. But, he says, the Trump show doesn't need any ratings help, while NBC news shows got a big boost.

Shapiro went on to discuss the fact that NBC tried to get Survivor contestants on their shows as well, but was cut off by CBS, meanwhile NBC themselves restrict access to Apprentice people. It turns out that they're not using their news programs to pump the reality shows, but rather using the reality show segments to pump viewership of news programs. It's a sad world...

Democratic Reform in the Middle East Tarnished By US Support

This isn't a real shocker, but since it is relevant to a discussion Barry and I had over the weekend, I thought I'd post it. CSM is reporting that democratic reform in the Middle East may be set back by the Bush administration's strong support. According to the article "[h]ostility to the US in the region is so intense that the administration is finding that anything marked "made in USA," such as the reform plan, is not well received." They cite events in Fallujah, Najaf, and Bush's recent statements on Israel as key issues. CSM also quotes European diplomats worrying that American actions are hindering their ability to promote democracy through negative association.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Condi's Secret Fantasies

From this New York Metro story:
A pressing issue of dinner-party etiquette is vexing Washington, according to a story now making the D.C. rounds: How should you react when your guest, in this case national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice, makes a poignant faux pas? At a recent dinner party hosted by New York Times D.C. bureau chief Philip Taubman and his wife, Times reporter Felicity Barringer, and attended by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Maureen Dowd, Steven Weisman, and Elisabeth Bumiller, Rice was reportedly overheard saying, “As I was telling my husb—” and then stopping herself abruptly, before saying, “As I was telling President Bush.” Jaws dropped, but a guest says the slip by the unmarried politician, who spends weekends with the president and his wife, seemed more psychologically telling than incriminating. Nobody thinks Bush and Rice are actually an item. A National Security Council spokesman laughed and said, “No comment.”

The Washington Post is also covering the Freudian slip here.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Bush's Efforts to Redefine Sovereignty

Black's Law Dictionary defines sovereignty as follows:
(1) Supreme dominion, authority, or rule.
(2) The supreme political authority of an independent state.
(3) The state itself.

I am deeply troubled that on at least two instances, the Bush administration is misusing that term for political purposes. First, it maintains that although the United States has "complete jurisdiction and control" over Guantanamo Bay and retains the property for as long as it likes, Cuba retains "ultimate sovereignty" because a 1903 lease and a corresponding treaty between Cuba and the United States says so. But "sovereignty" used in that way simply has no meaning. Cuba has no legal authority over individuals at the base and cannot terminate the lease without the consent of the United States. And the lease restricts the use of the land for "coaling and naval stations only, and for no other purpose," but quite clearly we have been using the land for other purposes for some time (including as storage for Haitian refugees before using it as a prison camp) but Cuba cannot terminate the lease despite the United States' failure to comply with its provisions. Apparently, the only right that Cuba retains is to get the land back if the United States ever abandons it.

Second, the United States claims that it is transferring sovereignty to Iraq on June 30, but really it is not transferring "absolute political authority" or anything remotely close to it. According to this WP article, Marc Grossman, the Under-Secretary of State for political affairs, recently stated that the caretaker government to whom "sovereignty" will be transferred will have no law-making authority, and the United States military wil continue to exercise final authority over all troops stationed there, as well as the Iraqi army, police, and security forces. What, then, does sovereignty mean in that context? Mr. Grossman explains taht "in many, many, many other parts of Iraqi life, there will be a very important Iraqi face on an Iraqi government." (NYT and LAT also provide similar reports). An "Iraqi face" does not equal sovereignty, plain and simple.

The problem is more than a semantic one. It reflects a fundamental precept of American foreign policy. Specifically, the United States refuses to cede one inch of its own power to an international governing body because doing so would jeopardize American sovereignty, but when it comes to exerting authority over others, the U.S. strips all functional meaning from that term. That duality surely does not go unnoticed by the rest of the world, and compromises our standing and integrity. And in the context of Guantanamo Bay, it tears at the very fabric of our government. When our own government plays fast and loose with the concept of sovereignty, "we, the people" are at grave risk of losing the power that the Constitution grants to us.

Friday, April 23, 2004

E-ink product is launched in Japan

The New York Times has this coverage. I never wanted to be Japanese before now (even this didn't do it for me). But the chance to get my hands on one of those e-ink e-books, it would almost be worth giving up all the "God Bless America" goodness and liberties.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Update on the Alleged Misappropriation of $700M

The Center for American Progress has done some searching and its preliminary findings only raise more questions--but they are certainly questions for which the public (and Congress) should demand an explanation.

Apparently the money must have come either from the immediate post-9/11 funds (made available by HR 2888, passed 18 September 2001 and archived here) or from the emergency funds that Congress passed on 2 August 2002 (H.R. 4775, passed 2 August 2002). I have excerpted the relevant portion (the part dicussing military funding) from HR 4775 because the whole Act is quite long.

Scenario 1:
If Bush got the $700M from the emergency funds that Congress made immediately available after 9/11 (HR 2888), (1) the President was required to "consult with the chairmen and ranking minority members of the Committees on Appropriations prior to the transfer of these funds," and (2) the Office of Management and Budget was required to submit quarterly reports on the use of those funds.

As for the first requirement, Senator Robert Byrd--the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee at the time--recently stated:
To the best of my knowledge, and I was Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee at that time, the Bush White House provided no consultations as required by law about its use of funds for preparation for a war in Iraq in advance of those funds being spent. There is nothing contained in the Administration's quarterly reports indicating that projects were being funded to prepare for war with Iraq.

As far as those quarterly reports to Congress (requirement #2), the full reports covering the relevant timeframe can be found here (9 August 2002) and here (17 October 2002) [Whitehouse]. But rather than making you go through the whole document I have excerpted the pertinent page from each document (the one discussing military spending), which you can view here and here.

As the reports demonstrate, Bush didn't offer any specifics whatsoever. Instead, he grouped the military spending into broad categories like "Increased Situational Awareness" and "Improved Command and Control." Nowhere do the reports mention Iraq. Remember what the Constitution (Article I, Sec. 9, cl.7) requires: that "a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time." I don't know what these reports typically look like, but it hardly seems that the reports the OMB provided pass constitutional muster.

Scenario 2:
If Bush spent the money from the second appropriation of funds, well, an immediate problem presents itself--Woodward claims that the $700M was authorized to be spent in preparing for the Iraq invasion in July 2002, but that money was not even available until August of that year.

But even more problematic, the Act specifically provides:
That during the current fiscal year, upon a determination by the Secretary of Defense that funds previously made available to the ??Defense Emergency Response Fund?? are required to meet other essential operational or readiness requirements of the military services, the Secretary may transfer up to $275,000,000 of funds so required to the appropriate funds or appropriations of the Department of Defense, 15 days after notification to the congressional defense committees.

In other words, the amount available to the Department of Defense was limited to $275M (not $700M) and that money could only be transfered 15 days after some members of Congress were notified. Senator Byrd serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and never heard a thing about military spending for Iraq at that time.

So far, the news coverage on this issue has been sparse. The LA Times quotes a few Congressional representatives in this article--and they are obviously not too happy about the development. Professor Cass Sunstein, who I respect a great deal, gave his two cents on the matter here []. He states:
With the words 'promoting national security,'[the language from HR 2888] Congress cannot plausibly have meant to give the president a blank check to prepare for hostilities wherever he chooses.

What does the Bush administration have to say about all this? According to this Fox News story, General Tommy Franks sent the Pentagon a $700M "request for improvements" (whatever that means), but the Pentagon reviewed the request and funded only $178M, which went to "fuel and rations, improvements to military communications networks and improvements to Franks' headquarters in Florida." The DOD's full statement to the press can be found here. I don't understand why General Franks would be submitting budget requests to the Pentagon instead of Congress, like it's supposed to work, and it certainly doesn't fit the Pentagon's M.O. to turn down an opportunity to spend more money.

The official response, from Scott McClellan on Tuesday:
I think the Department of Defense briefed on that yesterday, and pointed out that that simply was not the case. Congress was kept informed and the funding, the emergency funding from the -- the emergency funding gave the Pentagon broad discretion in how funds were used. And they also pointed out that the funding specifically for Iraq came after the resolution that Congress passed. And Congress was kept fully informed of the funding.

It is a possibility that Woodward simply got bad information. But even if that were so, we are certainly entitled to a better explanation than what has been provided so far.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Another Take on the Outsourcing Debate

Robert Kuttner, the editor of The American Prospect, has this to say about outsourcing [Boston Globe].


The Detroit Free Press yesterday wrote that Honduras announced it plans to withdraw all its troops (370) "in the shortest time possible." Reuters reports here that both the Dominican Republic and Honduras are leaving in response to the spiraling violence and pressure from Spain. Said Honduras's Defense Minister Federico Breve: "I do not see any reason why relations between Honduras and the United States should deteriorate."

In completely unrelated news, Reuters noted here that President Bush appointed John Negroponte as future embassador to Iraq after the Coalition Provisional Authority hands off the baton on June 30 of this year. Wikipedia provides this biography and notes that from 1981 to 1985, he served as embassador to--of all places--Honduras. Some of Negroponte's critics (the Human Rights Watch, for instance) have accused him of ignoring human rights atrocities that were being committed by US-trained military (the Baltimore Sun ran this article back in 1995). Strangely enough, those allegations aren't contained in Negroponte's bio at the U.N. And I'm sure it is entirely coincidental that Honduras decided to withdraw its troops the day after Negroponte was appointed embassador.

Update: Here is what American Prospect's Matthew Yglesias has to say about Mr. Negroponte.

Pentagon Censors Woodward-Rumsfeld Transcript

Mike Allen from the WP writes that the Pentagon Deleted Rumsfeld's Comment to Woodward that Saudi Ambassador Bandar could "take it to the bank" that we were going to go to war. Specifically, Woodward's transcript reads:

[Rumsfeld:]I remember meeting with the vice president and I think Dick Myers and I met with a foreign dignitary at one point and looked him in the eye and said you can count on this. In other words, at some point we had had enough of a signal from the president that we were able to look a foreign dignitary in the eye and say you can take that to the bank this is going to happen.

You can read the entire deleted portion--complements of Woodward--here [WP]. What I can't figure out is why Bush is endorsing Woodward's book--does he (or Karl Rove) really think that people and the media will ignore what the book really says and accept instead however Bush characterizes it? People aren't THAT gullible are they?

Political Hot Potato

It has been known for some time that another major spending bill will be needed in Iraq and that the Bush administration is hoping to wait until after the election to deal with it. The Washington Post is reporting that US forces in Iraq may not be able to wait that long. They quote Republican vice-chair of the House Armed Services Committee Curt Weldon: "There needs to be a supplemental, whether it's a presidential election year or not. The support of our troops has to be the number one priority of this country... Somebody's got to get serious about this." Three ring political circus certain to ensue...

The Republican National Committee Takes Over the IRS & Treasury

John Marshall, the author of Talking Points Memo blog, cues his readers onto a gross abuse of taxpayer funds by the IRS.

Read the following paragraph that appears at the bottom of a US Treasury and IRS press release (dated April 9, 2004):

America has a choice: It can continue to grow the economy and create new jobs as the President's policies are doing; or it can raise taxes on American families and small businesses, hurting economic recovery and future job creation.

Now read this one, from a RNC factsheet (dated April 2, 2004):

America has a choice: It can continue to grow the economy and create new jobs as the President's polices are doing; or it can raise taxes on American families and small businesses, hurting economic recovery and future job creation.

NYT reports that the tax policy statement was included on four separate press releases that were issued that day. The Times also quotes Rob Nichols, a spokesperson for the Treasury department as saying:

Stating our position is appropriate ... . The administration's views on fiscal policy are that lower taxes have helped strengthen the economy and led to an environment of increased job creation.

Fox News reports that the Treasury Department's Inspector General is investigating the matter, along with the IRS's recent analysis of Kerry's tax proposals (you gotta read this IRS press release--it's unbelievable.)

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

Re: Fair at Work?

There is one point that I want to get out there before getting to the meat of your question: If individuals were afforded special consideration for family life, then it must apply equally to dads as it would to moms. I see no reason to favor women in that regard over men in similar circumstances. Indeed, providing unequal treatment in that regard would most likely be judged to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

As to whether the government should afford some special protection to parents in the workplace, I have two problems. First, the free market is generally a good thing and unless there is a demonstrated market failure, if workers provide valuable skills and demand greater flexibility in the workplace so that they can better balance a family, one could argue that the market would provide such opportunities. Second, there is the potential that government regulation along the lines that you propose would end up hurting those people who decide not to have kids and instead focus on work. I do not see any good reason why government should weigh in and favor parents over non-parents in the workplace.

That being said, I do think there is a market failure. Often, "non-traditional" workers are discriminated against in the workplace. And every workplace I have observed firsthand comes in the "one-size-fits-all" variety, although that size does not in fact fit all. Workers who propose nontraditional working arrangements are generally not well received, even though they may offer value to that employer and be tremendously happier as a result. So there is room for the government to step in and encourage innovation (tax incentives might be one way to approach the problem).

One difficulty that exists in encouraging flexibility is that it is really hard to measure the value of any given employee. Because workers cannot easily weed out the lazy workers from the really valuable employees, it is hard to create different working conditions to suit different workers. Another problem is that workers just do not have a lot of market power to demand changes. Realistically, a job applicant cannot sit down with a prospective employer and propose his or her own hours and workplace conditions. If the government were to step in, I suggest they do so in a way that gives workers more power to demand flexibility--but only to the extent that those changes would be a positive for the worker and offer greater profitability for the employer.

Re: Law Enforcement and Illegal Aliens (Part II)

I agree with Joe's contention that turning cops into INS agents will discourage the "invisible" illegal immigrants from seeking police protection, and that is a bad thing. But I place greater emphasis on the point that Joe only glosses over--how we should address illegal immigration in the first place. Enforcing immigration laws would not be so hard if we were serious about doing it. If the Government imposed strict penalties on anyone employing an illegal alien, then those seeking a better life in America simply would not find the better life they were looking for, and go home. But several industries are dependent on the low-wage labor that illegal immigrants provide, so the Government looks the other way.

Joe approaches the question from the perspective that illegal immigrants are here, and argues that we must find a way to deal with them until better immigration enforcement is put in place. From that standpoint, I agree that all individuals within our borders deserve certain rights and police protection is certainly a basic right. But what about education? And health care? I see those as tougher issues because people might cross into our country just to receive the basic entitlements afforded to everyone within our borders, even if they could not secure employment. So long as the grass is greener, people will come. So we would need to monitor our borders in conjunction with imposing strict penalties on employers of illegal immigrants if we are really serious about keeping those people out that we don't want here.

What I find missing in most discussions of illegal immigration is the point that our nation is made up of immigrants (mostly). We have wrongly turned our back on those seeking a better life, instead of trying to find ways to give them that better life. How do we accomplish that goal while maintaining a high quality of life for those of us already here? That to me is the real challenge.

Re: Law Enforcement and Illegal Aliens

First off I understand the term "the wall" in a far more limited way than discussed in the CSMonitor article to which you refer, as well as your discussion suggests. I want to turn to the issues that you raise about the need to separate immigration and criminal enforcement functions as a policy matter, but that is different than the issue raised by the 9/11 Commission (at least as I understand it). Before getting to your points, then, let me offer a few points on the current debate related to "the wall."

FISA and "The Wall"
As Commissioner Jamie Gorelick used the phrase in her WP commentary, and as Andrew McCarthy did in his criticism of Gorelick [National Review Online], (not to mention several.other.commentators on the same topic), "the wall" addresses the legal barrier that was built specifically in response to the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act ("FISA"). That Act permits intrusions into the liberty of "foreign powers" and agents of foreign powers under different rules than normally apply to searches and seizures.

A special appeals court (appointed specially for the purpose of evaluating issues arising under FISA) ruled that FISA was constitutional as applied to foreign powers and their agents even if the information obtained was used for criminal prosecution. Up until that ruling, some were concerned that the FISA procedures may suffice for purposes of obtaining foreign intelligence information but not sufficient for criminal prosecutions. Therefore, lawyers for the DOJ thought that the two functions needed to be separate--thus, a wall between the two functions was put in place.

Various groups, including the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation ("EFF"), raised constitutional challenges to the lowering of the wall between criminal functions and foreign intelligence-gathering. The thrust of their argument as I understand it was that the Fourth Amendment requires (1) probable cause, (2) reasonableness in relation to the stated purpose of the search or seizure, and (3) particularity of the place or person to be searched, and FISA as applied to criminal prosecutions does not meet those three requirements (see this FAQ from the EFF explaining the issues). The Court rejected that argument, finding that FISA procedures were constitutionally adequate.

My concern with the Court's ruling is that FISA now permits the government to intrude upon a non-citizen's liberty interests far too easily--under the rubric of national security. As long as the DOJ shows that foreign intelligence-gathering is a "significant purpose" of the search or seizure (rather than the "primary purpose"), a warrant will be issued under FISA. The government must meet a far greater burden to obtain a warrant under normal criminal investigations. That "burden" goes to the heart of the Fourth Amendment's protections. Yet some, like Andrew McCarthy, appear to view those protections as nothing more than a nuisance:

It is, of course, a reality that in the law-enforcement realm, because it is hopelessly lawyerized and hyper-vigilant about civil liberties, we actually are forced to worry about such things as the privacy rights of drug dealers. Thus, we do find ourselves litigating ad nauseam such commonsense matters as whether, just because you properly heard something, you should be allowed to use it to protect the public.

Where national security is at stake, McCarthy contends that we can entirely abandon all procedural protections because they are just "theoretical" concerns. I wholeheartedly disagree. The Fourth Amendment extends equally to all persons in the United States and although I recognize that genuine threats to national security deserve a different approach than a garden-variety criminal investigation, the government should not be able to dress up a criminal case in "national security" cloth to escape the procedural protections provided by the Fourth Amendment. Unfortunately, because our nation is so terrorized by terror, we allow that to happen with little or no scrutiny.

Call me a cynic if you must, but I believe that we all must scrutinize government conduct as closely and as often as possible or we risk losing the rights upon which our great country was founded. The FISA warrants provide an ideal illustration--in the roughly 25 years that the Act has been in place, the DOJ itself has documented 75 material misstatements made to the FISA court to obtain warrants under that Act (see Dahlia Lithwick's commentary [Slate] for more details). Before 2002, of the 10,000 applications for FISA warrants, not one request was turned down.

Surely we should not ignore the threat that terrorism poses to our personal security. But at the same time I hope we do not cease to fear tyranny.

Oral Arguments in Gitmo Case Available at C-SPAN

In a rather unusual move, the Supreme Court has released audio from today's oral arguments and may be accessed here [CSPAN]. The Court also plans to release the oral arguments on the case involving Cheney's refusal to hand over documents related to the task force to develop an energy policy (the case that gave rise to the ever-entertaining imbroglio of duck hunting) and the Hamdi-Padilla arguments (the US citizens detained as enemy combatants). Both cases go in front of the Supreme Court next week.


I Would like to hear your input on if working moms should get "special treatment" on scheduling, time off, and other family "excuses". Do you think other employees should get ahead on promotions since they put more hours or as some people put it "put all their heart" into work?

Law Enforcement and Illegal Aliens

A CSM editorial today praises work done to eliminate the wall, which they refer to as "old and needless", between law enforcement and immigration control. I can't say that I entirely agree with their sentiment. There is a reason for the wall, and not as CSM suggests, in order to prevent racial profiling. There are millions of illegal immigrants in the US, many of them living in relatively concentrated areas. Whether they should be here and how we should deal with them from an immigration standpoint is a good question, the answer to which we haven't quite figured out yet. But the point is they are here. Bringing local police into the immigration enforcement business means that none of these illegal immigrants will go to the police for help. And it's not secret that crime and exploitation flourish in situations where there no legal means to address them. This move will create communities rife with lawlessness, havens for criminals, sweatshops, drug traffickers, and possibly even terrorists. In my opinion local law enforcement should have an open door for illegal immigrants, no questions asked, so that they don't get shut out from these communities. Let the feds deal with immigration. If at some later date we are able to substantially reduce the number of illegals in the US, the wall may not need to exist, but while illegal aliens number somewhere over 10 million, for our own sake and theirs, we can't afford to cut them all off from the protection of law enforcement.

Pottery Barn Takes Issue With Powell's Statement--Considers Starting PB Anti-Defamation League

See this article, entitled "Powell's Potterygate Slip" [NY Daily News]. Pottery Barn spokesperson Leigh Oshirak clarifies that they really do not have a "you break it, you buy it" rule:

A good percentage of Pottery Barn's inventory is beds and other furniture, and we do sell ceramics, glassware, kitchenware and other things that are breakable. But if something breaks, that's the cost of doing business. We always put our customers first - that's part of our corporate values. If someone breaks a wine glass, for instance, our managers just mark it down as 'out of stock.' The customer isn't asked to pay for it.

In response to the State Department's statement that no aspersions toward Pottery Barn were intended, Oshirark stated: "Well, it's out there."

For some reason this story reminds me of an event a few months back where a lady got trampled at Wal-Mart trying to snatch a $29 DVD player. A Wal-Mart spokesperson later said they were disappointed that the stampede happened and hoped the woman returned to Wal-Mart as a shopper. They even offered to put a DVD player on hold for her while she recovered [see this BBC account]. Kinda makes you feel for these corporations, doesn't it?

Monday, April 19, 2004

Hurrah For TV-Turnoff Week

This week is the 10th annual National TV-Turnoff Week. CSM has a supportive editorial. Slashdot also discussed this event, and the response of slashdrones was overwhelmingly positive. Obviously much more needs to be done to combat the corrosive influence of TV-culture (as per our Bowling Alone discussions), but it's good to see the idea seems to be gaining momentum.

Iran and Sadr

CSM has a great writeup of Iran's intervention with Sadr. It's clear that the CPA was none too enthusiastic about Iran getting involved. That may have tied Iran's hands as far as working out a deal...

Gorelick's Defense, in Her Own Words

9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick has been taking some heat lately for her role in the Clinton administration, and she has this to say in her own response [WP].

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Woodward's book

There has been lots of talk over the weekend about Bob Woodward's new book, Plan of Attack. Several of the charges are sure to raise some concern over the coming week, but the one I find most troubling is the claim that President Bush diverted some funds that were allocated for the Afghanistan military efforts to start the build-up for an Iraq invasion in July 2002, unbeknownst to Congress.

I have been trying to research this point, but I have been unable to locate the specific appropriation that Woodward refers to. The Bush administration's early response is that the money was not tied down to specific activity (see this article discussing the Bush team's response to many of the charges) [USAT]. Also, see the transcript of Condi Rice's appearance on Face the Nation Sunday where she discusses the charges (thanks, Joe).

This is a most serious charge. Article II, Sec. 8 sub.7 provides:
No money shall be drawn from the treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

I imagine that members of Congress (particularly those with a "D" next to their name) will be screaming bloody murder about this over the course of the week. And as well they should. President Bush will have to provide a better answer than he has come up with so far.

The Wonders of Internet Culture

I have discovered (thanks to one of my forums) Japan's answer to badger badger badger. I can imagine no appropriate commentary to accompany that, aside maybe from WTF!?! I love the internet.

Friday, April 16, 2004

How to Discuss Iraq

This is my last one for today (probably).. The Washington Post today features a couple of columns about how Iraq is, or should be, discussed in the presidential campaign. In his column, Campaigning on Defeat, former Senator Fred Thompson, criticizes criticism of the war. He says that the president's opponents cheer for failures and celebrate setbacks. He claims that they feel that there is a "constituency to be won from failure abroad." He states that we're there now, so instead of repeating claims that the war was a mistake, critics have an obligation to explain how they will secure victory. At the end he over-extends his wrong, but not entirely outrageous argument, to say that not only is such criticism politically dishonest, but that it materially helps the terrorists to even suggest that management of Iraq should be led by the UN or international allies. Woah, Nelly.

So, there is a part of his criticism that is interesting. That is the idea that war critics celebrate defeat, and also that since the choice is long over with, we shouldn't waste time discussing whether the war was a good idea, but rather should focus on how to win it now. The first charge is a good one. It's a zinger, in many ways it rings true, and it certainly appeals to the picture that Bush-supporters like to paint of their opposition. But I, obviously, don't think it's true. What I do think is true is that critics, like myself, opposed the war because we thought it would be a disastrous policy; costly, complicated, difficult, and possibly doomed to ultimate failure. When things go wrong, there may be a small element of "I told you so", but there's a much larger element of "don't you get it yet!?" When I see some new catastrophe in Iraq, I often think, maybe this will finally be it, maybe we'll get a clue, change tack, and really try to fix this thing. So far, no luck. It's not about being glad things go wrong, it's about feeling a certainty that things will go very wrong and hoping that there will be enough early warning signs that we will change course in time to avert disaster. As to whether or not it is important to talk, so long after the fact, about the initial decision on the war, of course it is. In his approach to the war on Iraq, George W. Bush made the greatest US foreign policy blunder in my lifetime. How can that not be a relevant topic to discuss as we assess the President's performance during his reelection campaign?

The one point on which Thompson is tangentially correct is that it is important to discuss what should be our course of action now that we're stuck in Iraq. I don't think that this topic should be separated from the topic of whether the war should have been fought in the first place. The manner in which we launched this war is precisely what created the rather untenable situation in Iraq we now face. Because we went in under false pretenses, without a UN mandate, without a significant coalition, without Arab and Muslim support, we have a huge legitimacy crisis and carry the entire burden of Iraq on our unilateral shoulders. Now there are no good choices, only choices between bad and worse. That needs to be noted when discussing what to do now.

On the topic of what should be done now, Ivo Daalder of the Brookings Institution and Clinton national security adviser Anthony Lake have a Post column detailing their recommendations. Those are essentially as follows: Delay the handover of sovereignty until elections can be held. A turnover of power before that will be a sham and the Iraqis will see right through it. Increase the number of US troops in Iraq and use our renewed commitment to security in Iraq to convince our allies to also increase their forces in Iraq. And in the interim while we wait for elections and a new Iraqi government, form a true coalition governing authority that involves allied nations and puts a non-American at the helm. Great recommendations, all.

I like this Juan Cole Fellow

For the second time this week, I would like to refer y'all to Juan Cole's blog, Informed Comment. For a history professor, he sure has a good handle on current events. His most recent posts address the current derailing of the al-Sadr deal (in part due to the assassination of one of the Iranian diplomats), the duality of the Bush foreign policy, and the US abandoning all hope of being an honest broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is also worth reading Cole's comparison of Fallujah to Palestine that was published by (even though Salon makes you sit through a commercial to access the whole article. But I suppose I prefer that to Wall Street Journal's subscriber-only access). He argues that in a very strange way, Israel's conduct in Palestine has brought Shiite and Sunni forces in Iraq together like no one else has been able to accomplish. He contends that the recent uprisings in Fallujah and those of Sadr's forces were both in response to Israel's assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, and that Arab television is portraying the seige on Fallujah in much the same light as Israel's seige on the West Bank and Gaza.

Although I am not sure how far I would extend the comparison, I certainly think that neither Israel nor America can claim the moral highground in its recent military operations. The missile strike on the mosque in Fallujah last week has not gone over well in the Middle East (and I suspect that today's mosque-shelling [Melbourne Herald Sun] won't win over anyone either). And then of course there's America's Psych-Ops, like blaring insults over loudspeakers such as "you shoot like a goat-herder" [AP].

It is a big mistake to approach the security of Fallujah as Israel deals with Palestine, and we are both feeling the repurcutions of treating an occupied group as though they were less-than-human. Most importantly, however, I hope that comparison does not extend to mean that we should anticipate a long, drawn out battle that may determine the very survival of our nation.

No Longer An Honest Broker

There's plenty of coverage today of Bush's endorsement for Sharon's unilateral plans. While I personally have some serious questions as to whether the US has ever been an honest broker in the Israel/Palestine conflict, the consensus among commentators is that if we were an honest broker, we aren't any more. It's really somewhat amazing that the Bush administration would do this now, deliberately provoking arab and muslim outrage immediately after their overreach in attempting to simultaneously tackle Muqtada Al-Sadr and Fallujah. It has never been more clear that ideology trumps reality with this administration. How much gasoline do they want to pour on this fire?

Meanwhile Washington Post columnist David Ignatius begs the public to see past the attractive simplicity of Bush's policies to the nuanced reality on the ground. Good luck with that, Dave. You're gonna need it.

Speaking of "on the ground", Pakistan's Daily Times makes a good observation on the use of that phrase by George Bush (this was also excerpted by CSM). Bush claimed that he was agreeing to the permanent annexation of Israeli settlements, because of the "realities on the ground". The Times points out that if that is the basis for such decisions, if the Palestinians don't want to have to accept the permanent presence of these settlements, their only choice is to change the reality on the ground, ie, attack and destroy the settlements. Writes the editorial: "If there are indeed ‘realities on the ground’, which Israel has created through use of force, and if they are to be worked into an uneven agreement, then the Palestinians can argue that the only way to an honourable peace is for them to try and change the ground realities. And that can only happen on the ground. Corollary: more violence."

The Impact of Fallujah

While the fighting in Fallujah is not likely over, the effects of the battle are already being assessed. One of the goals for the US in Iraq was to create a sense of national unity between Sunnis and Shias. Well, mission accomplished. The two factions are now united in their desire to shed American blood. Moreover, CSM reports, that the strong US response in Fallujah has changed Iraqi perceptions of the US occupation, and not for the better. There is an eye-witness account of the fighting in Fallujah running on, and while I'm not sure how far to trust its veracity (the writer tends to have a strongly leftist perspective), it presents a powerful explanation for the Iraqi reaction against US actions there. But then, even if this account is exaggerated against the US forces, is it likely to be any different than the manner in which these events will be reported on Al-Jazeera? As of now, the US effort to pacify Fallujah is the defining event of the occupation of Iraq, and I suspect it will be some months before we fully realize the impact that it has had. If the coalition does not come up with some effective damage control for this situation it will be to our everlasting regret.

For A Better, More Honest Negative Ad Campaign

Here's some brilliant campaign season satire from The Onion. Instead of insulting and demeaning the voters by launching shallow attacks against one another, why not get right to the point and attack the voters themselves. A suggested Kerry ad says: "In the past four years, America's national debt has reached an all-time high. And who's responsible? You are. You're sitting there eating a big bowl of Fritos, watching TV, and getting fatter as the country goes to hell. You ought to be ashamed of yourself." Awesome. And how much would I give for copies of the pictured posters:

Thursday, April 15, 2004

G'bye, IGC. And Good Riddance!

UN Advisor Lakhdar Brahimi lays out his proposals (in a somewhat vague way) in this press release by the UN. The transcript of the news conference makes for better reading, as it lays down point by point the advisor's "preliminary observations." The most exciting point that I see is that Brahimi says let's be done with the Chalabi-led Iraqi Governing Council once and for all, and offer in its place a "caretaker government."

The most upsetting point as I see it is the dismissive way that the concept of "sovereignty" is being addressed. It is not, as Brahimi--and Bush, for that matter--suggest. If the transition is to have any merit, then real and not just symbolic power must be given back to Iraq. But that is unlikely, says Professor Joseph Nye--the soft-power guy. He was interviewed for this article in the LA Times last week, where he said that the June 30 transition "is mostly symbolic" and amounts to little more than changing the "Coalition Provisional Authority" headed by Bremer to "the United States Embassy" in Iraq, headed up by someone else (I heard talk it might be Wolfowitz. That would be real smart.).

Crap--Spoke Too Soon

I don't know whether this bit of news will necessarily unravel everything about the peace deal, but it may very well cause the Iranian delegation to withdraw. Just when things start looking up...

Can We Now Sigh In Relief?

I have to admit that I was worried there for a little while that we were going down a rabbit hole from which we could not crawl out. But it appears that the situation in Iraq is starting to stabilize, according to this post by Juan Cole, a professor at the University of Michigan. He reports that al-Zaman, an arabic newspaper, claims that al-Sadr and Coalition forces have struck a deal with the help of the moderate (but nationalist) Shiite group, Da'wa. The deal gives Sadr exile in Iran, at least until his trial is to begin in Najaf for the assassination charges. I will be interested to see how the US media portrays the deal.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Bringing Peace to the Middle-East

In a meeting with Israeli PM Ariel Sharon today, George Bush heartily endorsed Sharon's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, put on hold (according to Sharon) any possibility of a Palestinian state "for many years", ok'ed the permanent annexation of settlements by Israel and rejected outright the Palestinian right of return. All in a good day's work, I guess. Bush said these actions would lead to a "peaceful, democratic, viable Palestinian state." Obviously.

And the Palestinians? Ahmed Qurei remarked of the concessions, it "kills the rights of the Palestinian people" and "we cannot accept this under any circumstances". Yasser Arafat stated that the moves were "clearly the complete end of the peace process" and predicted new violence.

Here's the bonus prize as regards a peaceful resolution of the conflict: Ariel Sharon, who has proven a walking disaster where the peace process is concerned, has been in the political dumps lately, having largely failed to pacify the Palestinians, having presided over one of the worst economic downturns in Israeli history, and having recently been embroiled in a corruption scandal. However, this plan, which most critics believed needed Bush's support in order to go forward, may save his political bacon. Not only does this move completely derail the peace process, but it keeps Sharon in power to make sure it doesn't get back on track again.

Happy Birthday BWJ

Happy birthday to us! Boys Weekend Journal is one year old. We may not be ready for a Krugman-esque compilation book, but I think our experiment has proved a success. It has certainly been an entertaining diversion and a stimulating source of information and ideas for me. Here's to many years to follow.

And speaking of birthdays, I just put up a few pics from my birthday in Chicago last week. It's about 1.5mb in pics, so it may take a minute to load.

Monday, April 12, 2004

In Afghanistan

CSM is running a phenomenal column by Ryung Suh, a US Army surgeon serving in Afghanistan. The column discusses the thoughts and feelings of Mr. Suh and his companions on Afghanistan, their conflict, US tactics and motivations. Eloquent and insightful, this is the best bit of writing I have so far seen on the intervention in Afghanistan.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Elevating Trade Discussions

There's a very nice article in Foreign Policy Mag about How to Be a Free Trade Democrat. The author, former Clinton advisor Gene Sperling, critcizes the pandering vilification of trade by Democratic politcians and proposes some new approaches. I think he's pretty much on the money. The discussion should not be pro-trade vs anti-trade, but more a recognition of the impacts and ramifications of trade on the economy, and how to better deal with it. There is little to be gained by abandoning free trade, but we clearly could be doing a better job of reshaping our economy to take advantage of the opportunities of trade while not inflicting harsh penalties on those who bear the impact of the changing economy. Sperling's suggestions follow three main directives: 1) demonstrate the values of trade and how the US can use them to our advantage, 2) identify at-risk workers and industries, make efforts to shore them up against global competition, and where necessary provide a safety net to aid in the transition of workers to new jobs in new industries, and 3) recognize and promote the potential of trade to improve the economies of third world nations and reduce global poverty. These are all very good suggestions.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

Paying the Price for the Dollar

CSM is running a column that dismisses the frequently cited causes for rising oil prices (conflict in the Middle East, swelling demand, etc), and pins the blame on the falling dollar values. The authors point out that while the price of oil in dollars has risen 51% in the past two years, the price has only risen 4% in euros. They further tie the fall in the dollar to ruinous government budget deficits. While the popular political ploy is to blame rising prices on the greed of OPEC nations, it clearly would be worthwhile to consider the impact of our own budget decisions.

Going To Hell In A Handbasket

It's been a tough couple weeks for the coalition in Iraq. Today saw protests, riots, and gun battles across Baghdad, Ramadi, Falluja, Najaf, al-Shuala, Nasiriya, and Basra. Most of the recent trouble is coming from Shia groups who previously had not given the coalition much difficulty. Now Al-Qaeda has released a tape in which they threaten to assassinate US leaders in Iraq. Meanwhile Donald (the other "the Donald") Rumsfeld says that things are under control and we don't need more troops in Iraq. Maybe he's not reading the same news I'm reading...

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

So You're Saying There's a Chance...

Boston Globe's analysis on a McCain nomination can be found here.

Corporate Tax Evaders

CNN has this article reporting that more than 60% of U.S. Corporations did not pay any federal taxes from 1996 through 2000, according to a GAO report released April 2 (the report may be accessed here). The report studied the tax liabilities of both foreign and domestic corporations presumably to determine whether foreign corporations were evading their tax liabilities. The two most interesting factoids from the report: (1) fully 94% of all corporations reported tax liabilities of less than 5% of their total income, even though the federal tax rate is 35%; (2) there is nothing new about these numbers--corporations have long taken advantage of tax loopholes to escape paying.

In doing some quick research on the topic, I came across Warren Buffett's annual letter to his shareholders. In it, he has this to say on the topic:

Corporate income taxes in fiscal 2003 accounted for 7.4% of all federal tax receipts, down from a post-war peak of 32% in 1952. With one exception (1983), last year’s percentage is the lowest recorded since data was first published in 1934.

Even so, tax breaks for corporations (and their investors, particularly large ones) were a major part of the Administration’s 2002 and 2003 initiatives. If class warfare is being waged in America, my class is clearly winning. Today, many large corporations – run by CEOs whose fiddle-playing talents make your Chairman look like he is all thumbs – pay nothing close to the stated federal tax rate of 35%.

In 1985, Berkshire paid $132 million in federal income taxes, and all corporations paid $61 billion. The comparable amounts in 1995 were $286 million and $157 billion respectively. And, as mentioned, we will pay about $3.3 billion for 2003, a year when all corporations paid $132 billion. We hope our taxes continue to rise in the future – it will mean we are prospering – but we also hope that the rest of Corporate America antes up along with us.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Who is this Muqtada al-Sadr fella?

It seems the Bush administration is asking itself that very question right now. On Monday, the Bush administration declared that Sadr is an "outlaw" and announced that it now plans to arrest Sadr [WP] on a warrant it has been sitting on since last fall for allegedly conspiring to assassinate a rival Shiite cleric in April 2003. On Saturday, Coalition forces arrested one of Sadr's top aides, Mustafa Yaqoubi, in connection with the same crime. That arrest--in conjunction with the Coalition's decision to shut down Sadr's newspaper [BBC]--precipitated this weekend's violence, which some say is the worst Iraq has seen after Saddam's fall.

Asia Times reported over two weeks ago that Sadr had been warning armed resistence would soon begin. CBS News interviewed Sadr in October (here's the transcript), and they reported back then that Sadr was suspected of being a chief instigator in much of the violent resistence.

The BBC reports that Sadr has a relatively small following among Shiite Muslims in Iraq (ABC News agrees), but that of course may change depending on the Coalition response to the recent uprising. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has apparently been trying to broker peace [Reuters], but Sadr has apparently rejected Sistani's plea, and has chosen instead to continue his campaign of armed resistance. He is currently holed up in one of Iraq's holiest shrines.

The Council on Foreign Relations provides an excellent background on Sadr (his dad, the Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, was the most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq until Saddam executed him in the late 90's) and describes the events leading up to the recent Shiite unrest. Keep in mind that these events must be viewed as distinct from the goings-on in Sunni-controlled Fallujah, although one can imagine both groups are seeking to take advantage of the overall instability in Iraq.

We now find ourselves in the most delicate position we have been in since invading Iraq, and I fear that the Bush administration is not capable of handling the situation properly. Pulling out now would only create an ideal environment to cultivate terrorists and the ideology that drives them (although the support for keeping the troops in Iraq is definitely waning [Pew]). The best game plan I can think of is to throw support behind Sistani, who seems genuinely interested in promoting the peace (although that is highly unlikely, because Sistani has been very critical of the Coalition's plans for transitioning out of Iraq [FT]) and encourage a more active involvement by the UN. Moreover, it seems utterly ridiculous that Bush insists on sticking with the original June 30 transition date [Reuters], particularly when Senators in the President's own party are calling for more troops to stabilize the situation.

Spain Battles Terrorism

In a bizarre twist of events, the Spanish authorities are aggressively pursuing a group of terrorists to whom, according to most of the US press, Spain surrendered only a few weeks ago. It is believed that the ring-leaders of the 3/11 attack blew themselves up when their appartment was raided by Spanish police. Spain has already apprehended and charged 15 conspirators in the attack, and continue to pursue others. Meanwhile, the dirty French surrender-monkeys have put down their white flag long enough to arrest 13 suspects for a May 2003 bombing in Casablanca. What, you mean there's more to fighting terrorism than invading 3rd world countries?

Sharon: No More Mister Nice Guy

After apparently deciding that he has been entirely too kindly and generous with the Palestinians in previous years, Ariel Sharon said in an interview that under his unilateral plan "there is no Palestinian state", adding that he is well within his rights to kill Yassir Arafat whenever he damned well pleased. He calls his plan "tough on the Palestinians. A mortal blow." Uhh, yeah...

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Brazil--The Next Member of the "Axis of Evil"?

The Washington Post breaks this story discussing Brazil's refusal to allow IAEA inspectors into uranium enrichment facilities in that country. As the WP reporter observes, Brazil's conduct "poses a conundrum for President Bush, who has called for tighter restrictions on the enrichment of uranium, even for nuclear power, as part of a new strategy to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons." The story also hints that Brazil might have some connection with A.Q. Khan's black market.

I wonder how the Bush administration will respond. If Bush and the UN treat Brazil differently than Iran and North Korea, those "rogue nations" will have good reason to argue that a double-standard exists. If Bush responds with threats, Brazil may very well brush them off, knowing that the United States is already spread too thin to do anything (and who among Americans would support a war against Brazil anyway?) and everyone knows that the U.N. has no teeth of its own.

Of course, one must not forget where Brazil stands on the war in Iraq--it is not among the coalition partners (see relatively current list here), and that factor alone puts them in the "against us" camp. There are several interesting dynamics at work and I for one am interested to see what unfolds.

Update: Apparently covert operations against Brazil have already begun--see this CNN report for more details.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Combatting Insurgencies

At least some of our military people are ready to take a long look at the unconventional tactics used by our enemies in Iraq and elsewhere. From day one of the terror conflict, the administration and their political allies have heavily promoted a sentiment that making an effort to understand the motives and tactics of our opponents is somehow akin to admitting defeat or appeasing the enemy. I see it as an absolute necessity if any positive results are to come of our efforts.

The Return of Beatallica

You guys may or may not remember, back in the pre-BWJournal days, I sent an email about Beatallica, Beatles-Metallica cover band extraordinaire. Well, they're back!! Beatallica has a new self-titled release! As always, available in whole as a free download. The new release features such hit tracks as "Blackened the USSR", "Hey Dude", and, my favorite, "I Want to Choke Your Band". Kick ass.