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Friday, January 31, 2003  
The New Republic has an editorial up that does a pretty good job of pointing out some of the contradictions in the anti-war case, but I think its blanket dismissal of the intellectual honesty of the anti-war left is a bit overstated.

[Moderate antiwar critics'] predominant view now is that the only thing preventing a bloodless disarmament of Iraq is Bush's precipitous rush to war. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle summed up this sentiment when he asked this week, "How are our efforts to deal with this threat helped by short-circuiting an inspections process we demanded in the first place?"--as if the inspections were being stymied by Bush rather than by Saddam. It is now clear that Bush's critics didn't mean what they said all along: The mask of nuanced criticism has been pulled off the moderate antiwar position, exposing it for the abject pacifism it truly is.

This is a little misleading, and intentionally so. To state that Daschle was denying that Saddam was impeding inspections is to mischaracterize Daschle's position. Daschle's point, as I understood it, was that Bush's committment to the inspections seems hollow, insincere, formalistic. If there is such dynamite evidence to prove Iraq's program exists, why not supply some of it to the inspectors? The explicit reason given is because it would compromise security for future operations. But considering the enormous boost that full international co-operation would give to the effort to oust Saddam, surely there is one, just one piece of this compelling portfolio that may be revealed? Just a set of GPS co-ordinates, telephoned to an inspector already in the air, able to get anywhere in Iraq in an hour? It is not "abject pacifism" to suggest that having wisely forced the question of inspections, that we treat them as a real option, not merely a fig leaf for invasion. The Bush position, that preservation of intelligence for war is a priority overriding the imperitives of the inspectors on the ground, implies that war is inevitable. Withholding information, and declining to share it with the people in the world who are most able to use it right now, at this moment, erodes our credibility in a way that could have strategic consequences. Which brings us to the next overstatement:

Liberals' most pervasive intellectual tic has been to argue against war on the grounds that somebody else is against it. Usually, that somebody else is our international allies, whom war critics have granted not merely consultation but full veto power over any military action. To state that a policy of unilateral, pre-emptive military deployment to solve international problems and to quash prospective threats is a radical break from previous practice is a completely fair observation. Our strong ties, through NATO and the low-heat crucible of the Cold War, with our Western European allies is the signature international bond of modern history. This alliance has created the modern condition of the world, for ill, and for great, undeniable good. Europe has often served to temper our rashness, and we have often acted to strengthen Europe's resolve. In short, it is not antipatriotic or irrational to expect the US to consult with Europe in the course of events. This is not the same as granting "full veto power" to Europe or anyone else. We can consult and disagree with our allies within the civil framework of these alliances, and ultimately act alone, if we deem it is necessary. Criticizing the Bush administration's tendency to upbraid and insult these allies, before dismissing their positions as irrelevant, is not asserting that these allies should govern us. It is stating that we should govern ourselves with an eye towards preserving relationships that have sustained us in the past, and may do so again.

Suppose the inspectors did get a tip on, say, a nuclear weapons plant and managed to descend upon it unannounced. No doubt the Iraqis would simply refuse the inspectors entry while they smuggled out or destroyed incriminating evidence. The most incriminating thing Iraq will ever be accused of is denying access to a sensitive site.

This doesn't take much rebuttal. What, are the inspectors going to stand around in front of the base smoking cigarettes while the Iraqis sneak a particle accelerator out under their jackets? Come on.

I personally believe that war in Iraq is probably necessary, despite the preposterously cynical manner in which it was foisted on the American people. I agree with much of the case TNR makes. I think, however, that TNR has begun to indulge in the too-common practice of making their case by attempting to portray its opponents as foolish, or hypocritical. There is a good case to be made against war. I don't agree with it, but I know that it is more viable that the straw men TNR chooses to beat up here.


Tuesday, January 28, 2003  
Not to be too lazy, but I don't think I could have articulated my own position on Iraq more clearly than Josh Marshall did today:

"3. Waiting indefinitely isn't necessarily as easy as it sounds. One of the arguments I found most convincing in Pollack's book was that Saddam's ability to play the inspections game is inherently more elastic than ours. His freedom of action is far greater and far more sustainable.

Simply put, he's there. We're not. Or, at least, not in strength. Here's the argument: We've now mobilized a big force to the region. And as long as we're there with our finger at the trigger, he's going to lie very, very low -- as he's doing now. But we can't keep those troops there indefinitely. For money and preparedness reasons we'll eventually have to draw down. Then Saddam can start gaming the system again because our ability to retaliate will be greatly diminished. Then we build up again and Saddam draws back again. That could go on forever. Unfortunately, it's easy for Saddam to go back and forth, but very hard for us. We can't just send a quarter million drops back and forth to the Gulf a couple times a year. It's easy for him but it'll eventually bleed us dry.

Eventually, we'd just have to say, 'Okay, this is lame. We're going to have to settle this once and for all.' Folks like Pollack, certainly the hawks in the administration, and possibly now Colin Powell too, think we're already at that point. And I'm not at all certain they're wrong.

4. It's hard to ignore the fact that Norman Schwarzkopf isn't convinced we should go to war right now. And believe me, he speaks for lots of career officers at the Pentagon who's job it rightly is -- since they're still in uniform -- to give candid advice in private but follow the orders of their civilian superiors.

5. We signed on to inspections. Like it or not, we did. It's very hard for us to say the process has run its course. Hard to say primarily since it's not true. That just raises a problem of consistency for the US. The point of going this route is to push the process hard enough that -- in concert with good data from US intelligence agencies -- the inspectors either find something or we get to some point where the Iraqis stand in the doorway of some factory or building and don't let them do their work. Then the process has broken down. There are reasons I've noted above that weigh heavily against waiting. But for the moment I think it leaves us with a problem of logic if not of policy. If we've got evidence from our intelligence sources that will advance the ball and prove our contentions -- and I'm sure we do -- we need to go as far as we can to make it public."

There is more, and it's all very, very sensible. Read the whole post. In the spirit of borrowing the writing of others to express my view, I would add to Marshall's piece the following, from Jonathan Chait's October 2002 article "False Alarm: Why Liberals Should Support the War" in TNR:

War with Iraq worries liberals in part because it seems to come right out of the blue. The Bush administration has inadvertently stoked this fear by blundering the argument. First, it has framed war with Iraq as a continuing response to the September 11 attacks. But there's not yet convincing evidence that Iraq lent meaningful support to Al Qaeda, and the lessons of last year's attack would suggest action against terrorist groups and the states that most aggressively support them (e.g., Iran and Syria), not Iraq [ . . . ]

Second, the Bush administration has justified war with Iraq as the first exercise of its new doctrine of "preemption," whereby the United States, in defiance of international law, can attack rival states that pose a non-imminent threat. Liberals, normally, find such a prospect alarming [ . . . ] By framing war with Iraq as the model for a new foreign policy doctrine under which we can attack anybody we deem a threat, without any regard for the opinion of the world or even our allies, Bush has made it anathema to liberals.

But opposing the administration's expansive new preemption doctrine does not require one to oppose its intended war with Iraq. Here, again, the administration has bungled the argument. The more persuasive justification for war is that Iraq has violated a series of U.N. resolutions requiring its disarmament and compliance with weapons inspections. Yes, lots of countries violate U.N. resolutions. What makes Iraq's violation a casus belli is that it agreed to disarm as a condition of ending the Gulf War. War with Iraq does not require trashing international law. Just the opposite: Sustaining international law is central to its very rationale.

Indeed, if you want to get technical, the Gulf war never really ended. Hostilities came to a halt April 9, 1991, when Iraq agreed to U.N. cease-fire resolution 687, which required Iraq to "unconditionally accept the destruction, removal or rendering harmless" of its weapons of mass destruction and missiles with a range of 150 kilometers or more. But Iraq refused to cooperate with the U.N.'s efforts to locate and destroy these weapons. Time and again, Iraq demanded concessions from the inspectors--requiring advance notice, barring them based on nationality, and exempting "presidential sites," which included areas as large as Washington, D.C. Its allies on the Security Council continuously supported Iraq's cause, which merely emboldened Saddam to demand more concessions, until at last he dispensed with even the pretense of cooperating with UNSCOM. In a pathetic display of appeasement the United Nations created a new inspections regime to be staffed by more compliant inspectors, operating under absurdly restrictive conditions, but Saddam refused to cooperate with even that.

The dangerous legacy of this episode is obvious. When a belligerent dictator sees that he can flout the dictates of international law without resistance, he and other dictators will grow emboldened to pursue future aggression. And, of course, the underlying substance of Saddam's conflict with international law--his ongoing efforts to build long-range missiles and nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons--has only grown more crucial since his 1998 expulsion of the weapons inspectors. Nonetheless, this latter point has come into dispute of late, with many liberals arguing that the threat of annihilation would deter Iraq from using, or even threatening to use, nuclear weapons. "I think Saddam knows that if they ever used a weapon of mass destruction, that they'd be destroyed in turn," argued Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin. "They are interested in power." It naturally follows from this argument that Iraqi nuclear weapons would pose no significant danger to the world. If that's the case, though, not only should we not threaten war to stop the Iraqi weapons buildup, we should lift all sanctions designed to halt it. (After all, sanctions undoubtedly harm the Iraqi people.) The very fact that liberals vehemently insist upon the necessity of an inspections regime at the same time they claim deterrence will protect us suggests that they do not truly believe the latter argument."

Liberals should be foursquare in favor of strengthening international institutions. It would take a real exercise of will to ignore the fact that the UN, in the past decade, has become even more of a co-opted, ineffective joke. Clinton's understandable solution was to pay lip service to the UN, and do the real work through NATO. This is a bad thing for those that believe that the nations of the world should endeavor to cooperate to manage such things as global economic crisis, poverty, progressive environmental damage; famine, refugees, and many, many other intractable global problems.

Does this simply mean that Cowboy George must wait patiently on the sidelines and wait for the UN to act? No. That is why I (and every other liberal I know) have such a hard time with this argument. What this means, and what the evidence of recent history clearly shows, is that left to its own devices, Iraq will do completely ignore the clear commands of the UN, and the credibility of the UN as a forum for effective global co-operation and enforcement will seek ever-lower nadirs. Thus (pardon me while I swallow broken glass) Bush's speech to the UN, offering the chance to safeguard their "relevance" by acting was a wise and intelligent move. I think it was a policy forced upon him by Powell, who has seen this all from the beginning, but there is no denying that Bush's change in direction from mindless, unilateral bellicosity to the challenge to the UN was a positive shift that resulted in tangible results - UN's instructions are being carried out on the ground as we speak.

But that's as far as I'll go. As for the rest of it, I can't swallow that much bile - the cynical, manipulative way that Bush & friends foisted this issue onto the nation, the reverses and inconsistencies in our statements to our allies and our enemies, the repellant demagoguery of the deaths of 3,000 people to justify his shitty little oil venture. Don't get me wrong, I think that Bush is an evil chimp, and any coincidence of his motives with a concern for global justice is but coincidence. But, whether he really cares about the UN or not, when he says that the UN becomes less relevant every day it lets Saddam spit in its face without doing anything, he's right.


Kos doesn't think that we will hear about Osama bin Laden tonight , but I'll wager we will. Bush will barefacedly claim that we are continuing to pursue OBL to the ends of the Earth, but this will only come after we hear that Afghanistan has become a paradise: "Afghan women who were once afraid to show their faces in the street now walk their daughters to schools that, in days past, they would have been stoned to death for even entering," or some such thing.

He will do that because, well, Afghanistan is, in fact, better off than it was under the Taliban. This true fact (which would have been true under any president) will mask his spin about OBL. The undeniable (but steadily destabilizing) triumph, in concert with his ringing rallying cry to war in Iraq, will provide a loud blast of trumpets to mask the small, persistent noodling of Osama's piccolo.


Monday, January 27, 2003  
Howard Dean, darling of blogoslovakia. Among the declared (and undeclared) Democratc candidates, certainly the favorite of the lefty blog community is former Vermont governor Howard Dean. Commentators praise him as a "straight shooter", and one who possesses the mystical "fire in the belly.".

And hey, I agree. I want Howard Dean to be president so bad my teeth hurt. But I think there is a very worrisome parallel here that has been lost on many. The majority of comparisons made by democrats is between the wooden, uninspiring Gore and the energetic, charismatic Dean. And they're right - Dean will tear up the stump like Gore never could. But I think that the worrisome parallel is not with Gore, but with Mass. Gov. Mike Dukakis, a straightforward, articulate man who played to the base and impressed everyone who heard him speak in the early going. His governorship gave him real leadership credentials, and his relative outsider status gave him credibility that the rest of the class of 1988 simply couldn't muster from their seats in the Senate or their churches in Chicago (okay, okay, Hart had a real shot, supposedly, but nevermind about him).

Once the dust cleared from the primaries, however, the GOP went on the offensive, and spun the press into a reflexive set of memes that arose from a couple of unfortunate press availabilities (you know what I'm talking about. The too-big helmet on the little head sprouting out of the tank, suggesting to America's struggling farmers that they grow something useful and renewable like Belgian endive instead of something expensive and soil-debilitating like corn, etc.) and a couple of brutal and misleading television ads into a national image of Dukakis as a lily-livered, soft-on-crime, unqualified on national security, Massachusetts liberal and "card-carrying ACLU member".

This vicious, unsupported cartoon was the defining, indeed the only issue in the campaign by the end. Bush had no long coattails to float into office upon - Iran-Contra and the crash had spavined the Reagan presidency. Recognizing this, Bush/Atwater developed a media strategy than was little short of character assasination, and a man that had seemed progressive, hardheaded and righteous at the beginning of the season limped to a nearly ten point loss, enervated, sapped of all charisma, and remembered even by Democrats as an ineffectual joke.

Does anyone think that BushRove, LLP will scruple at such tactics any more than their predecessors did?

Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating a swing to the middle, and a fear to take strong progressive stands. What I am suggesting is that Dean needs to get the most heartless set of razor-swingers the Democrats can field into his camp to play defense and get in hits of their own. The advantage the Democrats have with Dean is subtle, but substantial: the GOP playbook will not be a surprise with Dean as a candidate. They will head right for Dean's liberal stances and attempt the same squeeze play they did on Dukakis.

I'm voting for Dean, if I get a chance. I'm convinced he is in a different class than the rest of the field. He is unintimidated and recognizes the power of finishing a thought, and not hedging positions to pursue undecideds.

But cast your mind back. So was Dukakis. The fact that you likely don't remember that is only evidence of how effective the GOP hit squads were.


Friday, January 24, 2003  
The Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press has launched a blog, entitled "Behind the Homefront." The site is self-described as "A daily chronicle of news in homeland security and military operations affecting newsgathering, access to information and the public's right to know." These guys are involved in almost every major press freedom case out there, so they are definitely worth a bookmark.


Monday, January 20, 2003  
When GWB dreams of the future, what does the national university system look like? More of this, plus more of this, probably. Not that funding black colleges is a bad thing. And I doubt that GWB is consciously dreaming of a world where "They got their schools an' we got our'n." But I think he sees something admirable and Booker T. Washington bootstrap-ish about black colleges that he doesn't see in the "20 points for brown skin" policy of the University of Michigan.* But this is a fantasy - HBCU's exist in a complicated web of state and federal sponsorship that is at least as intentional a government policy as any affirmative action program. In effect, Bush is supporting an alternative model of affirmative action, not the abolition of such preferences. And that alternative model has some scary contours.

* I'm not going to get into the many ways in which Bush mischaracterized and outright lied about the UofM policy - Kos did it better than I could, plus he's got links an' comments an' readers an' stuff.
By the way, visit the scenic Boundary Waters Mystery Spot.


Friday, January 17, 2003  
I know, I know, I shouldn't just cut and paste comments I write on other people's boards, but goddamn it, this pisses me off. The comment by Louisiana health care administrator Ben Bearden arises from a maddening and willful ignorance of the real reasons poor people go to emergency rooms. People with no health insurance go to ERs because they don't have anywhere else to go to treat the ailments that are normally handled by personal physicians.

Bearden, smug asshole that he is, noted that he had only been to the ER once in his life. Well, no doubt he has a personal doctor who would prescribe antibiotics for him or his kids when he or they got, say, bronchitis, a common enough ailment. If you are poor, and don't have access to private doctors through insurance or other means, and your kid is sitting upright in bed, hacking and running a fever, what the hell are you supposed to do? Sure, the kid probably won't die, but he'll be sick for much longer (missing a couple of weeks of school), and will be contagious for much longer, increasing the likelihood of infecting you.

You are then in the position of choosing a) to go to work when brutally ill and probably infect your co-workers, b) stay at home, ride out the illness and probably lose the job, as you likely have minimal sick leave in a job with no health insurance; or c) head to the emergency room, get some antibiotics, go back to work, send your kid back to school, and go on with your already difficult life.

Bearden's comments proceed from the unsupportable and deeply arrogant assumption that anecdotes from a life insulated by privilege can be cited as evidence for universal axioms about hard work, and "don't take handouts," and "own bootstraps," and the rest. It is self-congratulatory tripe, and nothing more.

I realize this post doesn't really address the substantive policy, but I will say this - if half-witted assumptions like this are held by the people making the policy decisions at the newly-empowered state level, it is going to be ugly.


Thursday, January 16, 2003  
Deficits for everyone! There's plenty to go around...

From Newsday : "[Mitch Daniels] called the deficits, which will range from $200 billion to $300 billion in each of the next two years, "historically modest" and said they did not include the cost of any military conflict in Iraq."

Daniels goes on to say that these deficits will likely persist for the next decade. My question is - do these projections include the incredibly optimistic supply-side revenue projections undergirding the new "stimulus" plan? By which I mean - are they in fact talking about deficits of 2-300 million plus however much they were wrong about the supply-side payback? Given the decade-long forecast, they can't claim the horizon is too short.

I can't help but agree with Kos' (obliquely made) point that this may have nothing to do with the economy per se, and everything to do with the desire to put increasing pressure on Congress to slash social spending (at least I think this was his point). Now is the perfect time for them to do it, too. The Reagan era ended in the fall of the Soviet Union, which set everyone a-clamoring about a "peace dividend" and the possibility of reductons in defense spending. The deficit hawks could fairly choose their targets, including the bloated hulk of deficit spending that is the DoD. But now, if Bush drives the deficit up again, and the hawks start cawing, the DoD will be largely out of bounds, as will the nation's intelligence and law enforcement apparatus. The result? The further emasculation of purely social spending, as the never-ending war on terror causes less-and-less-furtive eyes turn to look at what remains of social security, the department of education, and all the rest of the "civilian," non-terrorist-stopping government.

The result is a government that is increasingly skewed towards a militarized, law-enforcement-oriented mission. The demographics of the government are changing - an uncommented-upon consequence of the new Department of Homeland Security as well. Functions are being transferred in huge chunks from agencies that used to have a primarily civilian character into, essentially, a police agency. Bob the infrastructure geek used to be a civil engineer for the Department of Transportation. He built bridges. Now, he's a cop, and his little plastic door badge says "Security" on it. Over the long term, these cuts produce the same effect. The more social security administrators, paper shufflers in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, GAO case workers, etc., can be put on the block, the more government culture changes from civilians serving civilians to government officers monitoring civilians.

Anyway. I suppose the above might be a little bit much - after all, maybe it's just the business cycle. It's arcane stuff, to be sure, and perhaps the administration should get a pat on the back for speaking honestly about this bad news. They must know that it makes them look awful, especially in the wake of Bush's speech. They didn't even do it on Friday afternoon. Arrogance, stupidity, or refreshing candor? I don't claim to know.

But in any case, there is no way this doesn't suck, and no way this isn't a clear and unambiguous argument for chopping out at least the non-stimulus related tax cuts (like the estate tax). Oh, but wait, I forgot - that would be "class warfare."


Tuesday, January 14, 2003  
"When you see a documentary you know the outcome and that it's fucked;
But you still hope that Hitler will blow up, and that Kennedy will duck."
- Built to Spill, "The Source"

I get the same feeling when I witness other horrible, yet inevitable, events unfolding before me in real time.


Monday, January 13, 2003  

COMES NOW, plaintiff, Sauron, to file this original Complaint, and would show this honorable court the following:

1. Plaintiff and party of the first part, Sauron, Dark Lord of Mordor, Servant of Morgoth, and Great Foe of the World ("Sauron") is a(n) (un)natural person, and resident and domiciliary of Mordor.
2. Defendant and party of the second part, Frodo Baggins ("Baggins") is a natural person and resident of Hobbiton. Co-Defendant and party of the third part Samwise Gamgee ("Gamgee") is likewise same.
3. All parties being properly diverse, jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 M.E.C. 1332. Damages far exceed the minimum jurisdiction of the court.
4. Defendants have converted and trespassed against the chattel and personalty of the plaintiff, namely, the One Ring ("Ring") and is liable to plaintiff for same.
5. Plaintiff would further show on or about the final day of the Third Age, defendants did intentionally cause the destruction of Ring while plaintiff was engaged in defending his business from hostile takeover. In the alternative, plaintiff pleads that the actions of the defendants toward ring amount to recklessness, gross negligence, and negligence.
6. As a direct result of destruction of Ring, plaintiff has suffered actual damages in the form of irreparable harm to his business and personal reputation, as well as direct and indirect loss of income, including the destruction of many thousands of specifically trained domestic animals. Plaintiff has further suffered from mental anguish, humiliation, and loss of consortium.
7. Insofar as actions of defendants were intentional, plaintiff further requests punitive damages in the amount of treble his actual damages.

WHEREFORE, PLAINTIFF, SAURON, PRAYS FOR: all reasonable damages above named; FURTHER, plaintiff prays for all additional relief in law or equity deemed necessary and proper by this honorable court, and the reimbursement of the expenses of suit.
Respectfully submitted,
Mouth of Sauron
Attorney for Plaintiff
Mordor Bar No. 734925639
Admitted pro hac vice, Bar of Gondor

Stolen from the great-on-culture, awful-on-politics pejmanpundit (with slight embellishment).


Thursday, January 09, 2003  
Hmmm, been a while, but here goes - I may archive some other stuff I have written in the interim, just to get it down, but here's a recent post, anyway. As noted by Atrios today, the Bush tax plan has some interesting wrinkles that neither side has discussed in detail so far. And they aren't all bad.

An article in the NYTimes business section (also via Atrios), describes a system by which only profit which has actually been taxed under the corporate taxation scheme may be exempted from subsequent taxation as income by the stockholder/dividend recipient. For example, a corporation that makes $100,000,000 in profit and pays a tax bill of around 35 million, can issue the remaining 65,000,000 as dvidends upon which the recipients will pay no taxes. But if the same corporation makes the same profit, but doesn't pay any corporate taxes on that 100m (say, because your company reincorporated in the Caymans, or has great tax lawyers), your dividends will be taxed to the recipients as income, making them less appealing to investors, and making offshore incorporation less appealing overall. Also, if your company is unprofitable in a given year, but chooses to issue dividends anyway, as a capital expense, such dividends will be taxed to the recipients as income.

Some quick-and dirty observations:

(1) This seems to be, as Atrios notes, more complicated than it initially appeared. I want to read some breakdowns of this plan by some enterprising, finance-minded blogger (paging Dwight Meredith) so that someone who knows what the hell they are talking about can break this thing all the way down.

(2) In order for the anti-offshore incentive to work, the amount of investment lost to the corporation because of the decreased appeal of their taxable dividends must be higher than the amount of tax avoided by going offshore (marginal corporate tax rate of 35%). I have no idea how such a calculation would be assembled (see (1), above), but my gut feeling is that it is unlikely to have much of an impact.

(3) Dividends on preferred stock will continue to be taxed as before. That is, the gold-plated, very pricey insider stuff that the hoi polloi almost never get a whiff of. Preferred stock comes with increased voting privileges, is first in line come dividend time, and holds a host of other advantages. It has been said that almost 60% of American households own stock at this point. I would be shocked if 99% of that stock wasn't plain old common stock. Preferred stock in large, dividend-paying corporations is, quite simply, something that only the rich possess. So, it seems that this aspect of the Bush plan is a genuine blow for the proletariat - or the middle class, anyway.

(3) There is something vaguely reminiscent of the "no child left behind" program here - if a company is unprofitable, this program makes its stock less appealing as an investment, just as schools that underperform over time under Bush's plan will have funding removed, and will eventually be shuttered. Kind of hard to fight back against the spiral.

(4) Good or bad, this whole arrangement is still premised on the whole bogus double taxation business.


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