Saturday, March 01, 2003

A PLATE OF REVENGE, SERVED COLD -- Former Conservative MP and current political columnist for The Observer, Michael Portillo writes that even if the invasion and occupation of Iraq goes well, the sizable anti-war caucus in the Labour Party will never forgive Prime Minister Tony Blair for taking Britain into this Iraq War. Mr Portillo has an ax to grind here, mostly against the Labour Party, but also against Mr Blair, though to a lesser extent. Nevertheless, I think Mr Portillo is on to something here. The coup de grace for British Prime Ministers is usually given not by the voters but by the party leader's own henchmen. Sort of like Roman emperors during the Empire. If the war and occupation go well, Mr Blair will be a demigod in Britain--for a time. But his own anti-war Labour MPs will nurse their grievances bitterly and leap at the chance to dump Mr Blair the first chance they get. Most likely, it will be over some economic trouble.
JUST ANOTHER DUMB ACTOR -- Right here you can have a look at ex-Senator Fred Thompson's pro-war television ad now showing in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. In the ad, Mr Thompson, who has returned to acting, asks rhetorically: "What had the 9/11 hijackers done to use before 9/11?" This is intended to be a reply to those who oppose the Iraq War by pointing out that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and wonder what the country has done to us to deserve invasion. According to Mr Thompson, Iraq hasn't done anything to us, but they might one day, so we better attack them right now--just to be on the safe side.

Gee, when you look at it that way, the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor wasn't so bad after all. I wonder what all the fuss was about.

U.S. Diplomat John Brady Kiesling
Letter of Resignation, to:
Secretary of State Colin L. Powell
ATHENS | Thursday 27 February 2003

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing you to submit my resignation from the Foreign Service of the United States and from my position as Political Counselor in U.S. Embassy Athens, effective March 7. I do so with a heavy heart. The baggage of my upbringing included a felt obligation to give something back to my country. Service as a U.S. diplomat was a dream job. I was paid to understand foreign languages and cultures, to seek out diplomats, politicians, scholars and journalists, and to persuade them that U.S. interests and theirs fundamentally coincided. My faith in my country and its values was the most powerful weapon in my diplomatic arsenal.

It is inevitable that during twenty years with the State Department I would become more sophisticated and cynical about the narrow and selfish bureaucratic motives that sometimes shaped our policies. Human nature is what it is, and I was rewarded and promoted for understanding human nature. But until this Administration it had been possible to believe that by upholding the policies of my president I was also upholding the interests of the American people and the world. I believe it no longer.

The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.

The sacrifice of global interests to domestic politics and to bureaucratic self-interest is nothing new, and it is certainly not a uniquely American problem. Still, we have not seen such systematic distortion of intelligence, such systematic manipulation of American opinion, since the war in Vietnam. The September 11 tragedy left us stronger than before, rallying around us a vast international coalition to cooperate for the first time in a systematic way against the threat of terrorism. But rather than take credit for those successes and build on them, this Administration has chosen to make terrorism a domestic political tool, enlisting a scattered and largely defeated Al Qaeda as its bureaucratic ally. We spread disproportionate terror and confusion in the public mind, arbitrarily linking the unrelated problems of terrorism and Iraq. The result, and perhaps the motive, is to justify a vast misallocation of shrinking public wealth to the military and to weaken the safeguards that protect American citizens from the heavy hand of government. September 11 did not do as much damage to the fabric of American society as we seem determined to do to ourselves. Is the Russia of the late Romanovs really our model, a selfish, superstitious empire thrashing toward self-destruction in the name of a doomed status quo?

We should ask ourselves why we have failed to persuade more of the world that a war with Iraq is necessary. We have over the past two years done too much to assert to our world partners that narrow and mercenary U.S. interests override the cherished values of our partners. Even where our aims were not in question, our consistency is at issue. The model of Afghanistan is little comfort to allies wondering on what basis we plan to rebuild the Middle East, and in whose image and interests. Have we indeed become blind, as Russia is blind in Chechnya, as Israel is blind in the Occupied Territories, to our own advice, that overwhelming military power is not the answer to terrorism? After the shambles of post-war Iraq joins the shambles in Grozny and Ramallah, it will be a brave foreigner who forms ranks with Micronesia to follow where we lead.

We have a coalition still, a good one. The loyalty of many of our friends is impressive, a tribute to American moral capital built up over a century. But our closest allies are persuaded less that war is justified than that it would be perilous to allow the U.S. to drift into complete solipsism. Loyalty should be reciprocal. Why does our President condone the swaggering and contemptuous approach to our friends and allies this Administration is fostering, including among its most senior officials. Has "oderint dum metuant" really become our motto?

I urge you to listen to America's friends around the world. Even here in Greece, purported hotbed of European anti-Americanism, we have more and closer friends than the American newspaper reader can possibly imagine. Even when they complain about American arrogance, Greeks know that the world is a difficult and dangerous place, and they want a strong international system, with the U.S. and E.U. in close partnership. When our friends are afraid of us rather than for us, it is time to worry. And now they are afraid. Who will tell them convincingly that the United States is as it was, a beacon of liberty, security, and justice for the planet?

Mr. Secretary, I have enormous respect for your character and ability. You have preserved more international credibility for us than our policy deserves, and salvaged something positive from the excesses of an ideological and self-serving Administration. But your loyalty to the President goes too far. We are straining beyond its limits an international system we built with such toil and treasure, a web of laws, treaties, organizations, and shared values that sets limits on our foes far more effectively than it ever constrained America's ability to defend its interests.

I am resigning because I have tried and failed to reconcile my conscience with my ability to represent the current U.S. Administration. I have confidence that our democratic process is ultimately self-correcting, and hope that in a small way I can contribute from outside to shaping policies that better serve the security and prosperity of the American people and the world we share.
TENNESSEANS VOLUNTEER TO ACT LIKE IDIOTS -- Instapundit drew my attention to this story about a few French-hating chimps in his home state taking a sledgehammer to a Peugeot. Why? Because the French have refused to happily subordinate their foreign policy to a handful of neocon chickenhawks in the right-wing media and the Pentagon.

The organizer of this charming little party is, naturally, a radio talk show host. Mr Steve Gill wiped the drool from his mouth long enough to utter this reasoning: ''What does bashing a Peugeot have to do with peace?'' said Steve Gill, rhetorically. ''Nothing. But most of the peace rallies have nothing to do with peace either. They're just attacking America. By calling our rally this, we just wanted to underline that point.''

Criticizing the admin's foreign and defense policies is tantamount to 'attacking America'? I'm willing to bet this slavering caveman didn't equate opposition to treason when the Republicans were bashing President Clinton for halting genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Funny that.

Friday, February 28, 2003

FUNNIEST NEOCON IDEA YET: U.S.-LATVIA PACT OF STEEL! -- Charles Krauthammer and Vodkapundit have been doing a little thinking about re-ordering America's post-Cold War alliance system and the results are rather entertaining. Vodkapundit sums it up right here.

Let's stop and consider the countries Mr Krauthammer and Vodkapundit would have as our new allies. Lithuania. Bulgaria. India. Britain, Israel, Australia, Turkey. Lithuania and Bulgaria are small and relatively poor. They have little incentive or inclination to devote precious resources to military spending. With all due respect to those countries and their fine inhabitants, Bulgaria and Lithuania are not allies, they're friendly parasites. They're parasites we can happily afford to carry, but counting on them to help us maintain Mr Bush's New American Empire is rather like counting on Pee Wee Herman to back you up in a bar fight with the Hell's Angels. You picked the wrong team for that tangle, partner.

I favor a much closer relationship with India for various reasons, but with a nuclear-armed and hostile Pakistan on one side and a nuclear-armed and hostile China on the other, India is understandably preoccupied with the security in its own backyard. It's pretty difficult to see New Delhi spending its time and money guaranteeing the security of Israel or the Persian Gulf. Or even the Korean peninsula, for that matter. If we need help keeping the Maldives in line, though, I'm pretty sure we'll be able to count on India.

We're already allied with Britain and Australia, so what possible use would a new alliance with them serve? The Aussies are such loyal allies, they followed us into Vietnam for a time. Even the Brits were not stupid enough to fall for that one. Then there is Turkey. We're also allied with them. In fact, the alliance with Turkey pre-dates even NATO so why do we need a new alliance with them? And even if we did, I'm not sure we could afford it. As we've seen recently, the Turks drive a pretty hard bargain for their favors. Ankara may be an old whore when it comes to war, but at least she is not a cheap one.

Le'ts not forget Japan. Despite its decade-long recession, Japan--unlike many other countries listed--does have the money to defend itself and even project power. However, that's about all they've got. Japan is simply disinclined to be part of the aggressive military alliance Mr Krauthammer and Vodkapundit envision. Even with North Korea flinging missiles over the Sea of Japan, Tokyo cannot get its act together to establish some order in northeast Asia. In fact, Japan does not want to get its act together for such things and even if it did, the Chinese and South Koreans would look more than a little askance at such development. Besides, Japan's population is aging so rapidly that in a few years they'll be able to do little more than send wave upon wave of crutch-wielding geriatrics at the enemy.

That leaves...Israel. We're also already allied with them already. The Israelis enjoy a close relationship with Turkey, but that's about as far as it goes. None of our allies in Old or New Europe or anywhere else understand or sympathize with our relationship to Israel. The Brits don't see it our way with Israel. Neither does India. It is unclear if the Japanese would fight for anything or anyone, but if they did, I'm pretty sure it wouldn't be Israel. The fact is, the only country on Earth that approves of our Israeli policy is Israel. That makes for a pretty close bilateral relationship, but it isn't much of a foundation to build a world-wide Alliance of the Willing and the Purchased.

I think this agonizingly long pregnant pause before war is getting to these neocons. The increasing eccentricities of their empire fantasies are exceeded only by the hysteria of their attacks on our true allies in 'Old' Europe.

There is a reason the United States chose the allies it now has. These are the countries that are most like us and that share most of our values. I didn't write that Germany and Italy and France necessarily share the values of the Bush admin, but they do share the values of most Americans. These countries were our most likely allies 50 years ago and the passage of time has done nothing to change that.

P.S. Thanks to CalPundit for alerting me to this hilarious subject in the first place.
THAT WAS THEN, THIS IS NOW -- The estimable Doxagora has a good piece about judicial confirmations, the Constitution, and conservative columnist George Will. Doxagora is quite correct to dismiss Will's assertion that the Democratic (or Republican, for that matter) filibusters to prevent confirmation of judicial appointments made by the president amount to some sort of Constitutional coup by the legislative branch. Senate rules permit the use of filibusters and such maneuvers are completely Constitutional--however aggravating they might be at times.

What's more, the equally estimable Atrios has discovered how the outraged Mr Will has been on the other side of this issue. Since I know it is too much to demand some sort of intellectual consistency from Mr Will, I won't pretend to be insulted by his about-face.

However perfectly legal and constitutional it may be to use filibusters to block judicial confirmations, I must confess it makes me uneasy. This is the sort of thing the Republicans can--and will--duplicate when the political worm has turned. (No doubt the aforementioned conservative columnist will have yet another change of mind when that day comes.) This must be balanced, I confess, against my lack of regard for certain judicial nominees--like Mr Estrada--who pretend to have no ideas whatsoever about important areas of law until after being confirmed.

Hopefully, this entire affair will convince Mr Bush and future occupants of the White House to choose less polarizing judicial nominees and cease treating the third branch of government like any other political spoil. That would be nice. I won't hold my breath.

(By the way, this is the third consecutive day Doxagora has blogged and we consider that a major improvement. Apparently, this guy has some sort of life outside of blogging and work. I know many will not approve of this, but with the Constitution being what it is, there is little to be done about it. For now.)
RUN, WESLEY, RUN -- The American Prospect has another terrific article online, this one a profile of retired General Wesley Clark. The former Supreme Allied Commander for NATO has strongly hinted he will seek the Democratic nomination for president and his prospective candidacy has the political classes all atwitter. I'm a big Wesley Clark fan, as the title of this post indicates, and I hope he will seek the Democatic nomination. I think he will be a strong candidate and the more strong candidates there are, the better the eventual nominee will be, I believe. Although I am supporting Senator John Kerry (D-MA) for the Democratic nomination, I would love to see General Clark or New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson as the running mate. At the very least, General Clark should be Secretary of State or National Security Advisor in a Democratic administration.

General Clark has thought seriously about the proper foreign and defense policies for the United States, which makes him a rarity in the Democratic party. The party needs more people like Clark, who recognize that foreign and defense policy matter and Democrats face a serious disadvantage when they--as they do now--cede these issues to the Republicans. In a time of war, moreover, foreign and defense policy trumps everything else and the public's preference for liberal policy solutions to education, the deficit, and the environment will avail the Democrats little, as they should have learned this past November.

To learn more about General Clark's vision of muscular American internationalism, have a look at this article he wrote for The Washington Monthly. It's a well-written and well-conceived blueprint for how the United States should engage the world and safeguard its interests, while engendering goodwill for itself around the globe. General Clark is a serious man who should be a serious candidate.
MORE GOOD OL' BOYS FOR AUGUSTA NATIONAL -- The latest news in the absurd saga that is the Augusta National Golf Club is that members of the Ku Klux Klan have petitioned for the right to demonstrate outside the Georgia club during the The Masters tournament. As most of you already know, Augusta National has faced growing criticism and boycotts from feminist organizations and other liberal groups for its policy of not admitting any women as members. It was only in the late 1980s that the club began admitting African-Americans. Martha Burk, chairwoman of the National Council of Women's Organizations, has been in the forefront of criticism of Augusta National and she says her group intends to picket the club during The Masters in April.

My own view of this is rather jaded. Certainly, I think any organization like Augusta National which refuses to admit women is silly and sexist. It ought to admit women on an equal basis. But why should I get worked up about it? What does this dispute have to do with the 150 million women in this country or the nearly three billion women worldwide? Very little--and nothing for most of them. Augusta National is open to men, but not just any men. Only stinking rich men with the right connections get into Augusta National. When the club, as it inevitably will, opens to women, it will only accept stinking rich women with the right connections. The first few women admitted will almost certainly be the trophy wives of existing male club members. Ms Burk says this will be progress. I suppose so, but it is hardly the sort of progress that excites me.

How will getting a few stinking rich women with the right connections into Augusta National improve the lives of the rest of the women in this country? Answer: It won't. This has nothing to do with quality child care. Nothing to do with reproductive rights. Nothing to do with universal health coverage. Nothing to do with eliminating sexual assault or discrimination in the workplace. Nothing to do with smashing the glass ceiling--unless you think Augusta represents the glass ceiling for that .000000001 percent of American women that will be accepted into the club.

I'm not suggesting this battle shouldn't be fought. I'm just saying this battle isn't terribly important in the greater scheme of things and has received far too much media attention. Far more attention than it deserves. When I get the news that Augusta National has finally yielded to the historical inevitability I will take note of this news and get on with my day. It won't affect me--or anyone I know.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

OOPS! ASCHCROFT TRIPS UP THE AMERICAN PROSPECT -- "The constant and continuous evaluation of the factors that go into the development of threat level have not changed in a way significant enough for the threat level to be changed," said Attorney General John Ashcroft about the color-coded threat level the admin has dumped on the nation. Unfortunately, Mary Lynn F. Jones took Mr Ashcroft seriously in this column for The American Prospect, which is otherwise one of my favorite magazines. "[W]e are now looking at spending the majority of our lives at orange," wrote Jones. Two days later, the Bush admin lowered the threat level from orange to yellow.

Let that be a lesson to all journalists who consider relying on the good word of John Ashcroft.
IRAQ WAR CLAIMS FIRST VICTIM: PHIL DONAHUE -- (via Tapped.) I've never been a big fan of Phil Donahue and I almost never watched his boring show on the boring MSNBC cable television network. So when I heard that Donahue had been cancelled I didn't think much about it. I chalked it up to poor ratings caused by the inability of left-wing shows to appeal to what is mostly a right-wing audience for cable tv chat shows. However, it seems there is more to this story than meets the eye.

The website AllYourTV has a story claiming that Donahue was fired because his anti-war views might hurt MSNBC after the Iraq War has begun. A study commissioned by MSNBC execs as a guide to future programming covered the entire network, but 'the harshest criticism was leveled at Donahue, whom the authors of the study described as "a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace."

'The study went on to claim that Donahue presented a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war......He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives." The report went on to outline a possible nightmare scenario where the show becomes "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."'

What makes this report even more damning is the fact that at the time of its cancellation the Donahue show was the highest-rated program on MSNBC.

So much for the liberal media, eh?
BUSH STIFFS FIREFIGHTERS -- Your average warblogger probably won't write much about this, but the International Association of Fire Fighters is harshly critical of the Bush admin's underfunding of first responders to terror attacks. According to a statement from the fire fighters association: "We have serious concerns about the $3.5 billion proposed for first responders in the administration's FY 2004 budget. The administration's latest budget is lacking in detail and we fear much of the funding is nothing more than a reshuffling of chairs on the deck.

"For example, the administration's proposed funding for the FY 2004 FIRE Act grants that go directly to fire departments for training, equipment, and safety programs is actually a 33 percent cut from the FY 2003 funding that was just approved by Congress this week.

"Even the administration's definition of first responders is questionable. Most of us would agree that our first responders are fire fighters, paramedics, and law enforcement personnel. Yet, as best as we can tell, the federal government has lumped veterinarians, utility workers, and many other worker groups under the umbrella of first responders.

"With two-thirds of the nation's fire departments operating under-staffed - with fewer fire fighters than recommended by the international standard -- one would think the budget would contain federal funds to help cities hire more firefighters. But it contains no money for additional firefighters. Instead, it eliminates a similar program that helps communities hire more police officers. Meanwhile, as much as 10 percent of our nation's fire fighters are reservists and guardsmen who are already on the ground in Afghanistan and the Middle East or are waiting to be called up. They are proud to serve their nation - and my union is proud of them -- but their absence will put even further pressure on already under-staffed fire departments..."

"We wouldn't send our military into war without the proper equipment, the proper training, and the necessary number of soldiers to do their job. But that is exactly what our nation's first responders are being asked to do in the war on terrorism here at home."

THIS WILL COME BACK TO HAUNT US -- According to The New York Times, "Zalmay Khalilzad, President Bush's envoy to the Iraqi opposition, told the more than 50-member advisory committee of the Iraqi National Congress that the "Iraqi people should govern their own affairs as soon as possible." He told delegates privately that the transition to a democratic Iraqi rule could start within two months of the end of a war." This, of course, is in marked contrast to what the White House has told Congress and what they've leaked to U.S. newspapers. In those scenarios, there is no timetable for democracy in Iraq and U.S. occupation of the country is envisioned as lasting for years, with all real power concentrated in the hands of an American military governor--General Tommy Franks--and his civilian advisors.

What is going to happen two months after Saddam Hussein has been routed out of Baghdad, when the Iraqis demand that the U.S. make good on its promises--promises the administration has no intention of keeping? How are they going to react? They'll probably be just as angry as the Shiites were in southern Iraq 12 years ago after the first President Bush urged them to revolt against Saddam and then left them to be exterminated by the Baath party security forces. Unlike those Shiites, however, the Iraqi opposition leaders will be in a position to make our lives miserable because they won't have Saddam to deal with.

Meanwhile, Kurdish Iraqis are fearful at what secret deals the Bush admin has negotiated with Turkey in return for that country's support in the Iraq War. Iraqi Kurds loathe the Turkish government and suspect once Turkish soldiers cross into northern Iraq they will never leave. Turkey has a history of sending troops into northern Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish rebels who seek the creation of a Kurdish homeland or independent state. As you will note from clicking on the link to the story in The Times, Kurdish demonstrators are burning Turkish flags. If the Bush admin has sold out the Kurds to the Turks, the next flags the Kurds will be burning will bear the stars and stripes. My prediction: Before all this is over, both the Kurds and the Turks will be furious with the Bush admin for double-dealing.

What the Bush admin doesn't seem to understand is that you can lie like this to the American people. Whether talking about the deficit or the environment, the Bush admin is now famous for saying one thing and then doing completely the opposite. We're used to it from the Bush admin and many Americans actually seem to appreciate the breathtaking mendacity of our current government. Foreigners, as we have seen, do not. The Iraqis will react with a rage this is as understandable as it is predictable. And how will we handle this? We know what Saddam would do: He'd have them all shot, chopped into pieces, and the pieces mailed to the closest living relatives (if any). What will we do? How does the Bush admin plan to handle to discontent with American rule that now seems more and more likely once our true ambitions become apparent to even the most optimistic Iraqis?

The war party in America has no answer to these questions. They just tell us to shut our eyes and wish for the best. After all, that's what they're doing.
PROTEST AGAINST 'SEXIST' REALITY -- Spanish feminists have protested that a print ad by Spain's tourist board showing a topless woman from behind with a thong tan line is 'sexist' and the government has withdrawn the ad.

As it happens, however, tourism is Spain's #1 business and although I'm sure some people come to the country to take in Spain's magnficent Moorish architecture and stroll through its many museums, it is a fair bet that many foreigns (including all Brits) come for some combination of sun, sand, and sex. The tourist board's ad seems to reflect that reality--a reality Spanish feminist groups would rather not acknowledge.

By the way, a similar ad featuring a man was also produced, but Spanish feminist groups had no comment on it. Hmmm.

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

U.S. COULD FACE RELIGIOUS WAR IN IRAQ -- According to the head of the largest Shiite Iraqi opposition group, the U.S. could face a 'religious war' if it occupies Iraq. Big surprise, you say? Well, this fellow is one of our guys, a Shiite cleric with a long history of opposition to Saddam Hussein. As a senior cleric among Iraq's largest population, Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim is in a position to speak for millions of people when he says that a U.S. occupation of Iraq would be "against the idea of democracy," which the Ayatollah says Iraqi opposition groups can create themselves.

Meanwhile, the Bush admin is planning a military occupation of Iraq to last several years at the very least, with all real power concentrated in the hands of American officials.

Yeah, this is going to work out just fine.
HOW MUCH IS THIS GODDAMNED WAR GOING TO COST US? -- Previous assertions from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld that the Iraq War could be fought for less than $50 billion turn out, naturally to be lies, more lies, and damn statistics. Now, the Pentagon is telling Capitol Hill that the Iraq War will cost more like double that amount--roughly $100 billion. Of course, that's based on nothing more than guesswork and probably not even honest guesswork, at that. My general rule with the Pentagon is to take the highest estimate they give you, double it, and that's probably fairly close to the true cost of any operation or weapons system.

This is a subject the White House has been loathe to discuss, even privately. According to one State Department official, when the cost of the war was discussed during recent interagency meetings, White House budget aides "put their hands over their ears and said, " 'We're not listening.' " These are the people running our country.

"These are considerably higher numbers than what people had been anticipating," said Steven Kosiak, a veteran defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington think tank.

"They suggest that either the size of the force [the U.S. expects to field] is going to be bigger, or the length of the conflict is going longer" than predicted, he said.

"Logistically, this is going to make marking up a 2004 budget harder," said a veteran congressional staffer. "It's going to make selling the president's [tax cut] package a lot harder."

What's ironic about all this is that last year Larrry Lindsey, then Treasurey Secretary, said the Iraq War would cost $100-$200 billion. The White House quickly contradicted Mr Lindsey and he was fired earlier this year, in part, for his outspokenness on this issue. Just another person screwed over by the Bush administration for telling the truth.

Don't forget--none of this includes the cost of occupying Iraq for several years at a minimum. The Pentagon is now talking about needing several hundred thousands troops to occupy Iraq after the war is over. Keeping several hundred thousand troops in a foreign country thousands of miles from home is incredibly expensive and will certainly drive the cost of the entire operation far higher.

Meanwhile, the Bush admin is still demanding $1.4 trillion in tax cuts over the next ten years--on top of the $1.3 trillion in tax cuts passed in 2001. Once again, these are the people running our country.
SURPRISE, SURPRISE: SUPREME COURT GETS ONE RIGHT -- By an 8-1 decision (Stevens as the lone dissenter), the Supreme Court wisely ruled that racketeering and extortion laws cannot be used to prosecute protestors outside abortion clincs. I first came across this issue in law school. I found the previous rulings on the matter problematic to say the least and, more likely, completely indefensible.

Clincs providing abortions are the frequent site of aggressive protests by groups like Operation Rescue. To prevent these activities from continuing, the federal government prosecuted the protestors under the RICO laws, which provide for stiff punishments and abortion providers hoped these penalties would bankrupt a few groups and force the rest to abandon aggressive protesting. The Supreme Court noted that mere protesting is not an extortion or a 'taking' and that the RICO laws had been improperly used against aggressive protestors outside abortion clinics. Driving away clients with aggressive protesting is a problem, but not a taking or an extortion and the RICO laws were not meant to cover such activity. Ironically, groups like animal rights protestors and even some pro-choice groups will support this decision because of their own picketing activities. I believe there should be a law protecting places like abortion clinics from protests to are violent or likely to become so, but the RICO laws are not the way to ensure such an outcome.

Let Congess go back to work and craft legislation to protect places of business from violent protesting. The RICO laws were intended to deal with organized crime, not Operation Rescue.
BUY WAL-MART AND SUPPORT SEXISM -- Not to mention inhuman working conditions at overseas factories--but that's another topic. Female employees and former employees of Wal-Mart are suing the giant retailer for sex discrimination in what could be the biggest class action suit of its kind in American history. In 1997, Home Depot lost a similar lawsuit and was forced to pay $104 million in damages to the plaintiffs.

As part of the discovery process Wal-Mart has had to do something it has ferociously resisted for decades--turn over sensitive documents about the company's employment history and practices. The numbers are damning. For example, the three lowest-paying company jobs--cashier, sales associate, and department head--are all overwhelming staffed by women. In addition, women in those positions earned less than men in the same positions working the same hours--in some cases far less. The gap continues right up to the top levels of the company, where women are far scarecer. Only 10% of all Wal-Mart regional vice presidents are female, but they earn $279,800 per year compared with $419,400 for men doing the same job in 2001. What's worse, the problem has been growing. In 1997 women at Wal-Mart earned 18 cents less per hour than men doing the same job. The gap in 2001 had widened to 37 cents. And all this is after factors such as performance ratings have been considered.

During law school, I worked at the Washington D.C. firm of Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, which is one of the firms representing the plaintiffs. I can assure you that CMH&T, which managed the case against Exxon over the Valdez oil spill in Alaska, will aggressively pursue these claims and get to the truth of the matter. In addition to paying a huge settlement to the plaintiffs, Wal-Mart might be ordered by the court to radically alter its employment policies to prevent further sex discrimination.

Now, if we can only do something about Wal-Mart's foreign sourcing policies...
SPEAKING TRUTH TO MORONS -- In a recent episode of '60 Minutes', CBS commentator/misogynist Andy Rooney had this to say about French resistance to Mr Bush's war plans: "The French have not earned their right to oppose President Bush's plans to attack Iraq. On the other hand, I have."

According to Mr Rooney, his status as a WW2 vet and the French defeat in that war mean that almost 60 years since V-E Day, France does not have the right to determine its own foreign policy. This reply from Mr Thane Peterson provides the proper response to gibbering chauvanists like Mr Rooney and others even further to the Right politically. Mr Peterson concludes his column thusly:

'So, if the French do owe a debt of gratitude from World War II, tell me: How should they parse it out? Should they back the American and British governments -- or back the Russian government, which has grave doubts about invading Iraq? Should they take the Canadian government's position into account? The Australian government's? Or should they simply back the people of all those nations -- who, polls show, oppose the invasion of Iraq without U.N. approval by vast majorities? Andy Rooney should do a little more homework on who has "earned the right" to oppose a U.S. invasion of Iraq.'
SHARON DUMPS BIBI, PEACE -- In a surprise move, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has replaced Benyamin Netanyahu as foreign minister and offered the job to Silvan Shalom, the former finance minister and a man with little diplomatic experience. This move sidelines Mr Sharon's chief party rival, Mr Netanyahu, who will now leave the government and return to the back benches, after wisely turning down the job of finance minister. (Israel's economy is a wreck and no sane man wants the thankless task of being held responsible for its continued decline.)

In addition, Mr Sharon invited the National Union party to join his government, increasing his coalition majority in the Knesset from 61 of 120 seats to 68 of 120 seats. The National Union party is strongly supported by hardline settlers in the West Bank and opposes any deal with the Palestinians that would lead to the creation of an independent state. The National Union, essentially, believes in toppling the Hashemite kingdom in Jordan and forcibly 'relocating' Palestinians in the West Bank into Jordan. This is also known as genocide. While Mr Sharon continues to publicly profess his support for the creation of an independent Palestine, bringing the National Union into the government reveals his true intentions. Naming the inexperienced Mr Shalom as foreign minister further increases the chances that no progress will be made towards a settlement in the Middle East and that Mr Sharon, in fact, is not interested in any diplomatic settlement with the Palestinians and other Arab countries.
MORE GOOD PR FOR THE U.S. -- This should make us look good in the U.K., where Tony Blair is fighting for his political life. No one interviewed this gentleman for ten days?

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

THEY DON'T HATE AMERICANS, JUST BUSH -- This piece in the New York Observer by Will Hutton adroitly sums up the proper attitude of Europeans and their liberal American sympathizers towards the bile and slander right-wing Americans are hurling at our friends across the Atlantic. Specifically, "the idea that America now wears the badge of Mars (the willingness to use military force, to assert itself with manly vigor and bear loss of life like other great powers in the past)—in contrast to the feminine loss of will in Europe—strikes Europeans as an astonishing case of memory loss and saturation in fantasy. Is this the same country that has a collective fainting fit at the sight of one body bag? That has been careful to fight its recent wars from 50,000 feet up? Whose tourists have so little sense of fortitude that mass cancellations follow after even the slightest hint of danger? American swagger, Europeans suspect, is the swagger of the schoolyard bully, and no more sturdy. The scuttle of Mogadishu or fighting for Kosovo and Afghanistan from the air more nearly define American military ambition—and if the going gets rough in Iraq, Europeans expect little sustained resolve or willingness to bear loss of life. Which is why it’s so important that if action begins, it’s launched from a platform of impeccable legitimacy—why the weapons inspectors must continue and why the U.N. process must be exhausted before the Security Council authorizes war."

It is important to remember that one day, one way or another, this Iraq crisis will come to an end. When that day is here, 'Old' Europe and the United States will both still be around. 'Old' Europe will still be the part of the world most likely to support the values of western liberalism upon which America was founded. Poisoning the well is a serious mistake, especially over such a little man as George W. Bush. The Europeans don't hate us, they hate him. I sure don't blame 'em.
SADDAM STEPPING BACK FROM THE BRINK? -- Perhaps concerned that his intransigence over the Al Samoud missiles has provided the United States and the United Kingdom with all the momentum they need to win approval for their new U.N. Security Council resolution finding Iraq in non-compliance, Saddam Hussein has turned over documents relating to the disposal of weapons of mass destruction to UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix. Mr Blix must present his findings of Iraqi compliance (or lack thereof) to the U.N. Security Council on March 7. It seems Saddam Hussein knows Mr Blix's last report saved his bacon and is keen to stay in with the old boy lest his next report to the Security Council be less flattering to Baghdad.

Will this stave off an invasion? Almost certainly not, but it shows Saddam Hussein is still playing all his cards.
MORE BUSHONOMICS -- Worries over war with Iraq and our jobless 'recovery' has sent consumer confidence to a 10-year low. You know all that economic and fiscal progress we made in the 1990s under President Clinton? Well, you can just forget about it! We've got a new guy in the White House and he's got moral clarity. You can comfort yourself with that knowledge the next time a friend tells you he or she has lost their job. Or maybe it'll be you. Or me.
THE DAY AFTER -- Instapundit approvingly quotes Andrew Sullivan as writing: "It is therefore a gamble Bush cannot completely lose (whatever diplomatic and popular damage it does would be more than undone by a successful war). But it's a resolution the Security Council (and France and Germany) can easily lose. If the resolution is defeated, but war ensues, Bush will take a small hit at home, a huge hit abroad (still, how much worse could it get?) - but, precisely because of these things, an even bigger domestic gain if the war is successful. Bush will be seen as someone who did all he could to win over the U.N., but in the end, did what he believed was right. He will emerge principled and triumphant. Ditto Blair, especially if a liberated Iraq reveals untold horrors, human rights abuses and French arms contracts. Machiavelli's dictum applies powerfully now: all that matters is that Bush win the war. If he does, this conflict will be deemed to have been just and justified. That's why calling the French bluff is especially important - particularly if it isn't a bluff."

Here's the problem: Mr Reynolds and Mr Sullivan end their inquiry into the matter there. But that's just the beginning. No one in his or her right mind thinks Saddam Hussein and his unreliable legions can fight off an American attack. Saddam Hussein will lose and his regime will be destroyed. That much is a certainty and that that point, Bush and Blair will look great. Unfortunately for them (and the rest of us), that's hardly the end of the story. Not even close. Here is how a recent article in the latest issue of BusinessWeek puts the challenge:

'Is the Administration -- currently preoccupied by maneuvering to gain U.N. support for an invasion -- ready for the morning after in Iraq? Doubts are rising in Washington and foreign capitals. Skeptics wonder if Bush's planners fully appreciate the seething swamp they are about to wade into -- a worry that is understandable given Iraq's history of tribal and religious rivalry and its sputtering, Stalinist economy. Says Joseph R. Biden (D-Del.), ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "People have no notion of what we are about to undertake" by trying to plant the seed of democracy in Iraq's barren sands

'Nor does anyone have a clear idea of the costs or time frame involved. Iraq's Baathist institutions, built around idolatry of Saddam, need massive overhaul. Everything from hospitals to water systems will require rebuilding -- which is one reason why estimates for reconstruction start at $15 billion to $20 billion a year and head skyward for a U.S.-led effort that is likely to last four years or more. And the tab could soar if Saddam succeeds in laying waste to much of Iraq.

'Officials from multilateral agencies and representatives of private relief organizations warn that they see little detailed planning yet for a humanitarian crisis that could befall Iraqi civilians. And many foreign governments, which the White House would normally be lobbying to pony up for a postwar donor coalition, are too busy trying to thwart Bush's war plans to commit.'

BusinessWeek concludes that 'America needs to gird for a long slog in Iraq. Yet thus far, the Bush Administration has provided few clues to its vision of a liberated Iraq, with Baghdad looming as a shining city on a hill. To shore up support at home and abroad, the White House may have to do something it has avoided so far -- convince skeptics that winning the peace is as doable as routing Saddam's Republican Guards.'

Rebuilding Iraq will be a hugely expensive endeavor. No one knows exactly how expensive, but it will be many tens of billions of dollars at the least. It is a subject the Bush admin will not discuss and the national media has been strangely reluctant to cover--at least until BusinessWeek's latest issue.' After all, Iraq will still be Iraq--a desperately poor, faction-ridden country where power has been exercised by the sword for hundreds of years. Washington will have to play the referee between a welter of competing forces, from those who were dependent on the regime and fear prosecution and loss of privilege to disenfranchised Shiites who represent the largest religious bloc in Iraq and are chafing to improve their political and economic status.

'And anyone who thinks all of Saddam's followers would be quickly removed from power after his fall will see how hard such a purge really is. Saddam is just the top dog in a vast web of patronage and repression, much of which would likely remain after he goes. Supporters from his hometown of Tikrit have key roles in the military command units and the secret police. Clans associated with the Iraqi leader have been rewarded with income from sequestered businesses and lucrative government contracts. Saddam's son Uday and his associates may have stashed the billions they made in oil and cigarette smuggling into offshore accounts and properties such as hotels. There will be a fight to reclaim that money.

'It could take years to untangle all of these relationships and their distorting effect on the economy, which suffers from woes almost too numerous to list. Two decades of war plus 12 years of U.N. sanctions have slashed gross domestic product per capita by over 70%. The U.N. Development Programme calculates that on a purchasing-power-parity basis, Iraq's per-capita income is only $700, making it one of the poorest nations on earth outside Africa.

'Saddam's economic policies have made matters worse. Since 1991, the regime has been churning out local currency, which it uses to soak up whatever dollars are available in the local market. This practice has created hyperinflation and destroyed the value of the dinar. On the black market, the currency has plunged from about 8 per dollar in 1990 to 2,000 per dollar now. Members of the once thriving middle class can feed themselves only by selling their jewelry and household goods and by receiving transfers, typically $100 per month, from relatives abroad. Crime is soaring, and girls and women from respectable families are increasingly turning to prostitution--a deeply humiliating trend in a conservative Arab society.

'Even Iraq's oil reserves are unlikely to be a panacea. The fields are in a decrepit condition, with equipment broken and missing. Oil production--currently about 2.5 million barrels per day--may have to be cut in the short term while contractors replace antiquated hardware and stabilize pressure in the reservoirs. That could cost $3 billion to $4 billion--assuming Saddam doesn't sabotage the fields.

'Unless oil prices stay at current high levels, Iraq's oil income of around $15 to $20 billion per year isn't likely to be enough to pay for food and other needed imports as well as rebuilding and development costs. That tab is estimated at $20 billion a year over several years. "The oil income has been spent 20 times over," says analyst Raad Alkadiri at Washington consultant PFC Energy. With a $30 billion to $40 billion investment, Iraq's oil revenues could rise to 6 million barrels per day. But that could take years--and could sink oil prices.

Meanwhile, Iraq faces mammoth debts and war reparations estimated at anywhere from $61 billion to $297 billion.'

The neocon uber-hawks assure us that Iraqis are crying out for democracy and the U.S. will provide it to them. However, as BusinessWeek notes: 'As rebuilding gets under way, fiercely nationalist Iraqis will watch closely for self-dealing by Americans and locals who have offered their services to U.S. companies--particularly in the oil industry. "I am very wary of strong groups finding their way into Iraqi politics with big bucks and trying to influence the process," says Laith Kubba, an Iraqi exile associated with the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington.

'Kubba and other exiles want the U.S. to confine its role largely to establishing an environment that allows an indigenous political leadership to emerge. Already, influential opposition figures such as writer Kanan Makiya are accusing the U.S. of betraying the cause of a democratic Iraq. Washington's plan for a military occupation amounts to "the retention under a different guise of the repressive institutions of the Baath and the Army," Makiya wrote recently in The Observer in London.'

What this could lead to is the United States forced to police the country, breaking up disputes that have existed for hundreds of years and enmeshing ourselves in the tribal and religious rivalries that have divided Iraqi society since the area was carved out of the Ottoman Empire. The more the U.S. becomes involved in domestic Iraqi politics, the more we will become a target for those disaffected with our rule and decisions. Observes BusinessWeek: 'Independent analysts, too, wonder if the U.S.'s avowed commitment to the country will be put to the test. Charles Tripp, a professor of Middle East politics at the School of Oriental & African Studies in London and author of A History of Iraq, thinks U.S. resolve could waver once Americans on the ground face difficulties and the criticism from Iraq's neighbors crescendos. Any number of incidents, from the killing of an Iraqi by American soldiers to food shortages, could spark trouble. In a worst-case scenario, U.S. personnel in Iraq could become the targets of bombers, just as they once were in Lebanon.'

Do we all remember Lebanon? The U.S. embassy destroyed by a car bomb, killing over 60 people. The U.S. Marines barracks destroyed by a car bomb, killing over 200 soldiers. The civilians and soldiers taken hostage, some held captive for years and others murdered in cold blood. This is the fate that awaits us again--this time in Iraq--unless the Bush admin handles the situation with unprecendented skill and sensitivity.

Anyone want to take bets on that happening?
SADDAM IS GOING TO THE MAT -- Saddam Hussein has granted an exclusive interview to Dan Rather of CBS News and the news isn't good. Saddam denies that his Al Samoud missiles violate U.N. range limits--contrary to the assertions of UNMOVIC chief Hans Blix--and insists he will retain the weapons. Obviously, this provides Bush & Co. a perfect opportunity to declare Iraq in non-compliance with U.N. resolutions and begin a war which, for some time, has been a foregone conclusion. As CBS News notes, "Iraq has until the end of the week to begin destroying the missiles, components and other related systems. If it fails to do so, that could give impetus to a draft U.N. resolution submitted Monday by the United States, Britain and Spain that would pave the way for war."

It gets worse, though. Saddam has drawn exactly the wrong conclusion from the recent anti-war demonstrations in western countries. "Iraqi officials have repeatedly noted the size and strength of the anti-war demonstrations that occurred ten days ago," according to CBS News. This is a terrible mistake. Outside of the hardcore Stalinists of ANSWER, Saddam has no fans in the West and regarding the peace marches as evidence the people of America, Australia, and West Europe will not support their troops once battle has begun will prove a fatal error for the Iraqi dictator.

Like many dictators living in a cloistered world of utterly dependant sycophants, Saddam Hussein understands little about the West. This time, his ignorance will cost him his country and his life. What it will cost the United States is, as yet, unknown.

Monday, February 24, 2003

IS NEOCON THE NEW 'N' WORD? -- Over at CalPundit, the California pundit himself and Matthew Yglesias are having a discussion about neocons. Mr Yglesias believes the term 'neoconservative' should not be used because it has a 'Jewish' connotation which is inaccurate. After all, argues Mr Yglesias, Senator John McCain advocates attacking Iraq and he is not Jewish. As I wrote to CalPundit, I disagree with Mr Yglesias.

Many neocons have cheerfully referred to themselves as neocons--at least until some have become anxious to avoid that term since the Washington Post piece about their influence in the White House. Not all neocons are Jewish, but a large percentage of them are. Almost certainly more than 50% of all neocons in Washington are Jewish. The true number is probably closer to 75 percent. Those that are not Jewish are often fundamentalist Christians (like Fred Barnes of Fox News). The neocons could best be described as a group of conservative Jews and fundamentalist Christians who advocate an aggressive foreign policy in the Middle East, unconditional support for Israel, a close relationship with the Likud Party, opposition to Arab nationalism, hostility to the creation of a Palestinian state, and the destruction of Arab dictatorships hostile to Israel.

While Senator John McCain advocates attacking Iraq and replacing its regime with one more friendly to the United States, there is no evidence he shares the other--more expansive--goals of the neocon movement. The neocon goals in the Middle East are considerbaly more ambitious than attacking Iraq. Only if Senator McCain subscribes to the rest of the agenda could he reasonably be described as a neocon. So far, I don't think he does so I wouldn't call him a neocon. After all, CalPundit, you support an invasion of Iraq, but no one in his or her right mind would call you a neocon.

None of this is to suggest that Jewish neocons exert a shadowy influence over American foreign policy. The influence of neocons is quite open and obvious to anyone paying attention. If this is a conspiracy, it is the most poorly-guarded secret in the world. Indeed, this article in The Washington Post details how neocons in the Bush administration have brought the United States to unprecendented levels of intimacy with the recently-re-elected Likud government of Ariel Sharon. Furthermore, this excellent article in The American Prospect by Stanley Hoffman (who is certainly not a neocon) illustrates the effect the neocons have had on America's increasingly bellicose Middle East policy. Mr Hoffman's piece contains the notable observation that "there is a loose collection of friends of Israel, who believe in the identity of interests between the Jewish state and the United States -- two democracies that, they say, are both surrounded by foes and both forced to rely on military power to survive. These analysts look at foreign policy through the lens of one dominant concern: Is it good or bad for Israel? Since that nation's founding in 1948, these thinkers have never been in very good odor at the State Department, but now they are well ensconced in the Pentagon, around such strategists as Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Douglas Feith."

Lawrence Kaplan, a Jewish neocon has recently written in The Washington Post that drawing attention to the Jewishness of many influential neocons is 'toxic' because it conjures up the specter of sinister Jews with dual loyalties selling out American interests in favor of Israeli ones. Apart from being a poorly-disguised attempt to stifle debate on this subject by tarring all those who engage in it with the stain of anti-Semitism, Mr Kaplan's column misses another point. Of course many Jewish neocons have dual loyalties--to the U.S. and Israel. So what? Many Polish-Americans have dual loyalties to their adopted country and their ancestral homeland. Same goes for some Mexican-Americans, Italian-Americans, Irish-Americans and Lord only knows who else. The question is not whether or not some people have dual loyalties, the question is whether or not the policy result of those loyalties is in the best interests of the United States. In fact, neocons like Mr Kaplan have often argued that the interests of Israel and the United States are identical. There is nothing wrong with arguing that--just as there is nothing wrong with arguing differently.

Neocons are what they are. Not all of them are Jewish, but most of them are. Is that relevant? Well, many neocons seem to think it very important that the rest of us not consider it relevant--or even a suitable topic for discussion among decent people. That alone is sufficient to make me think the subject is worthy of consideration. The necons have important arguments to make about U.S. foreign policy and they shouldn't do so while pretending to be something they are not. As long as neocon opponents (such as myself) denounce neocons for their policies and not for their religion, I see no reason why this topic is particularly 'toxic.'

I know anti-Semitism when I see it and when I read it. So far, this ain't it.
BUSH FIDDLES WHILE KOREA BURNS -- The Bush admin's policy towards Korea has been to do nothing and hope it all went away--at least until after Iraq had been invaded and a reliable dictator installed there. The North Korean's however--or, I should say, Kim Jong-Il, the mad strongman of that country--refuses to be ignored. After ignoring the problem for two years, the Bush admin now feels pressure from Congress and East Asian allies to do something about the burgeoning nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula, where more than 35,000 American troops are based.

Rather than tackle the problem head-on, by negotiating directly with North Korea--as every country in the region would like--the Bush admin is trying to shove the problem off on someone--anyone--else. It isn't working, though. Despite urgent pleas for intervention from U .S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, the Chinese refuse to get involved and suggest the U.S. negotiate directly with the North Koreans about nuclear weaponry and mutual security. (Wait, I thought Republican hard-liners were against relying on Chinese power! Really, it is becoming more and more difficult to figure out where these hot-steppers stand on some issues.) Tomorrow, General Powell will try to bend the willful President Roh of South Korea, but the new president is unlikely to abandon his policy of aggressive engagement of the unpredictable North--a policy the Bush admin finds greatly alarming.

However, it is the Bush admin's policy towards North Korea is increasingly under fire in East Asia. The Japanese feel vulnerable to missile launches from the North and South Korea has elected a new president who is seemingly prepared to discard his country's alliance with the United States in favor of the risks of collaboration with the North. That is, unless, the Bush admin can employ some skillful diplomacy to convince President Roh that his country's best bet is still with the ally that has guaranteed the South's security and existence for more than 50 years.

Bush admin and skillful diplomacy? Hmmm. I suppose it could happen.
WALL STREET v. THE WAR, continued -- I know I'm like a dog with a bone on this one, but this is an important story that deserves to be followed loyally. Once again, investor concern with the Bush&Blair show sent stocks tumbling--this time after a rare two week period when the stock markets had shown signs of recovery amidst hopes that U.N. inspectors would be given the time and opportunity to do their work.

However, "[s]tocks fell back to near session lows in late afternoon trade on Monday as investors were unnerved by a new planned U.S. and British U.N. resolution that could push the prospect of war with Iraq closer to reality.

"Worries of a military strike against Iraq sidelined investors after two straight weeks of gains on Wall Street. Washington and London are expected to present a new resolution to the United Nations on Monday that would set the stage for war in Iraq by declaring Baghdad in violation of U.N. demands."

We've seen this one before. It's called Bushonomics and it is making the world a poorer place. Not to mention more bloody.
A FEW WISE WORDS FROM AN UBER-HAWK -- Former CIA Director James Woolsey is a super-hawk on the subject of Iraq. Essentially, he doesn't know why we haven't invaded that country before now and he has nothing but contempt for European peacemongering. However, he does have a few choice words for the Internet chickenhawks who have spent the past month or so pouring scorn on the nations of France and Germany.

"To take only one case, Internet messages mocking French courage and denying that the French have ever successfully defended Paris not only should be beneath us but are quite false--the drafters of this nonsense should consult, among other things, the history of the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. Gen. Gallieni's mobilization of the taxis of Paris to rush reinforcements to the front and save the city is as famous in France as Washington's crossing the Delaware is to Americans. We diminish ourselves and our arguments by denying the noble side of these nations' history and slandering their national honor. Yes, the Germans had the Nazis and the French the Reign of Terror and Vichy. And we had slavery. We have both had our villains and our heroes..."

Quite so, Mr Woolsey. Since the drooling warbloggers won't pay attention to our side, perhaps they will listen to one of their own. But probably not.
MORE AMERICAN HYSTERICS ATTACK FRANCE -- A brief glance at the blog "Life is Hard" provides another semi-amusing example of the increasingly hysterical and embarrassing American right wing working itself into a lather over France. This gentleman believes France and President Jacques Chirac are in all sorts of trouble because they will not (yet) permit an unelected thief in the White House to dictate French foreign and defense policy. What sort of trouble? Well, the author cites "the growing irrelevance of the United Nations thanks to his (Chirac's) intransigence" as one problem. Uh, well, that sounds more like a problem for the U.N. than it does for France. Besides, a more likely explanation for the alleged growing irrelevance of the U.N. is the fact that Mr Bush is determined to invade another country whatever the U.N. might say or do. In other words, the real threat to the U.N. comes from American bullheadedness rather than French intransigence. (And when did American right-wingers start caring about the U.N. anyway? Pardon me if I doubt the depth of this gentleman's concern and grief.)

Then the author moves on to what he calls "the imminent collapse of his own (Chirac's) ruling coalition thanks to his arrogance." Come again? First of all, President Chirac is elected directly by the French people; his position does not depend on a parliamentary coalition. Second of all, President Chirac was re-elected in 2002 with almost 82% of the vote. (When I write that President Chirac was 'elected,' I mean that a vote of the people--rather than five right-wingers on the Supreme Court--put him in power.) Furthermore, the conservative government President Chirac leads enjoys a comfortable majority in the French National Assembly and his Prime Minister, Pierre Raffarin, is in no danger of losing a vote of confidence. Besides, the political opposition is no more likely to appease Bush's warmongering than President Chirac. The Socialist Party is even more dead-set against the war than the conservatives are, the Communists more opposed still, and the right wing National Front loathes any idea that doesn't come from a 49th generation Frenchman. So what is going on here? When American right-wing cranks don't have the facts on their side they just start making them up? Yes, apparently they do. And that shouldn't surprise anyone.

Finally, the author threatens President Chirac and France with 'a potential boycott of all things French by the U.S. consumer, which could plunge an already weak French economy into further disarray.' First of all, I don't think Americans are anyone to be talking about 'disarray' in someone else's economy. Our jobless 'recovery' is marked by what will soon be the largest budget deficits in the history of the world, so I don't think right wing Americans can be clucking their tongues at anyone else. Second of all, where is the evidence of this American boycott of French goods? So far, I have not seen it. I've read plenty of emotional rants by right wing dopes in the United States threatening all variety of vengeance upon the French, but is any of it actually happening? And do any of these cranks threatening boycotts think about American jobs that will be destroyed by boycotting French goods? After all, many American jobs depend on importing and selling French products in the United States. Do these people think of such things or do they regard these Americans as traitors and therefore acceptable losses. (I guess that's a new version of collateral damage for you.)

But how outraged are the American people anyway? Clearly, a bunch of right wingers with access to a computer and modem have worked themselves into a lather, but what about the rest of us? Well, Scott Rosenberg correctly points to a New York Times/CBS News poll showing that the American public is somewhat more sensible than the average warblogger. "When the poll asks, "Should the United States take military action against Iraq fairly soon, or should the United States wait and give the United Nations and weapons inspectors more time?" 59 percent support the latter choice. (That's 10 percent more than voted for Bush in the first place.)

"Dear reader, what this means is that the majority of the American people agree with the "perfidious" French and Germans and disagree with their own administration."


As if all this silliness wasn't enough, Life is Hard then goes on to ask: 'Who will save France the next time they are overrun by the barbarian hordes?' Pardon? Which barbarian hordes are those? It seems to me--and lots of French people, apparently--that President Chirac is defending his country from the barbarian hordes, especially that band of rapacious gangsters led Mr Bush, Mr Cheney, and Mr Rumsfeld. Keep up the good work, Monsieur President.

Nevertheless, the author predicts the downfall of France to these unnamed 'barbarian hordes' of his. He doens't give a date, of course, making one suspect he's just typing in anger and ignorance. (Assuming one had not already drawn that conclusion, of course.)

These people are quite literally taking leave of their senses and the more they rage on about this topic, the sillier they look. Maybe France should start organizing a boycott of American products. Ah, but that would be an hysterical reaction and my own country, alas, seems to have a monopoly on irrational emotion right now.

Sunday, February 23, 2003

FILM REVIEW: DAREDEVIL & OLD SCHOOL -- I saw two new films this weekend and I'm afraid they were not daring new offerings from oppressed artists in Iran or China. They were big budget blockbusters with stars like Ben Affleck, Wil Ferrell and Vince Vaughn. Daredevil first.

I can still recall reading Daredevil comics as a youth and was looking forward to the movie version. After all, decent-to-excellent movies have come out of the Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, and Superman franchises. Why not Daredevil, too? Unfortunately, it didn't happen.

The movie Daredevil gets some things right. The blue collar focus on justice for the poor and downtrodden of New York City is an important part of the story and character and the filmmakers wisely do not ignore it. Additionally, the character of Daredevil is a tragic and sometimes pitiable character--much like Batman--and I was concerned the filmmakers would shun this part of the character because it might alienate females who don't want to see 'their Ben' shown in this light. Again, to their credit, the filmmakers came through and produced a character close to the comic book verison of Daredevil.

However, the movie fails badly in two key areas, writing and action choreography. I don't want to give away too much of the plot, but the setup for the sequel is painfully obvious and labored. Can't they at least pretend to wonder if a second movie will be made? And why does Daredevil spare one figure after wiping out all the others? It makes no sense. And at the end, how does one character know the history of Matt Murdock? There is no reason why he should.

The action choreography is frequently awful and there is no excuse for it. The filmmakers want to show us how the world looks to the Daredevil as he battles the bad guys, but doing so once or twice--and only briefly--would have been enough. Instead, entire fight scenes are virtually unwatchable because the viewer has little idea what he or she is looking at. Trying to make sense of 'sonar sight' or whatever the filmmakers call it is annoying and distracting. It didn't work. And for an action movie to screw up most of the action sequences is inexcusable. Even if you get nothing else right, do the action sequences well.

Old School, on the other hand, works almost perfectly. This is a dumb movie intended to appeal to your dumbest instincts and it does so expertly. There are one or two clever jokes in the movie--like a parody of "The Graduate" in a backyard pool, but most of the laughs come from physical comedy and sight gags. Will Ferrell, with his beer and bratwurst body, provides most of the physical comedy and he's very good at it. He flops around in a naked, drunken stupor or wearing a blue bathrobe and beet-red with inexplicable rage and it made me laugh every time. Ferrell's character, a recovering party animal who can never truly shed his beer bong lifestyle is hilarious and almost unintentionally endearing. Almost every male watching the movie will empathize with this fellow who knows he is supposed to grow up and conform to all of life's expectations of a man in his 30s, but cannot bear the thought of actually doing so.

Vince Vaughn's character, a cynical and foulmouthed dad who says 'earmuffs' to his young son (prompting the boy to cover his ears) before launching into a profane monologue, is the one who comes up with the plan to start a fraternity and invite a bunch of misfits to live in a house belonging to the third of this thirtysomething trio--the good guy done bad by his woman, played by Owen Wilson. Mr Wilson doesn't get many good lines and the picture really belongs to Vaughn and Ferrell, but Wilson is there to provide the moral center in a film with no morals and he manages that task just fine. Basically, he's there to look cute for any girls who have mistakenly wandered into the theater and cannot find their way out in the dark.

Old School is a guy's film and it enjoys making jokes about public nudity, drunkenness, slamming your head into things, and tossing a cinder block off a balcony after tying it around your crank. This is not Masterpiece Theater and it isn't meant to be. Hey, I like my television preceded by a Diana Rigg introduction, but I also like to indulge my baser instincts from time to time and Old School is the perfect vehicle to do so. This ain't quite Animal House, but its pretty close.