Saturday, June 12, 2004

I'm Leaving This Galaxy For One Less Complicated

Brad DeLong presents a timeline detailing President Reagan's fascination with the potential threat posed by an alien invasion and rather or not the Soviet Union and the United States would join forces in repelling said invasion. Among other items in the timeline, this:

4 Dec 1985
Anticipating arms control discussions with his Soviet counterpart, President Reagan draws on an extraterrestrial analogy: "[H]ow easy his task and mine might be in these meetings that we held if suddenly there was a threat to this world from some other species from another planet outside in the universe. We'd forget all the little local differences that we have between our countries ..."

In examining this aspect of Reagan's personality, Brad makes no mention of one key detail: Reagan's vision of Cold War Russia and America becoming allies in order to defeat an alien invasion was central to the theme of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen. One must wonder, what part did the Gipper play in the creation of what is perhaps the greatest piece of comic fiction in the history of all mankind?

Moore, Gibbons, Reagan. Visionaries.


Why Does Bob Dole Hate President Bush?

From the Post.

Emboldened by the decline in President Bush's approval ratings, the Iraq prisoner abuse scandal and setbacks in the Iraq war, the Republican Congress is showing signs of taking a more assertive approach to its dealings with the administration.

One Senate committee is holding hearings into abuse of prisoners in Iraq and a second is about to issue a report on intelligence failures before the Iraq war. Early this month, a House Appropriations subcommittee, meeting behind closed doors, quickly rejected Bush's request for a free hand in spending a $25 billion contingency fund for the war in Iraq, stipulating instead how all but $1 billion would be used.

The same day, the Senate voted 95 to 0 to approve the war money with slightly less stringent conditions.


Former Senate majority leader Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) said: "I see signs of this, and it's reassuring. When a catastrophic event happens, everyone is going to do almost anything [to help the president]. But when you get down the road a little bit, you want to see what we did wrong or how much money we spent."

So we can count Bob Dole among those who believe Congress should serve a higher function than mere formality, consulted only when all other avenues of discourse have been exhausted, and expected to sign off on the President's every wish and desire.

In other words, (that usually means an utterly pointless pop culture reference will be arriving in moments) the President has spent the last three years thinking of Congress as his genie in the magic lamp, and he's about to find out that his wishes are all gone.

Words of wisdom to Congress: watch out. Because secretly, just like Jafar in Aladdin, President Bush wishes he could use one of his wishes to become the Genie in the lamp; thereby infusing in him both the powers of Congress and those of the Presidency, but also resulting in the creation of some sort of evil Bush super-genie.


Neocon VS Decepticon

Friends, the moment has again arrived...

The following is a (mostly) weekly feature which pits the leaders of Washington's "new conservative" movement against Cybertron's most feared villains. Remember: Your vote matters!


Name: Elliot Abrams

Title: Senior Director, National Security Council

Transforms Into A Crazed, SUV-Sized Grasshopper: No

Defining Moment: In 1991, Abrams was indicted by the Iran-Contra special prosecutor for giving false testimony before Congress in 1987 about his role in illicitly raising money for the Nicaraguan Contras. He pleaded guilty to two lesser offenses of withholding information to Congress in order to avoid a trial and a possible jail term. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush along with a number of other Iran-Contra defendants on Christmas night 1992 - from Disinfopedia.org.
Famous Quote: "I never said I had no idea about most of the things you said I said I had no idea about."


Name: Kickback

Title: Insecticon

Transforms Into A Crazed, SUV-Sized Grasshopper: Yes

Defining Moment: Kickback and his fellow Insecticons are reformatted by Unicron to become the Sweeps, a horde of scavengers loyal to Galvatron.

Famous Quote: "Delicious, eh Shrapnel?"

And here are your previous installments of Neocon VS. Decpeticon:
Paul Wolfowitz VS. Megatron
Richard Perle VS. Starscream
Douglas Feith VS. Devastator


Friday, June 11, 2004

The Glenn Reynolds Experience

Funny. Just two weeks ago, "Glenntastic" Glenn Reynolds was telling us that Iraqi rebel cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is becoming "increasingly irrelevant." Now, it appears that the Iraqi interim government may allow al-Sadr to play a role in the country's political structure.

In a sermon delivered in the nearby city of Kufa, he also gave his conditional support to the interim Iraqi government.

This reversed his earlier rejection of the body which he condemned as a puppet of the United States.

His political about-turn comes amid signs from the interim government that it may disregard moves by the outgoing US administrator in Iraq, Paul Bremer, to ban Sadr and other radicals from taking part in politics for three years.

Given that Glenn resides in Tennessee, things fall apart will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume the post in question (which now seems oddly, how do we say it...irrelevant) was actually just Mr. Reynolds laying the foundation for his new Jeff Foxworthy-esque comedy routine.

Here's a sampling:

-If you have control of a small army, you might be irrelevant.

-If you have major news outlets such as ABC and the BBC giving coverage to your endorsement of government officials, you might be irrelevant.

-If the Iraqi interim government is reversing its position on not allowing yourself and other radicals to play a role in the country's politics, you might be irrelevant.

And that's just the first five minutes.

But seriously folks, Glenn will be here all week. And don't forget to tip your waiters.


Language Barrier

Iraq in a nutshell. From the Washington Post:

"Look at that soldier. He is shaking," a boy shouted, pointing at a young U.S. soldier wearing yellow-tinted goggles.

"That's because he was with them in the convoy when the bomb went off," another boy said. "He was frightened. Let's talk to him, cool him down, so he can forget."

The boys joked and tried to attract the soldier's attention with an attempt at English phrases. The soldier smiled faintly and talked back, correcting their pronunciation.

"Stay away from him, and don't point at the Humvees," an adult scolded. "I'm afraid they will not understand and they will think you are talking bad about them and they will get angry. Stop it."


Thursday, June 10, 2004

Just In

Dogs are smart.

The border collie, a breed known primarily for its herding ability, was able to go to the room with the toys and, seven times out of 10, bring back the one he had not seen before. The dog seemingly understood that because he knew the names of all the other toys, the new one must be the one with the unfamiliar name.

"Apparently he was able to link the novel word to the novel item based on exclusion learning, either because he knew that the familiar items already had names or because they were not novel," said the researchers, led by Julia Fischer of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig.

A month later, he still remembered the name of that new toy three out of six times, even without having seen it since that first test. That is a rate the scientists said was equivalent to that of a 3-year-old.


When You Wish Upon A Star...

Tom Shales, detailing Reaganpalooza thus far.

Washington's often over-eager local stations stayed with network coverage for the most part. But between 5 and 6 p.m., Channels 4, 5 and 7 unwisely decided to make the occasion a local story -- and, unlike the networks, squeezed in as many commercials as they could. There were also the usual giddy weather reports and inane remarks, none inaner than that of a Fox 5 reporter stationed at the Capitol and anticipating a big crowd: "If you've ever been to Disney World," he told viewers, "you've probably got an idea of what they've got going here." (emphasis added)


Living in the DC Metro area, I am privy to the antics of Fox 5 and this looks benign compared to their most egregious offenses, not the least of which is forcing Will Thomas upon the viewing public.


Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Stepping Their Game Up

The Atrios headline says it best: Slumbering Giant Awakens.

I applaud the Washington Post editorial board for rejoining the civilized world, and I believe it's appropriate to preface this editorial with a quote from the mighty Jay-Z.

"Allow me to reintroduce myself-"

And without further ado:

Legalizing Torture

Wednesday, June 9, 2004; Page A20

THE BUSH administration assures the country, and the world, that it is complying with U.S. and international laws banning torture and maltreatment of prisoners. But, breaking with a practice of openness that had lasted for decades, it has classified as secret and refused to disclose the techniques of interrogation it is using on foreign detainees at U.S. prisons at Guantanamo Bay and in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a matter of grave concern because the use of some of the methods that have been reported in the press is regarded by independent experts as well as some of the Pentagon's legal professionals as illegal. The administration has responded that its civilian lawyers have certified its methods as proper -- but it has refused to disclose, or even provide to Congress, the justifying opinions and memos.

This week, thanks again to an independent press, we have begun to learn the deeply disturbing truth about the legal opinions that the Pentagon and the Justice Department seek to keep secret. According to copies leaked to several newspapers, they lay out a shocking and immoral set of justifications for torture. In a paper prepared last year under the direction of the Defense Department's chief counsel, and first disclosed by the Wall Street Journal, the president of the United States was declared empowered to disregard U.S. and international law and order the torture of foreign prisoners. Moreover, interrogators following the president's orders were declared immune from punishment. Torture itself was narrowly redefined, so that techniques that inflict pain and mental suffering could be deemed legal. All this was done as a prelude to the designation of 24 interrogation methods for foreign prisoners -- the same techniques, now in use, that President Bush says are humane but refuses to disclose.

There is no justification, legal or moral, for the judgments made by Mr. Bush's political appointees at the Justice and Defense departments. Theirs is the logic of criminal regimes, of dictatorships around the world that sanction torture on grounds of "national security." For decades the U.S. government has waged diplomatic campaigns against such outlaw governments -- from the military juntas in Argentina and Chile to the current autocracies in Islamic countries such as Algeria and Uzbekistan -- that claim torture is justified when used to combat terrorism. The news that serving U.S. officials have officially endorsed principles once advanced by Augusto Pinochet brings shame on American democracy -- even if it is true, as the administration maintains, that its theories have not been put into practice. Even on paper, the administration's reasoning will provide a ready excuse for dictators, especially those allied with the Bush administration, to go on torturing and killing detainees.

Perhaps the president's lawyers have no interest in the global impact of their policies -- but they should be concerned about the treatment of American servicemen and civilians in foreign countries. Before the Bush administration took office, the Army's interrogation procedures -- which were unclassified -- established this simple and sensible test: No technique should be used that, if used by an enemy on an American, would be regarded as a violation of U.S. or international law. Now, imagine that a hostile government were to force an American to take drugs or endure severe mental stress that fell just short of producing irreversible damage; or pain a little milder than that of "organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." What if the foreign interrogator of an American "knows that severe pain will result from his actions" but proceeds because causing such pain is not his main objective? What if a foreign leader were to decide that the torture of an American was needed to protect his country's security? Would Americans regard that as legal, or morally acceptable? According to the Bush administration, they should.


Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Did You Get That Memo?

I was never fan of Ronald Reagan, and the current craze of revisionist history ensnaring our media (Reagan single handedly ended the Cold War; Reagan was the most popular President of the century) is a little out of control. However, a few things can be said about the Gipper.

For one, while the Soviet Union would have most certainly collapsed under the weight of its own economic ineptitude, Reagan or not, he was one of the first elected officials to envision this scenario and actively work toward it. Also, Reagan's willingness to allow the Glasnost spotlight to shine brightest on Gorbachev, rather than himself, almost surely helped to sweep the process along.

Having never received the memo about respecting the dead, on the other hand, is Chris "no respect" Hitchens. Maybe Hitch is still sore that Dennis Miller got a CNBC gig for going Republican, and all he got was a lousy column at Slate. All that becomes obvious is if there's one person the Hitch hates even half as much Clinton, it appears to be Ronald Reagan.

There was more to Ronald Reagan than that. Reagan announced that apartheid South Africa had "stood beside us in every war we've ever fought," when the South African leadership had been on the other side in the most recent world war. Reagan allowed Alexander Haig to greenlight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982, fired him when that went too far and led to mayhem in Beirut, then ran away from Lebanon altogether when the Marine barracks were bombed, and then unbelievably accused Tip O'Neill and the Democrats of "scuttling." Reagan sold heavy weapons to the Iranian mullahs and lied about it, saying that all the weapons he hadn't sold them (and hadn't traded for hostages in any case) would, all the same, have fit on a small truck. Reagan then diverted the profits of this criminal trade to an illegal war in Nicaragua and lied unceasingly about that, too. Reagan then modestly let his underlings maintain that he was too dense to understand the connection between the two impeachable crimes. He then switched without any apparent strain to a policy of backing Saddam Hussein against Iran. (If Margaret Thatcher's intelligence services had not bugged Oliver North in London and become infuriated because all European nations were boycotting Iran at Reagan's request, we might still not know about this.)


The fox, as has been pointed out by more than one philosopher, knows many small things, whereas the hedgehog knows one big thing. Ronald Reagan was neither a fox nor a hedgehog. He was as dumb as a stump. He could have had anyone in the world to dinner, any night of the week, but took most of his meals on a White House TV tray. He had no friends, only cronies. His children didn't like him all that much. He met his second wife—the one that you remember—because she needed to get off a Hollywood blacklist and he was the man to see. Year in and year out in Washington, I could not believe that such a man had even been a poor governor of California in a bad year, let alone that such a smart country would put up with such an obvious phony and loon.

Hitchens apparently decided to blow past "piling on" and go right to that fine British tradition of spitting on the grave.


Monday, June 07, 2004

Blogger Must Die Or I'm Just A Dope

That's right. Either Blogger is giving me trouble or I've just done something stupid, but it appears that the weekend posts have been deleted. I'll be trying to restore them today, so possibly no more posting.


Sunday, June 06, 2004

In Memory