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9.26.2004

Uh-huh

Safire today:

It's bad enough for some thoughtless media outlets to become an echo chamber for scare propaganda; it's worse when the nominee of a major party approves its use to press his antiwar candidacy.

Remove the 'anti' at the end and replace it with 'pro.' Think Safire thinks it'd be okay? I'm betting 'yes.'


9.24.2004

All About Allawi

Two excellent pieces on Allawi. One from NYT's John Burns, one a transcript of Jim Lehrer's interview with him this week.

Allawi on Lehrer:
JIM LEHRER: Both you and President Bush were criticized today by John Kerry, Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic presidential nominee, for painting an inaccurate picture of what's going on in Iraq that was too rosy, that didn't gel with the reality on the ground. How do you respond to that?

PRIME MINISTER IYAD ALLAWI: Well, I don't know what is rosy and what is not rosy. I am painting a picture that I know; I am the prime minister of Iraq, and I am talking about Iraq-I know what is happening there. I know the details; I am involved in - I have only been out of Iraq for five days so I don't think that in the last five days things have changed dramatically.


NYT:
Visiting Dr. Allawi at his sprawling residence is a short course in just how bad the situation has become for anybody associated with the American purpose in Iraq. To reach the house is to navigate a fantastical obstacle course of checkpoints, with Iraqi police cars and Humvees parked athwart a zigzag course through relays of concrete barriers. An hour or more is taken up with body searches and sniffing by dogs, while American soldiers man turreted machine guns. A boxlike infrared imaging device can detect the body heat of anybody approaching through a neighboring playground. The final security ring is manned by C.I.A.-trained guards from Iraqi Kurdistan. If Dr. Allawi were Ian Fleming's Dr. No, no more elaborate defenses could be conceived.

This is the man who has been chosen to lead Iraq to the haven of a democratic future, but he is sealed off about as completely as he could be from ordinary Iraqis, in the virtual certainty that insurgents will kill him if they ever get a clear shot.



9.21.2004

Some Sports Are Bigger Than Others

Noticed this odd little item in the VeloNews report about the annual SF T-Mobile International bike race, which occurs each year over two days in September.

It had been reported that Mayor Willie Brown's Office of Business and Economic Development had loaned San Francisco Cycling $350,000 just days before the 2002 event, a sum that equaled the organization's debt to the city carried over from police costs from the 2001 event. Under city legislation, had the debt not been paid off, the organization would have been unable to acquire a permit for the 2002 event.

Three months after the 2002 loan was granted, it was forgiven, based on a one-page economic analysis written by a 20-year-old intern estimating that the event drew nearly 200,000 out-of-town visitors who spent more than $100 apiece, justifying the city's expense. San Francisco Cycling still owes the city $487,000 from the 2002 event.

The revelation of the forgiven loan drew the ire of the very legislators who wrote the legislation prohibiting organizations that owe the city money from obtaining event permits.

"It's a blatant gift of the taxpayers' money," Supervisor Aaron Peskin told the San Francisco Chronicle last year. "There is no provision in the law that allows the city to reduce or waive the fees for an athletic event."


I'm not one for pork barrel politics, but I am excited that SF hosts an amazingly popular cycling race that draws tons of fans and international pros. But Peskin's remarks make me wonder how he feels about the SF Giants and SBC Park. The baseball stadium, which sits a block from my office, was built using $175 million in private loans after several ballot initiatives to publicly fund the effort failed. So far, so good.

But it sits on a city-owned lot that's worth an estimated $80 million. For free.

That aside, I can safely say that the seasonal cost to the city for cops (someone was fatally stabbed after a Giants game this weekend, sadly) and traffic personnel is much higher than that of the weekend bicycle race. Anyone clamoring for the Giants to pay for this?

Have I mentioned how I hate baseball?

Here's the May 2004 Minnesota Public Radio piece on the (admittedly beautiful) ballpark.

Edit: Some sloppy reading on my part. We don't actually know how much the real estate is worth from the MPR piece. Here's the graf I was citing:

The park sits on city-owned property at the foot of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, near downtown. It's probably some of the most expensive real estate in the country, and the Giants get to use it for free. The city also kicked in $80 million in infrastructure improvements.



9.20.2004

Pot, Kettle, Quack

Scalia says courts taking on too much of a political role

Justice Antonin Scalia on Monday bemoaned the Supreme Court's willingness to decide political questions such as the death penalty and abortion and predicted as a result a tough confirmation fight for the next nominee.

Not to mention other little decisions like...the 2000 presidential election?


Um...

Scouring sense of humor for jokes about the free market? Questions about why the current government can't provide such things? Oh forget it.
Rumsfeld, Powell say Iran and Syria are aiding insurgents in Iraq.

Bush administration officials, in addition to their charge that Iran is supporting the insurgency, described new concerns that Iran is financing medical clinics, hospitals and social welfare centers in Iraq, especially in areas where the interim government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and American forces are not in control.

"Now that these folks are starting to provide services that should be provided by the Iraqi government, their purpose is to provide a political base to extend Iran's influence in Iraq," one administration official said.



Resolute

Josh Marshall's take on today's Robert Novak article is a good one. But what I came away with was that the 'new' take on Iraq that Novak puts forth is a jaw-dropping PR move.

Having repeatedly said we need to 'stay the course' in Iraq, will Bush really be able to pull the troops back and let Iraq (mostly) go its own way? Amazingly, Novak (or Rove?) tests out spinning the word 'resolute' into a different meaning than Bush's current one; rather than be 'resolute' about 'staying the course' and creating a 'democratic' Iraq, we are now told that it would be a 'resolute' president who pulls our troops out and refrains from involving in Iraq's self-determination, even if this involves civil war or some similar catastrophe(s). Or is Novak making a wry, ironic observation? What about the 'lily pads'/US bases? What about ensuring access to a stable, affordable oil supply? What about....

Interestingly, I think Novak's piece asserts that Bush will be re-elected. With the election less than 2 months away, I'm worried he's right. (Related: Is it time for me to repeat my wager that there'll be an October Surprise involving the capture of OBL?)

Whether Bush or Kerry is elected, the president or president-elect will have to sit down immediately with the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The military will tell the election winner there are insufficient U.S. forces in Iraq to wage effective war. That leaves three realistic options: Increase overall U.S. military strength to reinforce Iraq, stay with the present strength to continue the war, or get out.

Well-placed sources in the administration are confident Bush's decision will be to get out. They believe that is the recommendation of his national security team and would be the recommendation of second-term officials. An informed guess might have Condoleezza Rice as secretary of state, Paul Wolfowitz as defense secretary and Stephen Hadley as national security adviser. According to my sources, all would opt for a withdrawal.

Getting out now would not end expensive U.S. reconstruction of Iraq, and certainly would not stop the fighting. Without U.S. troops, the civil war cited as the worst-case outcome by the recently leaked National Intelligence Estimate would be a reality. It would then take a resolute president to stand aside while Iraqis battle it out.


9.17.2004

WMD Found In Iraq

Oh wait, I meant "Indiana." But don't worry: it's only 1,269 tons of a nerve agent that "kill a healthy adult male with a single pinpoint droplet." The plan is to neutralize it and then let DuPont dump it in the Delaware river.

AP via Yahoo! NewsArmy: Nerve Agent Disposal May Take Time.

Destroying a deadly nerve agent stockpiled in western Indiana could take a lot longer than the Army originally anticipated, military officials said.

A projection of 2 1/2 years for chemically neutralizing the Newport Chemical Depot's VX nerve agent was based on a rate of 2 1/2 hours for each batch of the nerve agent to reach a set VX nondetect level. But tests conducted at Army laboratories in Edgewood, Md., found that about half of the stockpile contains a chemical stabilizer that takes 10 to 16 hours to reach that nondetect level, said Jeff Brubaker, the Army's site manager.

He said analyses of samples taken from Newport's 1,269 tons of VX, show that 46 percent of the stockpile contains a stabilizing agent called DIC and that those batches can be neutralized within 2 1/2 hours to the nondetect level.


9.16.2004

Entre Nous

I know that title's sort of...well, French, but I just had to use that as the title of this post highlighting Laser Cub's post on the nature of blogging. A pretty canny summation of blogging, if you ask me. I wish I was able to be as concise, clever, and clear.

I'm realizing that blogging is more about maintaining a written record of the fact that you were right before anyone else than it is about changing minds. In fact, as people seek out their own personal news outlets, that's pretty much becoming the state of all forms of communication.

Good enough. But it gets better, yes? Spend too much time on blogs and the whole world looks like a bifurcated nation: wingnuts on one side, tinfoil hatters on the other side.

People are abandoning entire newspapers and networks for fear that they'll see something that won't fit perfectly into their existing worldview. Others greet every piece of bad news by questioning the credibility of the messenger. This is a good idea, but not when you're only skeptical of stories you disagree with.

The kind of tunnel vision I'm talking about -- you're either with me or you're a liar -- is what got Democrats into Memogate. They were so eager to tear down Bush that they lost any sense of objectivity, and even the ability to vet memos that clearly needed vetting. Many left-leaners seemed as incapable of fairness as those lunatics who used to claim that Bill Clinton went around murdering people.


I would like to add, though, that Clinton murdered these alleged people with his alleged bare hands.

All sarcasm aside. Really.


9.13.2004

Helprin Fire

I loved Mark Helprin's A Winter's Tale, a magic-realist novel with elements of the film "Gangs of New York" and John Crowley's underappreciated fantasy novel "Little, Big". But I didn't know Helprin was a member of the Claremont Institute or that he occasionally popped up in the WSJ. Imagine my surprise to read his "Written On Water" piece in Opinion Journal, a rather bleak assessment of the WoT and the '04 election. There's plenty here to chew on, but the final graf sums up well the problems we face.

Three years on, that is where we stand: our strategy shiftless, reactive, irrelevantly grandiose; our war aims undefined; our preparations insufficient; our civil defense neglected; our polity divided into support for either a hapless and incompetent administration that in a parliamentary system would have been turned out long ago, or an opposition so used to appeasement of America's rivals, critics, and enemies that they cannot even do a credible job of pretending to be resolute.

(Harley's choice in citing the graf below is fine, but I think he should've included the one above, too.

We have watched the division of the country into two ineffective camps, something that is especially apparent in an electoral season. On the one hand is John Kerry, a humorless Boston scold, in appearance the love child of Abraham Lincoln and Bette Midler, who recites slogans that he understands but does not believe. And on the other is the president, proud of his aversion to making an argument for his own case, in appearance a denizen of the Pleistocene, who recites slogans that he believes but does not understand.)


Pot Life

Pandagon's up in arms about the "Rolling Stoned" piece.

Now, I'm willing to believe that UCSC is one of the stonier schools in America, but the "most" in the title is demonstrably wrong, particularly for anyone who's ventured up to Cal or stumbled across Cal State Humboldt. There's a lot of pot at Santa Cruz, but not significantly more than you'll find in other spots in NorCal (and don't get me started on Portland or Ann Arbor). The piece is cliched, never offering an argument on either the information that sets UCSC apart or the implications such an herb overload has for a university. All it is, in fact, is an excuse to follow two stoners around for a weekend and snap some sure-to-appeal-to-the-kids shots of smoke-outs.

I read this article on the plane back from Tucson yesterday, and I have to say it conjured a perfect & utterly memorable picture of UCSC. But as Ezra notes, one could surely find this couple (minus UCSC's bucolic surroundings) at dozens of other campuses. The 'stoner lifestyle' is not in any way indigenous to or exemplative of UC Santa Cruz. (Commentator on Pandagon notes that the Princeton Review ranks UCSC 17th for its 'reefer madness' factor.)

My other reaction to the familiarity the piece evoked was one of contempt. I was completely annoyed by the perpetually-baked, pot-as-life crowd when I went to UCSC, and it's not like I need to be reminded of how dippy and dumb it all is. I'd bet the vast, vast majority of former/current UCSC students feel the same way.

Update: Ambigutrex explains her role in helping RS 'cast' their stoners.


Flypapering Yourself Into A Corner

First heard of this theory just over a year ago via Andrew Sullivan, and am surprised to see its re-emergence, especially with the seemingly ever-increasing numbers of 'terrorists.' Also, isn't this basically what the Israelis are doing with that dang wall?

Josh Marshall on Gregg Easterbrook, and why the 'flypaper' idea is an idiotic rationale for a war:

Gregg Easterbrook, in The New Republic, embraces this concept in a new article even today. "What if the invasion of Iraq is having the unintended consequence of drawing terrorists and killers to that country, where our army can fight them on our terms?," he asks.

The only thing complicated about this argument is calibrating a hierarchy of all the levels of foolishness it embodies. Logically it is nonsensical; strategically it is moronic; morally it is close to indefensible.

The key fallacy, as so many have pointed out, is the notion that there are a finite number of 'terrorists' who we can kill and be done with.


Another question might be: 'why wasn't Afghanistan a good enough strip of flypaper?'
Or hey: 'would Iran make a nice addition to the flypaper collection?'


9.09.2004

Revising The Meaning Right Out Of It

Cheney's original statement:

"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, that we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again. That we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9/11 mind-set, if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts and that we're not really at war."

Now, seemingly endless revisionism. 3 revisions??? But it doesn't really matter, does it? The important thing is that his original statement ran on every news channel, and that was the intent. Most Americans will never hear about the revisions.

"In a change that highlighted the sensitivity of Cheney's statement, the White House yesterday released a revised version of the transcript of his remarks. The official transcript, posted on the White House Web site Tuesday afternoon and e-mailed to reporters, said: "(I)t's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again."

In a version released Tuesday to reporters traveling with Cheney, however, the period at the end of "hit again" was removed and replaced with a comma, which linked his blunter statement to his standard stump language expressing concern that future attacks would be treated as "just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war."

Yesterday, the transcript on the White House Web site was altered to make Cheney's remarks one sentence. Cheney's White House spokesman, Kevin Kellems, issued a statement saying that the first official transcript "contained a typographical error" and was an "interim draft." "These types of corrections are not uncommon in the transcription of verbal statements," Kellems said. "The final transcript accurately reflects the statement as delivered, which is clear when watching video of the event."



9.07.2004

If We're Really Going To Be Honest (Pt II)

HOUSTON - Halliburton Co. may decide not to submit new bids for the logistics contracts it holds in Iraq if the U.S. military divides up the work too deeply, Chief Executive Officer Dave Lesar said on Tuesday.
...
“I’m not sure we’re going to rebid if it’s hacked into too many pieces in Iraq. If we do choose to rebid, we’re going to jack the margins up significantly,” said Lesar, whose comments to an analysts’ conference in New York were broadcast on the Internet.


Reuters, via MSNBC (via comments on DailyKos)

But if they're the only company that can do this kind of work, what happens if they don't rebid? (NYT interview with Halliburton chief Lesar circa May 2004)

Lesar: In this case, because of the size of the endeavor, I think what has happened is kind of a surge in activity that has certainly been atypical of other missions we've had in this particular area. That has added a dimension to it that is unique to this particular activity for us. And I think, therefore, it is another reason why we're in my view the only company that can do this.

a little further down:

Q. Do you have any thoughts on how we get out of what some people are saying could be a war-torn quagmire that goes on and on?

A. Well, I guess that's not really my question to answer. I think the government and the military will make that decision and we will have to adjust to whatever that exit plan is. I would say that applies to our work with regard to supporting the military.

Our work in the Iraqi oil fields will go on for many, many years. Now, our customer may not be the U.S. government. It may eventually be the Iraqi Oil Company. It may be those other international oil companies that come in and become partners with the Iraqis. So, I think that aspect of our business, the oil fields services side, I don't believe we will ever leave Iraq, that it will always be part of providing our basic oil field services and engineering and construction services, whoever's going to be operating it in the long term.




9.03.2004

Not Another Corporate Giveaway

CNN: Medicare premiums jump 17% for 2005.

Largest increase ever, up from last year's largest jump ever (13%). Jeebus. And in case you were wondering if this Mark McClellan quoted below is related to White House head press secretary Scott....Why, yes.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday afternoon the largest increase ever in Medicare premiums, an increase of over 17 percent that will affect 38.9 million Americans.

Starting in January, the elderly will pay $78.20 per month for non-hospital services, up $11.60 from $66.60 this year, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said.

Most of the increase will cover the program's new prescription drug coverage and preventive services, including an initial physical exam and other tests, said Mark McClellan, head of the federal health insurance program for the elderly and disabled.

"Medicare beneficiaries are saving money. They're paying a little more in premiums, but they're getting more savings in their out-of-pocket costs as a result," McClellan said.
...
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the bill would cost less than $400 billion over 10 years. But after the bill was signed by President George W. Bush, the administration revealed that its own expert put the cost at $534 billion.

That expert, Medicare actuary Richard Foster, also correctly forecast in March that the 2005 premiums would rise by about 17 percent. McClellan said the bill's added coverage led to the premium increase but added that he expected next year's increase would "not be as high as this year."

Last year, Medicare premiums rose about 13 percent from $58.70 to $66.60, the second largest hike.


Oh, Chalabi!

I think there's a great musical to be written about the Chalabi story. Poor guy, he's been hounded by trumped-up investigations his whole adult life!

FBI counterintelligence agents are investigating whether several Pentagon officials leaked classified information to Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, according to a law enforcement official and other people familiar with the case
...
U.S. officials said the alleged transfer of classified intelligence to Chalabi has been part of the FBI investigation at least since a raid in May by Iraqi officials on the Baghdad compound of Chalabi's party, the Iraqi National Congress. Classified U.S. intelligence material was found in that raid, a senior official said.


SFGate via WaPo: FBI looking for Pentagon leak to Iraqi figure
Chalabi


Saletan Continues...

He's 3 for 3 this week.

Recession. Unemployment. Corporate fraud. A war based on false premises that has cost us $200 billion and nearly a thousand American lives. They're all hills we've "been given to climb." It's as though Bush wasn't president. As though he didn't get the tax cuts he wanted. As though he didn't bring about postwar Iraq and authorize the planning for it. All this was "given," and now Bush can show up, three and a half years into his term, and start solving the problems some other president else left behind.
...
"A presidential election is a contest for the future," Bush argued. "Tonight I will tell you where I stand, what I believe, and where I will lead this country in the next four years." So, Bush told us where he stood: "I stood where Americans died, in the ruins of the Twin Towers." And he told what he thought: "I wake up every morning thinking about how to better protect our country." But standing and thinking are not doing. Beliefs and promises are what you talk about when you have no progress to report. Bush pointed to the wars he had launched and the bills he had signed, but he couldn't point to the benefits those laws and wars were supposed to deliver. The benefits haven't happened yet. They "will."


9.02.2004

Taking One From the Cheney Playbook

This all sounds so familiar. AP via SF Chron:

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's ambitious plan to reorganize almost every aspect of state government was influenced significantly by oil and gas giant ChevronTexaco Corp., which managed to shape such key recommendations as the removal of restrictions on oil refineries.

Many corporations and interest groups participated in the governor's reform plan -- known as the California Performance Review -- but state records and interviews with the participants show Chevron enjoyed immense success in influencing the report through its array of lobbyists, attorneys and trade organizations.

And few corporations have spent so much political cash on the governor, either. Since Schwarzenegger's election last October, the San Ramon company has contributed more than $200,000 to his committees and $500,000 to the California Republican Party.
...
Environmental watchdogs and local agencies that regulate some of Chevron's operations complain that they had no such access, and that their counterproposals appear nowhere in the massive report.


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