OxBlog

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

# Posted 11:42 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS JON STEWART AN EENSY WEENSY BIT HYPOCRITICAL? Four years ago, I saw Jon Stewart do a live stand-up show in Washington. I have never seen anything that funny in my life. And now when I watch The Daily Show, I can't stop myself from laughing out loud.

But just like The Onion, Stewart is a lot less funny when his one-sided politics result in one-sided comedy -- or no comedy at all.

Last night, Stewart interviewed Bill Clinton. Tonight he interviewed Maureen Dowd. He didn't ask them serious questions. He didn't ask them funny questions. He just went on and on about how evil the Republicans are and then asked if Clinton and Dowd thought so too. Answer: yes, they do.

Now, as certain people people pointed out after I skewered The Onion, you've probably got a baseball bat stuck way up where the sun don't shine if you spend your time denouncing a satire for being unfair. Because isn't the point of a satire to be unfair?

Sure it is. But given Jon Stewart's well-advertised aspiration to fortify his humor with serious intellectual heft, I think he's fair game. Moreover, Stewart explicitly tries to demonstrate that the mainstream media roll over too easily when confronted by aggressive spin. Then Stewart tries to compensate by getting tough with the same spin doctors who take the mainstream for a ride.

Take a look at this interview with Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX), who was part of the GOP's "rapid response team" at the Democratic convention. It's more of an interrogation than an interview and its devastatingly effective.

Unfortunately, The Daily Show hasn't posted any clips yet for the Clinton and Dowd interviews, and I can't find any transcripts on the web. So you'll have to take my word for the fact that Stewart tossed both of them softball after softball. But you don't have to take my word for the fact that there are lot of tough questions out there waiting to be asked.

Now if Stewart came out and said that he's a passionate Democrat and that the purpose of the show is to make the best case possible against George Bush and the GOP, I wouldn't mind his being one-sided. But as long as he poses as a fair-and-balanced man in the street, he should have the guts to get tough with liberals as well as conservatives.
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Monday, August 09, 2004

# Posted 10:25 AM by Patrick Belton  

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... is from CNN, and concerns Koko, the sign-language communicating ape:
About a month ago, Koko, a 300-plus-pound ape who became famous for mastering more than 1,000 signs, began telling her handlers at the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside she was in pain. They quickly constructed a pain chart, offering Koko a scale from one to 10.

When Koko started pointing to nine or 10 too often, a dental appointment was made. And because anesthesia would be involved, her handlers used the opportunity to give Koko a head-to-toe exam.

"She's quite articulate," volunteer Johnpaul Slater said. "She'll tell us how bad she's feeling, how bad the pain is. It looked like it was time to do something."

They crowded around her, and Koko, who plays favorites, asked one woman wearing red to come closer. The woman handed her a business card, which Koko promptly ate.
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Saturday, August 07, 2004

# Posted 5:36 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

VIETNAMESE AMERICANS WILL VOTE FOR BUSH: Instapundit points to this article, which says that their pro-Bush margin is 90 to 10. Even though Glenn doesn't add any commentary to his post, one gets the sense that it is a subtle dig at Kerry for parading his service record. After all, if he was such a hero, why don't the Vietnamese think so?

There are two answers to this question. First, Vietnamese immigrants to the United States tend to be those who suffered (or expected to suffer) most as a result of the Communist victory. They have historically supported Republicans because of their hawkish anti-Communist views.

The second answer to this question is related to the first. Most Americans have forgotten that our withdrawal from Vietnam facilitated brutal Communist repression in the South, after it was overrun in 1975. Anti-war activists such as Kerry tend to avoid any mention of the human cost of surrender, because it damages their moral stature. A complex issue to say the least.
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# Posted 5:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG IS RICH! When I decided to spend the upcoming year at UVA instead of Harvard, it meant accepting a 10% pay cut. Then I saw what the cost of living was in Charlottesville as opposed to Cambridge. Thanks to 75% cut in the cost of rent and utilities, I will have more money than I know what to do with. Even after buying a car, I'm going to have far more spending money than I ever did in Cambridge (or Oxford for that matter).

So, why am I telling you all of this? Because I have to tell someone about this kind of good luck! And if any of you print out this post and bring it to Charlottesville (even if you already live there) the drinks are on me.
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Friday, August 06, 2004

# Posted 12:02 PM by Patrick Belton  

HISTORICAL PORN: BBC muses embarassingly about the first century British guerilla Boudicca as showing the frailty of 'superpowers [who] like to think they are untouchable', particularly ones who try to 'win the hearts and minds of [Iraqis, er, I mean,] Britons'. But this is all about history, of course. And BBC has apparently not learnt the simple lesson that sharing one's pornographic fantasies online is rarely a good idea.
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# Posted 2:29 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG ON THE RUN: Tomorrow I head down to Virginia to look for a place to live. Since Patrick and Josh are also in transit, posting may be light to non-existent on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
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# Posted 2:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOTTA HAVE HART: Just in case that last post wasn't enough, check out Phil Carter and Robert Tagorda's thoughtful posts on Gary Hart.
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# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GARY HART'S GRAND STRATEGY: In the spring of 2001, I sat down with Gary Hart to have lunch in the Covered Market at Oxford. We'd gotten to know one another because of our mutual friendship with John Lewis Gaddis, who'd inspired both of us to study grand strategy and think about how the United States might develop one.

Much of what Sen. Hart and I talked about prefigured the central message of his new book, The Fourth Power: A Grand Strategy for the United States in the Twenty-First Century. Both of us strongly believed that a grand strategy built around the promotion of democracy and human rights had the potential to transcend the partisan divide by appealing to the ideals of both Democrats and Republicans.

Back in the spring of 2001, Hart was not yet known as the author of prophetic report about the threat of international terrorism. As Ryan Lizza sums it up in his review of Hart's book,
During the 1990's, when the foreign policy establishment was obsessed with Star Wars and other issues left over from the cold war, Hart headed a commission on national security with another former senator, Warren Rudman. Its report, issued early in 2001, warned of catastrophic terrorist attacks in which ''Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.'' Incredibly, the work of the Hart-Rudman commission was widely ignored by the press and the Bush administration.

[UPDATE: RB points out that much of Hart's work was done before Bush took office and the Clinton folks ignored it as well.]

Prof. Gaddis, however, recommended that I read the report because it reflected a conscious effort to map out a grand strategy for the United States of America. In spite of its prescience, the report said little to nothing about American ideals. According to Sen. Hart, this oversight reflected the difficulty of forging a consensus among the report's many authors.

But now that Hart has his own book, he can talk at length about those ideals. Since I don't yet have a copy, I'm going to restrict myself to addressing the points that Sen. Hart raises in an LA Times column that summarizes the arguments in his book. At first, Hart's call for an idealistic foreign policy comes across as an implicit condemnation of John Kerry's calculated avoidance of any promises to promote democracy in Iraq or Afghanistan. But then Hart writes that
Some so-called neoconservatives in the Bush administration have evoked Woodrow Wilson for the purpose of making the United States the missionary of democracy, neglecting the important truth that Wilson's methods were internationalist and peaceful, not unilateralist and militaristic.
Coming from an individual with a doctorate in American history, Hart's thumbnail account of Wilson's foreign policy is profoundly disappointing. If you ask the people of Mexico, Haiti and Nicaragua, they will tell you that Wilson was a cynical and aggressive unilateralist whose self-righteous idealism did nothing to prevent him from invading and occupying their homelands. If you ask the people of Mexico, Haiti and Nicaragua what they think of the current American president, they'd probably say exactly the same thing.

On a similar note, Wilson also sought to promote democracy at gunpoint in Germany and Central Europe. His League of Nations may have been multilateralist by design, but its significance paled in comparison to the Peace of Versailles, which was imposed on Europe by the victorious Anglo-Franco-American cabal.

Correcting Hart's account of Wilson is extremely important because influential Democrats have been distorting Wilson's legacy for almost thirty years. In the course of my research on US-Central American relations under Carter and Reagan, I have come across countless speeches in which Democrats lionize Wilson for his dedication to multilateralism and peace.

Although sincere, this sort of rhetoric reflected the political imperative of providing a historical foundation for the strident anti-interventionism of the post-Vietnam left. Its policies were those of Jimmy Carter even if Democrats attributed them to Woodrow Wilson.

When Reagan came into power and began to pursue a foreign policy that was truly Wilsonian, few Democrats opposed him more vehemently than Gary Hart. Even though numerous Democrats supported Ronald Reagan's efforts to promote democracy at gunpoint in El Salvador and Nicaragua, Hart refused to do so until the anti-Communists in those nations curbed their horrific abuses of human rights.

As this example demonstrates quite well, the American values that Hart idealizes often come into conflict with one another. At least in his LAT column, Hart misses this point entirely. Instead, he seems to presume that there is a single, correct interpretation of what American values are.

The potential for conflict within the American value system has often been overlooked in recent months because John Kerry has studiously avoided any sort of idealistic pretensions. When OxBlog debates with Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias and Laura Rozen about the importance of idealism in American foreign policy, they defend John Kerry on the ground that idealism is overrated, especially the faux idealism of George W. Bush.

Thus, one might ask whether Hart's idealism places him somewhere on the political spectrum that is further from Kerry and closer to Bush. The answer to that question is a definitive 'no'. Like Jimmy Carter, Hart elevates the principle of multilateralism to a status on par with that of democracy and human rights.

Back in the 1980s, John Kerry opposed Reagan's Nicaragua policy on the exact same grounds as Gary Hart. Kerry described that policy as recklessly unilateralist and totally disinterested in human rights. Back then, multilateralism for Kerry was a matter of principle. Yet now Kerry's portrays his multilateralism as a realistic means of enhancing America's strength.

When I met Gary Hart for lunch in the spring of 2001, I was a first-year grad student who had no appreciation of the potential for conflict within the American value system. While I salute his efforts to reinvigorate the idealism of the Democratic left, I fear that his definition of American idealism will bring us no closer to bipartisanship than Kerry's realist rhetoric.
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# Posted 12:28 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS LAND IS MOST CERTAINLY NOT YOUR LAND: The music company that owns the copyright to Woody Guthrie's classic song has threatened to sue the Jib Jab brothers, creators of the wildly successful parody based on Guthrie's work. (Hat tip: Bo Cowgill)

The legal issue at play is whether the Jib Jab parody represents "fair use" of Guthrie's work. A key precedent in the matter is a 1994 ruling that permitted photographer Thomas Forsythe to depict "naked Barbie dolls in compromising positions with kitchen appliances." For the record, I'd just like to state that OxBlog's kitchen appliances prefer women with realistic proportions and proper educations.

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Thursday, August 05, 2004

# Posted 11:58 AM by Patrick Belton  

READING LIST: So having briefly made it onto the grid again in Manhattan (and that via mooching off of a next-door neighbour's wireless internet), I thought I'd compile together a handful of pieces I think are worth reading:

Jamie Kirchik contrasts the Lieberman, Biden, and Kerry doctrines (in descending order of approval) and writes in The Hill on what the sad response to Lieberman's speech says about the Democratic party.

Carnegie has put out another edition of its always informative Arab Reform Bulletin, focusing on women in the Arab world. And the Transatlantic Democracy Network has released a new Democracy Digest.

Writing in Foreign Policy, John Kerry lays out his foreign policy in a piece with the title If I Were President: Addressing the Democratic Deficit. The subtitle is promising, but receives short shrift in the piece itself - which in its sole sentence on the topic hints that democracy should be aided overseas by education and, more strangely, family planning.
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# Posted 12:07 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FEDERAL BUREAU OF INCOMPETENCE: Dan Drezner is bewildered by what passes for reform at FBI headquarters. Dan also catches the New Yorker exaggerating the impact of outsourcing on US jobs. Before that, Dan caught the Kerry campaign talking out of both sides of its mouth on free trade.

In contrast to his tough reviews of the FBI, The New Yorker and the Kerry campaign, Dan goes pretty soft on Baywatch bombshell Pamela Anderson. Or should I say hard?
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Wednesday, August 04, 2004

# Posted 3:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONTEXT CLUES: Last week I put up a post criticizing the lack of idealism in Democratic foreign policy. The post was based on Laura Rozen and Matt Yglesias' respective accounts of a panel discussion with big-name Dems held during the Democratic conventions.

In response, both Laura and Matt have pointed out that their accounts were not meant to be comprehensive, so the conclusion I pulled out of them do not represent what the panelists said. I hope that's the case, since I was pretty disappointed.

For the benefit of both myself and all y'all, I'd hoped to find a transcript of the panel discussion, but haven't had any luck on that front so far. For the moment, I'll ask a couple of quick questions about Matt & Laura's clarifications. Matt writes that
The reason [Rand] Beers in particular didn't talk about promoting democracy is that, as I said, he didn't talk about promoting anything. His line was that a Kerry administration would have the exact same goals as the Bush administration, so he was going to talk about the differences between Kerry's internationalist method of achieving those goals...

I took Beers to be saying that Kerry, like Bush, believes in achieving long-term victory over the forces of violent global jihad by spreading democratic norms to the Middle East.
Given Matt's suspicion of George W.'s commitment to those goals, it's somewhat strange to give a well-known realist like Beers a free pass because he implied his goals are the same as George Bush's. When I hear something like that coming from Beers, it suggests that he's happy to talk about democracy and then do just as little to achieve it as he [Beers] expects Bush of doing.

Next up, Laura writes that she
was struck listening to the team I heard speak [at the panel] by something that may be better than foreign policy idealism: the marriage of real commitment to do what's possible to make lives better for lots of people on the planet, with an incredible, unideological wealth of experience knowing how to make it happen, from post war nation building, to working with allies on intervening to stop ethnic conflict, to having the right types of troops -- military police, special operatives -- to do these tasks, to getting Republican right wingers to agree to pay the US's UN dues. This is not glamorous stuff. This is the hard learned, hard-slogging negotiations, often done at the domestic level, but internationally too, of marrying often extremely idealistic goals -- getting anti retroviral therapies to as many people infected in Africa, stopping a war that was killing tens of thousands, etc. -- with real how-to knowledge. What's missing of course from the Rumsfeld conduct of post-war Iraq has always been that sort of pragmatism.
I think that's a pretty good summing up of the experience-is-better-than-empty-promises meme that Democratic pundits are using to defend Kerry & Edwards for their lack of idealism. Does it wash? Actually, yes. I certainly take the argument seriously, although I don't see the experience vs. idealism issue as being as black and white as Laura does. (See, I'm nuanced just like Kerry!)

If Kerry's foreign policy is going to build on the Clinton precedent of competence rather than idealism, we can probably expect similar results. Clinton played the idealism card very heavily in his first couple of years in office, talking consistently about enlargement of the democratic world. At the same time, he abaondoned Somalia, ignored Rwanda and protested with great indignance and minimal effectiveness about rampant murder in Bosnia.

In his second term, Clinton finally consummated the marriage of strength and idealism by putting an end to ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. I'm just concerned that we'll have to wait for year seven of a prospective Kerry administration before getting a policy that's anything like that. In the meantime, the people of the Iraq and the cause of global may be far better served by this administration's reckless idealism.

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# Posted 12:46 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHO COULD DISAGREE WITH THAT? John Kerry said in his acceptance speech that
I will bring back this nation's time-honored tradition: The United States of America never goes to war because we want to; we only go to war because we have to. That is the standard of our nation."
As Bob Kagan rightly points out, Kerry would get an 'F' in American history if he wrote that on a final exam. No wars of choice means no wars to stop ethnic cleansing (Bosnia/Kosovo) and no wars to uphold international law (Gulf War I).

If so, what differentiates John Kerry from the isolationists of the past? I'll tell you what: the fact that he didn't really mean what he said. If faced with an impending genocide, say in the Sudan, Kerry would check the opinion polls and, if America wants, declare that genocide is a mortal threat to all that America stands for. If faced with wanton aggression, say a Russian invasion of Georgia, Kerry would check the polls and declare that America cannot be secure in a world without law.

In the finaly analysis, I think Kagan is right about what Kerry believes but doesn't recognize just how much ambiguity there is even in some of Kerry's most explicit statements.
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# Posted 12:26 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LETTERMAN INTERVIEWS CLINTON: The interview was almost all softballs, with an occasional tough-sounding question thrown in, e.g. Did John Kerry have a lackluster record in the Senate, since his name wasn't on any major bills?

Needless to say, Clinton had no problem dealing with that one. What struck me, though, was that Clinton's praise for Kerry was somewhat lukewarm. More than once, he said Kerry would make a "good" President. Surely an inspirational speaker like Clinton could do better than that.

Clinton also insisted more than once that Kerry should be as specific as possible about what he would do as President, especially in Iraq. I'm wondering if Clinton really meant that. Kerry and Edwards' highly evasive acceptance speeches suggest that they recognize that straddling the fence on Iraq is a political imperative for the candidates of a divided party. And Clinton himself provided almost no specific recommendations of his own, although he did peddle the NATO-will-help-out-if-we-are-nicer-to-them proposal. Yeah right.

Also of note, Clinton rejected Dave Letterman's suggestion that yesterday's Orange Alert in NY and Washington was politically motivated. Clinton said straight that the Bush administration was doing its best to deal with a tough issue.

Finally, here are a couple of questions that I would've asked Clinton:
1. John Kerry constantly insists that his military experience makes him uniquely qualified to be commander-in-chief. Did your lack of military experience make you less effective as commander-in-chief?

2. As President, you insisted time and time again that promoting democracy is both a moral and strategic imperative for the United States. In contrast, John Kerry has studiously avoided saying that he will commit American resources to ensuring a democratic outcome in either Iraq or Afghanistan. Is he making a big mistake?

3. John Kerry says that President Bush misled this nation into invading Iraq. While you were President, you vociferiously stated that Saddam Hussein had massive WMD stockpiles and should be deposed. Were you misled? And was Sen. Kerry misled when he voted for the war in the fall of 2002?
Yeah, I know you don't get questions like that on the Late Show. But a blogger can dream, can't he?

UPDATE: The fiendishly clever RB writes:
I would modify your question #1 slightly by asking Bill Clinton the following:

1.      John Kerry constantly insists that his military experience makes him uniquely qualified to be commander-in-chief. Would Hillary’s lack of military experience make her less effective as commander-in-chief?
Ouch!

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Tuesday, August 03, 2004

# Posted 6:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOLERANCE IN IRAQ: The response of mainstream clerics to the recent church-bombings in Iraq has been almost as inspiring as the bombings themselves were devastating. Rather than speak through an intermediary, Ayatollah Sistani himself described the bombings as "criminal" and declared that Iraqi Christians have a right to live in peace.

Surprisingly, Moqtada Sadr concurred that the bombings were simply unacceptable. Condemnation also arrived from Sunni clerics with ties to the insurgents.

These responses are so important because those who argue that Iraq isn't ready for democracy insist that democracy cannot survive without a tradition of tolerance that compels the resolution of disputes through debate rather than violence. Thus if Sunni and Shi'ite are capable of recognizing the rights of Christians, perhaps they will be able to co-exist with one another as well.
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# Posted 5:47 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

KRUGMAN VS. CABLE TELEVISION: There are two good reasons to read Paul Krugman's column in this morning's NYT. First, it cites three blog or blog-like websites in its opening sentence. Second it addresses straight on the issue of media bias. Krugman writes:
CNN used to be different [from Fox], but Campaign Desk, which is run by The Columbia Journalism Review, concluded after reviewing convention coverage that CNN "has stooped to slavish imitation of Fox's most dubious ploys and policies." Seconds after John Kerry's speech, CNN gave Ed Gillespie, the Republican Party's chairman, the opportunity to bash the candidate. Will Terry McAuliffe be given the same opportunity right after President Bush speaks?
I'm guessing McAuliffe will, especially now that Krugman has called out CNN. But more importantly, McAuliffe and Gillespie should have the opportunity to respond right after Kerry and Bush get an hour of free air time in order to broadcast their acceptance speeches. When the President addresses the nation live on network television, the doctrine of equal access compels the networks to let a member of the opposition address the nation live immediately after the conclusion of the President's address.

As such, I'm mystified as to why Krugman describes CNN's interview with Gillespie as a "dubious ploy". However, I'm going to suspend judgment for now because the fact is that I almost never watch CNN or any of the network news programs despite the fact that they are the most influential sources of public information in terms of their access to a truly national audience.

Moreover, regardless of my disagreement with Krugman on points of substance, I'm glad that he's addressing the media bias issue head on. It's a subject that should be debated more often on major editorial pages.

It is also quite instructive that Krugman has chosen to publicize his reliance on blog or blog-like websites to serve as watchdogs for the mainstream media. The blogosphere's ambition to surveil professional journalists is perhaps our most ambitious, and thus it is gratifying to see an influential columnist recognize our success in that endeavor.

Of course, Krugman may have to depend on blogs for such criticism of the mainstream media, since the NYT's own in-house ombudsman/'Public Editor' has set off a firestorm by concluding that this NYT does have a marked liberal bias, at least as far as cultural issues are concerned.

For a good laugh, read the outraged letters to the Public Editor sent in by liberal readers. Almost all of them argue that there's nothing wrong with a liberal slant since liberalism equals truth. For example:
Your examination of where the Times fits -- left or right -- seems to accept the right's contention that there should be equality between the two. But where the left looks for empirical evidence to support its views, the right already has the theological received wisdom that brooks no contradiction. Why give the right's views the same weight as the left's? Why present religiously based arguments as equally valid?
Facing an audience like that, it's no surpise that Okrent has chosent to spend all of August on vacation.
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# Posted 1:32 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BAY AREA BLOG COVERAGE: San Francisco resident and OxBrother HA points to the following article in the SF Chronicle, which is friendlier to bloggers than most:
Yes, most bloggers blog about blogs.

But the political bloggers, as a breed, are a more focused group...The result was a deserving skewering of the mainstream media for showing up to [a Convention] that most privately gripe about covering...

While the Web log authors were in an appropriate amount of awe of their pioneering role at the convention, no one seemed more obsessed about the historical significance of the moment than the mainstream media. The amount of newspaper articles and columns written about the bloggers (including this one) outnumber the actual Web logs by about 2-to-1 -- even though the 36 credentialed bloggers represented less than three-tenths of 1 percent of the 15,000 total media at the convention.

And most of the articles, according to the bloggers who criticized the missives, got it wrong. In the end, the bloggers prefer to define themselves.
Full disclosure: I am highly partial to newspapers that quote me by name and make me sound oh-so-clever. FYI, WaPo.com quoted the exact same post as the Chronicle. Talk about 15 minutes!
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Monday, August 02, 2004

# Posted 12:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THIS BLOG IS YOUR BLOG, THIS BLOG IS MY BLOG: Jib Jab has become an overnight sensation thanks to its hilarious adaptation of "This Land is Your Land" for the 2004 campaign. But how many of you knew that the Jib Jab Brothers have a blog?

It's not a political blog, but it does provide some interesting insights into how a couple of independent animators could storm the entertainment world by surprise without the support of any major corporation.

Also take a look at the "About us" section, where you find out how a bored investment banker (Gregg Spiridellis) teamed up with his animator brother (Evan Spiridellis) started a media firm in a Brooklyn garage and went on to such great achievements as illustrating a children's book written by LL Cool J.

What's next for the Jib Jab Brothers? I don't know, but I think it's worth remembering what happened to Trey Parker and Matt Stone after their internet-driven portrayal of Santa Claus duking it out with Jesus Christ gave birth to the empire known as South Park.
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# Posted 12:34 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THREE THUMBS UP FOR THE BOURNE SUPREMACY: If you want to see an action-packed summer spy thriller, this is it. If you are an amateur CIA operative who relishes the patience, logistical intricracy and psychological analysis involved in actual intelligence work, don't bother.

The purpose of this movie is to deliver jarring fight and car-chase scenes in exotic and chaotic urban environments. It's purpose is not to develop plot, character, or the dramatic arts.

But I didn't care in the least. I was holding onto to my air-conditioned seat for the whole two hours. Even my stodgy rabbinical mother, who prefers romantic comedies to anything involving gun play ("Thou shalt not kill", etc.) thought the film was fabulous. Bottom line: This is what James Bond movies are supposed to be.

OxBlog rating for "The Bourne Supremacy"? Three thumbs up. Actually, I probably don't have the authority to declare unilaterally that more than one thumb is being held aloft. But how cool would it be if Josh, Patrick and myself got to patent the phrase "Three thumbs up" the same way Siskel & Ebert did with two?
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Sunday, August 01, 2004

# Posted 11:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NYT ATTACKS KERRY FROM THE LEFT: It may have gone soft in its coverage of the Kerry and Edwards acceptance speeches. But the NYT is ripping the Democratic candidate to shreds in its editorials and op-ed columns.

Given the NYT's interest in throwing George W. Bush out of office, I'm quite surprised at its constant and impractical efforts to push Kerry to the left on foreign affairs. On Thursday, a masthead editoral asserted that "Mr. Kerry's history on the critical Iraq question has been impossibly opaque":
Mr. Bush still insists that he was right to invade. He says the war was justified because of Mr. Hussein's military ambitions and because Iraq is better off without him.

Voters need to know whether Mr. Kerry agrees...while voters are certainly prepared to accept a candidate with a complex worldview, they also value the courage that comes with occasionally taking a leap and giving an answer that's straight and simple.
Then on Friday, the morning after Kerry's acceptance speech, the editors challenge Sen. Kerry to
provide a clear vision on Iraq. Voters needed to hear him say that he understands, in retrospect, that his vote to give President Bush Congressional support to invade was a mistake. It's clear now that Mr. Kerry isn't going to go there, and it's a shame.
While the NYT is entitled to its opinion, that opinion clashes mightily with NYT political correspondents' constant insistence that Kerry can't win without demonstrating that he is just as tough as Bush on national security. For example, in its article about the Edwards speech, the authors described one passage as
"aimed at what many consider Mr. Kerry's principal vulnerability in his fiercely competitive race with President Bush: that voters still tend to trust Mr. Bush more to keep them safe according to polls.
While the Times editorials assert that Mr. Kerry could overcome his reputation for flip-flopping by taking a firm position against the war, doing so would open Kerry up to devastating attacks from the GOP. He voted for the war, but now he's against it. Kerry would then defend his position by saying that we didn't find WMD.

Journalists would then ask whether given the information available as of March 2003, whether going to war was the right choice. If Kerry still says it was wrong, he would be contradcting his actual vote. If he says it was right, then he'd be contradicting the new anti-war stance the Times recommends. And if he fudges the answer, he'd open himself up to justified charges of flip-flop fence sitting.

Bush's decision to force a Senate vote on the war in the fall of 2002 may have been politically motivated, but that doesn't mean Kerry can shake off responsibility for his vote. His optimal strategy now is to pull of his fence-sitting act as best he can. Coming out against the war (in hindsight) would severely damage Kerry's effort to court middle-ground voters.

That lesson, however, seems to be lost on the NYT. The same is true in spades for Maureen Dowd and Barbara Ehrenreich. The former complains that
The Democrats think the way to overthrow the Republicans is to mimic Republicans. Democratic rivalries are tamped down; liberal losers are kept offstage or out of prime time; the positive message - strength, heroism and patriotism - is relentlessly drummed in. The Swift boat crewmen are toted everywhere to vouch that John Kerry is a comrade, not just a set of political calculations.
Ehrenreich adds that
The idea, according to the pundits, is that with more than half of the voters still favoring Bush as the guy to beat bin Laden, Kerry needs to show that he's macho enough to whup the terrorists...

So here in one word is my new counterterrorism strategy for Kerry: feminism.
You have to read it to believe it. In the name of ideological purity, Dowd, Ehrenreich and the NYT editorial board are calling on Kerry to commit political suicide. I would counsel otherwise, if only because I can't take any more of this unholy trinity's self-righteous anti-Bush rants.
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Saturday, July 31, 2004

# Posted 10:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

OXBLOG IN THE NEW YORK TIMES : The NYT's Alex Williams is kind enough to mention us in his coverage of the coverage. Also, we can now market ourselves as 'astringent spin, as seen in the New York Times!'
Over all, the very nature of the blog — all spin, all the time — seemed to suit the coverage of a news event where the drama was carefully scripted, and the nominations were a sure thing. Not that some of the spin wasn't astringent. Patrick Belton, a 28-year-old graduate student at Oxford University in England who contributes to Oxblog, wrote, "I can understand the longing, particularly pronounced among people one generation older than me, to actually have something go massively, extraordinarily, democratically wrong, such that the platform and slate are junked, and the delegates rise up in a Jeffersonian parliamentary fury to junk the nominees presumptive, and instead nominate, say, Peter Jennings."
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Friday, July 30, 2004

# Posted 8:05 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TAGORDA ON TAP: I've been very busy today while getting ready to move out of my apartment tomorrow. But Rob Tagorda has found time to write about what John Kerry said last night, especially his pandering to the protectionist lobby. Rob also takes a look at John Edwards' effort to finesse the democracy vs. stability divide on the subject of Iraq. On the frivolity side of the P&F equation, Rob tells us about what a "French Lick" means to him. As for me, I'm off to see Mr. Tagorda in person for dinner, an opportunity I won't have again for some time since he just moved into town this week while I am leaving Cambridge, MA behind.
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# Posted 2:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACCOUNTABILITY: Amidst all the hullabaloo surrounding the Convention, I forgot to do my weekly accountability post. Here goes: One year ago this week, I had just arrived home from England and was deliriously happy about it. Meanwhile, Josh was posting an extended series on erotica, which built on his previous interest in Tatu.

On the political front, I was engaged in yet another polemic against journalists' implicit and simplistic analogies between Iraq and Vietnam. There was also a post about uranium in Niger that would have benefited quite a bit from a more skeptical approach to Joe Wilson's accusations.

But the post that suffers most from its exposure to hindsight is the one in which I asserted that
The [NY] Times avoids praising Powell for his emphasis at the United Nations on intelligence profiling Saddam's comprehensive effort to prevent UN weapons inspectors from uncovering information relevant to his weapons programs. This evidence was and still remains unchallenged. Saddam was both hiding something and in clear violation of Resolution 1441. You remember 1441, don't you?
Unquestionably, I had far too much confidence in Powell's evidence. At one point in his speech, Powell points to a diagram and states that:

Here you see 15 munitions bunkers in yellow and red outlines. The four that are in red squares represent active chemical munitions bunkers.

How do I know that? How can I say that? Let me give you a closer look. Look at the image on the left. On the left is a close-up of one of the four chemical bunkers. The two arrows indicate the presence of sure signs that the bunkers are storing chemical munitions. The arrow at the top that says "security" points to a facility that is a signature item for this kind of bunker. Inside that facility are special guards and special equipment to monitor any leakage that might come out of the bunker. The truck you also see is a signature item. It's a decontamination vehicle in case something goes wrong. This is characteristic of those four bunkers. The special security facility and the decontamination vehicle will be in the area, if not at any one of them or one of the other, it is moving around those four and it moves as needed to move as people are working in the different bunkers.

Now look at the picture on the right. You are now looking at two of those sanitized bunkers. The signature vehicles are gone, the tents are gone. It's been cleaned up. And it was done on the 22nd of December as the UN inspection team is arriving, and you can see the inspection vehicles arriving in the lower portion of the picture on the right.

The bunkers are clean when the inspectors get there. They found nothing.

The amazing specificity of this information makes one wonder how the intelligence community could have gotten things so terribly wrong. Were any of Powell's facts right? Could disinformation provided by Ahmad Chalabi and other human sources possibly account for the total misinterpretation of satellite evidence? I wish I knew the answers to those questions, but I don't. However, Powell himself did suggest that there was a critical interaction between human and signals intelligence. He said:

I'm going to show you a small part of a chemical complex called "Al Musayyib", a site that Iraq has used for at least three years to transship chemical weapons from production facilities out to the field. In May 2002, our satellites photographed the unusual activity in this picture.

Here we see cargo vehicles are again at this transshipment point, and we can see that they are accompanied by a decontamination vehicle associated with biological or chemical weapons activity. What makes this picture significant is that we have a human source who has corroborated that movement of chemical weapons occurred at this site at that time. So it's not just the photo and it's not an individual seeing the photo. It's the photo and then the knowledge of an individual being brought together to make the case. [Emphasis added. -ed.]
Well, it sounded good at the time. Third of all, there is the question of Powell's evidence with regard to the activities of Abu Musab Zarqawi. Once again, the level of detail he provided was quite impressive. But how much of it stands up over time? I don't know. I recall reading some post-mortems on the subject, but have to run at the moment because I'm moving out of my apartment tomorrow.

Now, in light of everything that was wrong about what Powell said, have I changed my position on the war? I don't think so. Iraq was clearly not opening up itself to thorough inspections. While criminal defendants are innocent until proven guilty, that courtesty does not extend to brutal, aggressive dictators who repeatedly defy calls to disarm.
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Thursday, July 29, 2004

# Posted 10:14 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE SPEECH (a live blog): Cleland introduces. Kerry makes his first appearance at the convention. Something bluish descends from the sky - perhaps a blue state. A staffer first comes out hesitantly, with water and a speech, and to place papers on the central podium, which hasn’t been used yet. Enter Kerry stage left. Touches heart. Hugs Cleland. Shakes hand of first of former shipmates, hugs rest. Fist in air. 10:08. Goes stage right, waves. Shrugging gesture that he does several times. Odd. Wags finger. Makes namaste gesture –influential Indian vote in some swing states, no doubt. Extraordinary cheering. Left teleprompter gets so excited it’s shaking – he has to steady it. Another shrug, another namaste – must have spotted a French cousin and an Indian in different corners. 10:10. Still another shrug.

I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty. (Surprise! He’s a veteran! The crowd likes it, though. Also, it's a change from the released version that we got - his people thought it was such a good line they wanted to keep it a surprise.)

Sets key theme at beginning - making America stronger at home and respected in the world.

He admits to being a State department child – is this the first mention ever of the always politically popular State Department in an acceptance speech?

10:19 it's a strong speech, and sets out well his case. You wonder whether the other speeches this convention have been so bad just in order to make this one stand out.

Ashcroft must poll particularly badly - he gets singled out for a particular cut.

The author of Burnt Orange next to me points out that there's a gift to journalists in his inversion of Bush four years ago. Thus Bush: 'As President, I will restore honor and credibility to the White House. Kerry: 'As President, I will restore trust and credibility to the White House.'

These are the ritual 'As President, I will' sentences, by invocation of which someone in our tribe establishes him or herself as an aspirant for the position of chief.

10:20 Outsourcing gets a boo. (Damned foreigners. Except sometimes we like them and need their votes. Wait.)

Acceptance of the nomination is at 10:22. The place actually shakes - hopefully there's not a fault line in Boston. Sentence is meant to establish an optimistic tone for his candidacy, but is a bit unwieldly: q.v., So tonight, in the city where America's freedom began, only a few blocks from where the sons and daughters of liberty gave birth to our nation - here tonight, on behalf of a new birth of freedom - on behalf of the middle class who deserve a champion, and those struggling to join it who deserve a fair shot - for the brave men and women in uniform who risk their lives every day and the families who pray for their return - for all those who believe our best days are ahead of us - for all of you - with great faith in the American people, I accept your nomination for President of the United States.

Particular cut for Dick Cheney at 10:23 - but we know he doesn't poll well. Interesting trick, trying to cut on particularly unpopular members of the administration while setting an optimistic tone. He seems to pull it off decently, since he chooses his targets.

10:27 He has some very good lines. Also, they connect well to the case he needs to make. Look, for instance, at the skillful segue from 9/11 to squandered unity - 'It was the worst day we have ever seen, but it brought out the best in all of us. I am proud that after September 11th all our people rallied to President Bush's call for unity to meet the danger. There were no Democrats. There were no Republicans. There were only Americans. How we wish it had stayed that way.' It could serve as the theme of his candidacy, and would be a strong one.

10:31 'I defended this country as a young man, and I will defend it as president.' Finally, a decent statement of the Kerry-as-veteran theme that's been hovering all over the convention. Were they just saving up all the good lines for tonight?

10:34 The meat of the speech is his foreign policy case. Mercifully, he comes at the president from a hawkish, idealistic direction:
We will add 40,000 active duty troops - not in Iraq, but to strengthen American forces that are now overstretched, overextended, and under pressure. We will double our special forces to conduct anti-terrorist operations. We will provide our troops with the newest weapons and technology to save their lives - and win the battle. And we will end the backdoor draft of National Guard and reservists.

To all who serve in our armed forces today, I say, help is on the way.

As President, I will fight a smarter, more effective war on terror. We will deploy every tool in our arsenal: our economic as well as our military might; our principles as well as our firepower.

In these dangerous days there is a right way and a wrong way to be strong. Strength is more than tough words. After decades of experience in national security, I know the reach of our power and I know the power of our ideals.

We need to make America once again a beacon in the world. We need to be looked up to and not just feared.

We need to lead a global effort against nuclear proliferation - to keep the most dangerous weapons in the world out of the most dangerous hands in the world.

We need a strong military and we need to lead strong alliances. And then, with confidence and determination, we will be able to tell the terrorists: You will lose and we will win. The future doesn't belong to fear; it belongs to freedom.

And the front lines of this battle are not just far away - they're right here on our shores, at our airports, and potentially in any town or city. Today, our national security begins with homeland security. The 9-11 Commission has given us a path to follow, endorsed by Democrats, Republicans, and the 9-11 families. As President, I will not evade or equivocate; I will immediately implement the recommendations of that commission. We shouldn't be letting ninety-five percent of container ships come into our ports without ever being physically inspected. We shouldn't be leaving our nuclear and chemical plants without enough protection. And we shouldn't be opening firehouses in Baghdad and closing them down in the United States of America.


10:36 shmaltz alert. 'You see that flag up there. We call her Old Glory. The stars and stripes forever. I fought under that flag, as did so many of you here and all across our country. That flag flew from the gun turret right behind my head. It was shot through and through and tattered, but it never ceased to wave in the wind. It draped the caskets of men I served with and friends I grew up with. For us, that flag is the most powerful symbol of who we are and what we believe in. Our strength. Our diversity. Our love of country. All that makes America both great and good. That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to any ideology and it doesn't belong to any political party. It belongs to all the American people. ' (The crowd plays along: 'U-S-A' chants, though they're short-lived as people realise the Fleet Center is actually not being used as a sporting venue tonight.)

10:38 New Dem effort to arrogate family values: 'Values are not just words. They're what we live by. They're about the causes we champion and the people we fight for. And it is time for those who talk about family values to start valuing families.' He softens the blow to the left with a pledge not to privatise Social Security, spiced with some Enron and an odd commitment to honour his father and his mother.

10:40 someone behind me gets yelled out for having his cell phone ring.

10:42 Fleet Center briefly becomes a 12-step program: 'Help is on the way,' everyone is shouting. Actually, balloons are on the way, at least in the shorter term.

10:43 'Here is our economic plan' - this is a speech of rhetorical confidence and certitudes. I'm impressed. On the other hand, most of his economic speech has to do with outsourcing jobs. There's also a promise to roll back the tax cut on Bill Clinton. Clinton isn't onstage, so we don't know his reaction.

10:46 people getting a bit tired - to my left, 'there's still 15 minutes left'. to my right, Command Post co-editor: 'he's got the applause lines in the wrong places. No one's listening to his important policy sentences, because they've just clapped through them.'

10:48 big applause line by declaring health care a right. A wonderfully amorphous sentence - you can have rights to all sorts of things, without government having an obligation to provide it.

10:49 'And our energy plan for a stronger America will invest in new technologies and alternative fuels and the cars of the future -- so that no young American in uniform will ever be held hostage to our dependence on oil from the Middle East.'. Low blow: however misguided its actions may have been, the administration was drawn to the Middle East not by SUVs but by 9/11.

10:50 weak attempt to sex up the fact his staff told him to plug his website: 'So now I'm going to say something that Franklin Roosevelt could never have said in his acceptance speech: go to johnkerry.com.' Umm, that's because they have different names....

10:52 well, they're not all good lines: 'Maybe some just see us divided into red states and blue states, but I see us as one America - red, white, and blue.'

10:53 this, on the other hand, is a well-crafted statement of humility, and the invocation of Lincoln in this regard is skillful: 'I don't want to claim that God is on our side. As Abraham Lincoln told us, I want to pray humbly that we are on God's side'

10:54 'what if' litany is an attempt to harness the ghost of RFK to this JFK. stem cell research is a big applause line. Also, 'a young generation of entrepreneurs asked, what if we could take all the information in a library and put it on a little chip the size of a fingernail'. Answer: then so-called 'bloggers' could come to a convention and write about it!

10:55 I learned a lot about these values on that gunboat patrolling the Mekong Delta with young Americans wh came from swing states like Florida.

10:56 Speech is over. Blue state rises into the air. Kerry goes stage right, waves. Points to swing states, or perhaps a Frenchman he sighted. More namaste. Does he realise that it's Indians who are getting most of those outsourced jobs?

10:57 Edwards appears. Another hug, those sweet little lovemuffins. A visit to stage left.

10:58 when do we get balloons? I want a balloon. Sadly, they're unlikely to hit blogger row.

10:59 okay, it's true. they do have very good hair.

10:59 out come the cookie-makers (q.v. the extraordinary sexism of Family Circle's contest)

11:00 out comes Alexandra and sisters. An advantage of Democratic victory will definitely be better first daughters. And balloons. They're falling slowly. Confetti's blown up from behind the podium. Some very big balloons, too. Okay, I'm going to stop writing and watch - this is something to take in.

11:02 some convention organisers opposite the podium are cheering loudly, and I don't think it's particularly much for Kerry.

11:04 confetti starts. When you're at home, you don't realise that the balloons pop like crazy. It sounds like popcorn. Still, it's as lovely a sight as you could imagine.
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# Posted 9:58 PM by Patrick Belton  

SNATCHES OF CONVERSATION, GRABBED AT THE MARGINS OF A CONVENTION:

• With a gay delegate named Tom, on the green line: So, what are people talking about in the gay organisations this week?

There's some disappointment because we can't bring our own signs in. We're also following the way the gay marriage issue will develop in the campaign - the GOP plans to use it as a wedge issue, to distract people from Iraq and the economy. There was a Human Rights Caucus breakfast today, and a Victory Fund event, so the gay organisations are maintaining a substantial presence at the convention.

• With an Irishwoman named Eve, a chemistry student at Trinity College, Dublin who is in Harvard Square raising money for Kerry: Hello, I'm an Irish journalist, and I've just found my story for the evening. Talk, please

I'm here in the States on a six-month visa, and it's been grand craic. I'm volunteering as a fundraiser here for 40 hours a week, and living in a group house with seven other girls. The funniest bit is when on the street I've asked Terry McAuliffe what he was going to do to defeat Bush, which is my pitch phrase for raising money, and he said he was already doing all he could do. That was right embarrassing - I laughed my arse off.

• With an aide in Representative Pelosi's leadership office: In 1992, a newly elected Clinton took many of his policy ideas from congressional Democrats, particularly on China policy (though he would later change that, when it became politically difficult). What are the ideas that a new Kerry administration would draw from the congressional Democratic caucus?

Instead than pushing for a more liberal agenda out of the campaign, we see our principal aim as being to help Kerry be elected, and we won't do anything which would hurt him. Strategically, right now we're expecting big gains in the House. There's a usually pessimistic pollster who works for us, who never projects that we're going to pick up seeats- he now thinks that we could make considerable gains this November, and out of a cyclical backlash against the Republican trifectum. Whether those gains will be enough to tip control - I can't say. They might be - it's within the projections. And in terms of what we're pushing most at present, in foreign policy - the big things now are enforcing trade agreements with China, and attacking Chinese currency manipulation.

• A panhandler in Copley Square: 'Republicans take, do Democrats give?'
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# Posted 9:35 PM by Patrick Belton  

PEOPLE GETTING CHUCKED OUT OF THE FLEET CENTER BY THE THOUSANDS: New but esteemed OxFriend Adele Stan just rang up to tell us that the fire marshall has chucked roughly a thousand people out of the Fleet Center - including media with the bad luck to be seeking out a bathroom, who were separated from their equipment, and people with floor passes, VIPs, and so forth. Adele's stuck outside at the moment, with her computer on the inside. On the other hand, hey, it's as great an excuse as they come for not doing any blogging.

You'd think someone would have counted how many of those credentials they printed up. Still, it's somehow reassuring that Roger's dictum about belonging to no organised party still holds. In the same vaguely embarassing way that the British monarchy or the papal succession is reassuring.
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# Posted 9:17 PM by Patrick Belton  

DEMOCRAT SONGSHEET: 'Trying, trying, trying to make a difference': This, a new all-but-assured hit about a senator who 'works for humanmankind both night and day'. The refrain: 'Oh, the real deal keeps on flyin,' John Kerry keeps on tryin', tryin', to make a difference.' The verses are, well, they're unprintable. Funny, I'd thought this was the party that had all the entertainers and musicians in it.
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# Posted 8:44 PM by Patrick Belton  

GOVERNMENT HEALTH WARNING FOR REP. PELOSI'S SPEECH: Parents, don't let your children grow up to have too many facelifts. If so, they'll run a risk of ending up with a perpetually surprised expression and an odd voice usually found in Disney films, and will have to seek refuge in odd coastal enclaves where the natives are surprisingly tolerant of such things.
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# Posted 8:37 PM by Patrick Belton  

LIEBERSPEECH: Clark raised the roof, but for one of his three supporters at the London caucus, Lieberman raised our hearts. First, the obvious criticisms of Senator Lieberman. Namely, he's short and has a comparatively large head. He's also humble. These have proven unpardonable sins in presidential politics, even for someone who keeps kosher in the Senate dining room.

Now about his speech. His included the only pro-war utterance of the convention, couched safely in praise of the troops. 'We must support our brave and brilliant troops - the new greatest generation - who have liberated Afghanistan and Iraq from murderous tyrannies, and who are fighting tonight in both nations to defeat terrorists and allow free and stale governments to grow there.' Clark evoked a 'pantheon of the great wartime Democrats' (along an odd several-minute-long standing ovation for the flag), but Lieberman uses the DLC language (see below) of 'muscular and idealistic internationalism', 'Wilson's commitment to make the world safe for democracy,' and Harry Truman's anti-communism. The difference, if I'm not overdrawing it, seems to be between Clark's using a succession of what political scientists call valence terms - things that everyone is for, such as a pantheon of great leaders, and Lieberman's evocation of substantive principles that could conceivably undergird a coherent, idealistic, muscular Democratic foreign policy.

Of course, neither Lieberman nor Clark will be in the White House, so the distinction doesn't really much matter except as a subject of curiosity. All that matters at the moment is what Senator Kerry believes. But it's still an interesting contrast. And damn, would Lieberman have made a wonderful president.
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# Posted 8:09 PM by Patrick Belton  

THE SPEECH OF A FUTURE SECRETARY OF STATE?: Senator Biden opens with Yeats's 'A terrible beauty', a merciful reprieve from a rhetorically sad convention in which speakers have repeated their DNC talking points with remarkably little creativity or skill, and relied upon The Convention Speaker's Rule that conveniently states that all they need to do to secure a loud ovation from the delegates is to use the phrase 'our next president, JOHN KERRY!!!!!'. Two criticisms. First, he makes ample use of the Le Monde headline 'We are all Americans now,' to create the unconvincing impression that France would be our best friend at the moment if it weren't for a horrid administration in Washington who can't even appreciate good fragrant cheese. My second criticism lies with his line 'History will judge them harshly not for the mistakes made - we all make mistakes - but for the opportunities squandered'. This is just bad staff work. First, if squandering an opportunity isn't a mistake, then presumably it was the right thing to do to squander that particular opportunity. As in general I think we all prefer more rather than less risk-averse high politics on the part of nuclear-armed hyperpowers entrusted with world leadership, then it's natural they'd squander some opportunities rather than jump willy-nilly on every one. If you don't think this, then you might like governments to go and pursue bold, reckless policies in keeping with their interests and values, like invading Middle Eastern despotic nations and attempting to make them democratic. Second, historians do, and are right to, judge statesmen and -women for their mistakes, judged against what they knew at they time they were called upon to make a mistake. But these are jesuitical objections to sloppy speechwriting. Senator Biden is a skilled speechmaker, of a sort that's in short supply in the post-Clinton Democratic party, and makes capable use of gesture in drawing an audience's attention to a zone of intensity lying roughly from his upper chest to shoulders. As an intellect and a skilled politician, he would I think make a strong candidate for Secretary of State. And if so, Kerry's would indeed prove a good administration for Senators, who as a body generally lack a fairly good record of promotion either to the cabinet or the presidency and vice presidency. In fact, if it were Europe, they could likely sue for job discrimination.
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# Posted 7:52 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DID THE BLOGGERS MAKE A DIFFERENCE?  A few hours from now, the convention will be over.  Sometime tomorrow or perhaps even tonight, a journalist will sit down and ask him- or herself the inevitable question: "We've heard so much about bloggers and their outside-of-the-box thinking.  But did their coverage of the convention really provide anything that mainstream journalists didn't?"

Even though I am a huge fan of blogs [Full disclosure: I have a blog myself. -ed.], I don't think we revolutionized coverage of this convention.  After all, how can you revolutionize coverage of a non-event?  In that sense, our failure was inevitable.

On the other hand, if blogging doesn't add anything to the mix, why are mainstream journalists starting up blogs by the busload?  TNR and TAP set up their blogs quite a while ago, but still felt compelled to set up new blogs dedicated exclusively to the convention. 

The Associated Press has set up a convention blog staffed by a Pulitzer Prize winner with 40 years of experience covering conventions.  That's got to be a blogosphere first.

What all of this suggests is that there is an emerging distinction between blogging as a medium and bloggers as people.  Matt Yglesias writes that:
At the end of the day, blogging is just a mode of presenting text (and, to some extent, images) and a set of computer programs that make it easy to present text in that way. It's not a method of doing things. The result, I think, is that the phenomenon of the "blogger" has no real future, though the phenomenon of the blog does. At the end of the day, Brad DeLong is an economist, Lawrence Solum is a legal theorist, I'm a commentator, Jeralyn is a criminal justice expert, Laura Rozen is a national security reporter, etc. These are trades -- areas of competence, whatever -- that we can all ply in a variety of media, print, web articles, blogs, academic papers (where appropriate), live or taped radio or television interviews, etc.
I think Matt is really on to something here, although the distinction he draws needs to be sharpened. DeLong, Solum, Rozen and Merritt [That sounds like a law firm! -ed.] all have professional expertise that they express through their blogs.

The interesting question is whether these professionals would have been able to exert as much influence on public opinion in the absence of a medium such as blogging that has almost no start-up costs.  How often would print or broadcast journalists want to talk to Brad, Larry, Laura and Jeralyn if they weren't bloggers?

The answer to that question isn't so simple.  I get the sense that Solum was pretty important before he had a blog.  And Rozen is a journalist.  But will blogging change what kind of journalist she is?

Now think about someone like Juan Cole.  He has been mentioned by the WaPo [no permalink] and others specifically because of his blog.  While Cole may be more of a historian rather than a blogger, his expertise has become available to a much wider audience as a result of his blog.

In short, one might want to stop thinking of bloggers as go-it-alone amateur pundits armed with nothing but a computer and opinion.  Rather, the most influential kind of "bloggers" may be those professionals who use blogs to leverage their expertise and reach a wider audience.

Of course, there will still be tens of thousands of pure amateurs out there in blogosphere.  And God bless'em.  Some of them may acheive tremendous success and even give up their amateur status (think Kevin Drum).  Others will simply be bit players who help keep the big-name bloggers honest by reminding them of the self-critical, watchdogging roots of the medium.

In the final analysis, I disagree with Matt when he writes that
increasingly, [blogging] will be done by more-or-less the exact same group of people who are producing text in other formats.
Yes, professional journalists may come to dominate the blogosphere.  But other kinds of bloggers, both professional and amateur, will continue to be extremely important as well.  While there may be no such thing as a "blogger", there will be increasingly well-defined roles within the blogosphere, each of which contributes to making it a more interesting and provocative whole.

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# Posted 7:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS THIS YOUR IDEA OF DEMOCRATIC FOREIGN POLICY?  If you though my last post summed up what the Democratic party should stand for, than you might be interested in the Truman National Security Project.

As it says on the Truman homepage, the Project is
Dedicated to forging a Democratic foreign policy founded on strength and security, grounded in a strong military and active diplomacy, and committed to furthering the American ideals of freedom, dignity, and opportunity worldwide. 
Founded by the lovely and talented Ms. Rachel Belton, the Truman Project is bringing together a new generation of Democrats committed to giving their party the foreign policy it hasn't had since Jack Kennedy was in the White House.  If you want to learn more about what TNSP is up to, you can sign up for its newsletter by sending your address to newsletter@trumanproject.org

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# Posted 7:32 PM by Patrick Belton  

CONVENTION LINE OF THE DAY: Alexandra Kerry, who is covering herself up a bit better today in conservative Boston than she does during her wild vacations in Europe, is to recount a story about when her father 'hunched over the soggy hamster and began to adminster CPR.'

OxBlog political prediction: no candidate has ever won the presidency after allegations surfaced at their nominating convention of their mouth-to-mouth contact with wet hamsters.
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# Posted 7:21 PM by Patrick Belton  

I LEARN SOMETHING NEW ABOUT MYSELF EVERYTIME I READ ABOUT MYSELF IN THE PAPER, cont'd: I just learned from Reuters that I apparently blog not here, but on www.wnyc.org. Sorry to have been misleading you guys all this time!
As stated by blogger Patrick Belton on http://www.wnyc.org/blog/vote2004/: "The 2004 conventions will be remembered as the conventions of the blog; just like the 1952 Republican convention was the convention of the television, and the 1924 conventions were the conventions of the radio."
A note to the reporter and the editor to ask for a correction went unanswered. Gee, sooner or later here, I'm going to have to start questioning what I read in the newspapers.
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# Posted 6:56 PM by Patrick Belton  

BLOGGING FROM ONE BLOGGER ROW: Thanks to the awfully kind help and techie assistance of Christian from Radio Free Blogistan, we're up and blogging from the Fleet Center. There's a wonderful view from here, and the company is great too.
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# Posted 6:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OXBLOG REWRITES THE DEMOCRATIC SCRIPT: Kevin Drum thinks I'm being too hard on the Democrats.  He writes:
I'm not above the occasional criticism of Democratic foreign policy myself, but I wonder just what people like David are expecting? Some kind of lockstep agreement about the mathematical formula we're going to use to decide on foreign interventions? A bulleted PowerPoint slide signed in blood by every top Democrat in the country?
Fair is fair.  If I'm going to bash the Dems for being all over the map on foreign policy, I should be able to do better myself.  So here goes.  These are the talking points that every big Democratic speaker should hit:
1. The Democratic party is the party of strength and idealism.
Although sans definition, 'strength' has become a Democratic mantra.  But even Jimmy Carter was too timid to talk about idealism.  For the party of Harry Truman and John F. Kennedy, that's sad.  Now's lets talk about Iraq in a way that gives some substance to my emphasis on strength and idealism.
2. Four years ago, George Bush accused us of running the US military into the ground.  But now recklessness has stretched our military -- and especially the National Guard -- to its breaking point.

3. George Bush talks tough but won't make the commitments necessary to win the war on terror.  Instead of wasting money on missile defense or yet another jet figher, a Democratic administration would invest in America's most important military asset: its soldiers.

3a. We will expand the military by 150,000 men so that we can win the war in Iraq instead of sending our soldiers into battle without the support they need.

3b.  This expansion will also make America strong enough to face down crises in the Korean peninsula and elsewhere that George Bush has created.

3c. George Bush always does more for the rich than he does for the hard-working middle class.  Thus it comes as no surprise that he has ignored the military families who are sacrificing so much to help us win the war on terror.

Now let's focus on idealism:

4. George Bush talks a lot about promoting democracy but has betrayed his ideals in practice. 

4a. We promised democracy to the people of Iraq.  We promised democracy to the people of Afghanistan.  The Democratic party will deliver on those promise, because we believe that living up to our ideals will make America safer. 

4b.  Idealism without strength is impotent.  Afraid to admit that he didn't send enough soldiers to Iraq, George Bush has endangered the success of the occupation. 

4c. Idealism without consistency is hypocritical.  Just like Nixon and Reagan, George Bush pays lip service to American ideals while praising repressive dictators.  It used to be Somoza and the Shah.  Now it's Putin and Mubarak.

Up to this point, I haven't mentioned rebuilding America's alliances or winning greater respect abroad.  Those points are important, and I do actually believe that most Americans are concerned about what the war in Iraq has done to our alliances and international reputation.  But by focusing exclusively on our alliances and reputation, the Democrats are walking right into a trap.

Swing voters still suspect that the Democratic party of today is the dovish party of the 70's.  By talking so much about alliances and reputation, what Democrats are basically doing is saying that the most important thing for the United States is to let other nations rein in its power.

That's a valid point, but if its the only one the Democrats make they will come across as being the same old doves who criticize America before criticizing others.  Now, I'm all for self-criticism and for nuance and for all those good things that the Republicans have in short supply.  But when it comes to winning elections, the Democrats have to do more than talk about "strength" and hope that the American public will fall for it.



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# Posted 6:38 PM by Patrick Belton  

AN INTERVIEW WITH WILL MARSHALL: OxBlog sat down yesterday with Will Marshall, president of the Democratic Leadership Council. Actually, we got to sit down several times with Will, since we got chased from room to room of the Tremont Hotel by staff preparing for different receptions. Tremont hotel was New Democrat Headquarters this week, with Clintonites running in and out and the Diet Coke pouring out strong.

Thanks for sitting down with us. Our readership is fairly strong in the political center, and we and our readers will be very eager to hear what's new in the DLC orbit, what ideas have been rising in your neck of the woods over the past four years, and what insights we could gain from you about the role New Democratic ideas might have in a Kerry administration.

Well, there's a stereotype of the young as Howard Dean-type leftists, broadly sceptical of American power, resolutely anti-interventionist, wary. of America throwing its weight around or using its power.

Yup, that's us.

It's nice to see there are people in the generation coming out of grad school and law school that's willing to think about updating the Democratic set of beliefs to confront new security challenges. The left, you know, has this wonderful view of us as all-powerful, which is hilarious given that we have an $8 million budget and about 50 staffers. The Village Voice was just recently complaining about how we're driving the party.

So since you're running things, is Kerry a Bush I-style realist?

As a progressive internationalist--for whom the expansion of democracies is a strategic imperative--this is a matter of great concern to me personally. I checked it out, and I was told not to put too much stock in these press reports of his purported realism. It's a response to Bush adopting democracy promotion to undergird the Iraq war when the WMD rationale collapsed. Kerry believes that democracy sets the bar too high for short-term success in Iraq, that while it's clearly the goal you need more immediate benchmarks for along the way.

Since then, at least one speech has made it clear Kerry considers as a national interest the spread of political and economic freedom, which plays an important role in a tough-minded foreign policy. This extends obviously to the Greater Middle East, to change conditions that breed terrorism. He's not in the Scowcroft or Kissinger realpolitik tradition. Instead, he's in that of the postwar Wise Men, Kennedy, Truman, Acheson. Among Democrats at the moment, the mood is so anti-Bush, that there's a temptation to decry everything he's doing as bad. That's how I understand it. We have a Democratic tradition of democracy promotion as well--Kerry used the language of progressive internationalism at least once, in a speech he gave at Georgetown, which, to make full disclosure, I should admit I had a hand in shaping.

He supported the liberal interventions of the 1990s, in Bosnia, Kosovo, and Haiti, which demonstrate that he's not a resolute dove, an ardent non-interventionist. He present arguments of attenuated national interest combined with humanitarian rationales. So I think his record supports the claim that he's a progressive internationalist, in the way that we in the DLC use the term.

You're in touch with centre-left officials and policy thinkers in Britain and the Continent. What do you tell people when they ask you what's going to change, and what's going to stay the same, under a Kerry administration?

First of all, all the centre-left people we talk to are desperate for a Kerry victory--they're not comfortable, whether they're publics or elites, with the current estrangement from the United States, with the possible exception of the French. I assure them that the atmospherics of the transatlantic relationship will improve immediately, with a new cast of people on the U.S. side bringing a breath of fresh air, but John Kerry will also challenge our European friends to join us in a concerted effort in the war on terror, to finish the job in Iraq, to establish a strong central government in Afghanistan, and to shut down the North Korean nuclear program. Where U.S. national interests lie - and Europe's too, especially since after Madrid, it's increasingly hard to sustain the argument that Europeans can avoid terrorism simply by detaching themselves from the United States. So our message has to be both to reassure and to challenge our allies.

You all have particularly close ties with New Labour. So is this an ideational expression of the Anglo-American special relationship? Are you sharing ideas still, as part of a Third Way?

In 1992, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown went to see how Clinton succeeded in salvaging his party from the wilderness, and they went back and applied the lessons, backed as they were by the strength of Parliamentary confidence. Now that they've been in office while we've been in turn in the wilderness, we've now been looking to them, and their ideas of an education trust fund and a lifetime savings account. Bob Kerrey endorsed something quite similar here. They gave us a briefing on the London congestion policy. In general, the balance of intellectual payments have shifted.

So you and Al From have described how you go about changing a party. Have you done it? Have you all won?

I've never accepted the idea that we've won - maybe I'm congenitally pessimistic. The evidence that there's still work to do begins as early as the Gore campaign. The template for Democratic success was cast aside entirely by Gore, in a way that mystified us. Dean was equally critical of the Clintonite legacy, but Iowa and New Hampshire didn't vote for him in the end. There's a sizeable community on the left who think that we require a counterweight. Which is hilarious given our size. Should Kerry win, you'll see a resurfacing of tensions that have been submerged in this remarkably unified campaign. There's no question that Kerry and Edwards represent a victory of Clintonism, that they've explicitly embraced Clintonism, and a third way agenda. There's no question they don't want to embrace the Gore policies or rhetoric of 2000. In 1999, we published an influential, controversial tract - the Politics of Evasion - where we said there were three deficits in public trust of the Democratic party, which Democrats were slow to acknowledge. First, people didn't trust us with their tax dollars. Second, people doubted whether we shared their cultural values of work, opportunity, and community responsibility. Third, people were suspicious of our ability to keep America safe with strong, resolute national leadership, both at home and in international crises.

Clinton made remarkable progress on the first two. He didn't have to address the third as much, largely because threats seemed to recede, security migrated to the extremes of the political consciousness, and his chief focus was on the first two points. What I argue is that Kerry has the chance to do on national security what Clinton did on finance and cultural values - show the Democrats have changed, and can grapple with these issues. He can close the national security confidence gap substantially, and has every reason to because that is after all what this election will hinge on.

Anger at outsourcing has been a theme at the convention. It seems like this is a magnificent opportunity for the DLC to offer new ideas about trade adjustment assistance and worker retraining programs, to create a broader constituency for free trade - and, by extension, for the centrist wing of the party.

We've got a bunch of ideas aimed at doing just that. Tough: we were one of the first to call for extending TAAs to service workers. Transitional tax credits, permitting workers to carry health insurance between jobs. Retraining, new economy training programs. This set of policy proposals go by the term of 'expanding the winners' circle' at PPI. Lots of Democrats are opposed to technological change, and the disruption it brings. They're not impressed these are going to be serious worker training moves. They say, it sounds to us like funeral insurance - you remove our sense of security, but you don't make us more secure. It's not compelling to tell the rust belt freer trade is somehow something we can insulate you for. We have proposed a lot of ideas, to help build a broader consensus for trade, and broader international engagement.

How are your relations with congressional Democrats?

Well, first of all we have our allies in each house. We have New Democrat caucuses numbering about 70 in the House and 20 in the Senate, and we work well with them. Increasingly, we have good relations with some of the others as well; some of the old ideological fissures seem to be at least temporarily closed. In the article by me and Bob Kutner, Politics of Evasion, I wrote with a consistent critic of us, but we were able to get together. I'm struck by the degree of convergence on some issues, though not all. Foreign policy is of course the sticking point.

There's a flurry of interest in 527s, and the money flowing into these groups, energising the left, all of which is true. But I'm struck by how important the media thinks this is. It's important up to a point, but the media does tend to understate the role of ideas, while overstating campaign mechanics. There's also the confusion about who are the 'real Democrats'. Dean frequently makes the slap at New Democrats that he represents the 'Democratic wing' of the Democratic party, a Wellstonian view of ideological purity which he lodges against Clintonites. This is a bit odd given his fairly centrist record as governor of Vermont. This leads to a confusion about the philosophical cast of mind of most people who vote Democrats. Who defines the core Democratic agenda - the activists and interest groups, or the people who govern when the party is in office? I think it's the latter.

Any surprises at the convention?

There have been surprisingly good speeches - Clinton, Obama were great. Ron Reagan, obviously. The amount of applause and interest attracted by the stem cell issue surprises me - a lot of people have had family members who were ill, and place a great deal of hope in stem cell research to create cures for what their relatives suffered from. The salient characteristic of this convention is the improbable outbreak of harmony - there's been no tension, no fights, no drama - the poor press is set around looking for a story. The whole convention is increasingly empty - raising the question, how do you turn this thing off? Now it's just an orgy for soft money.

We've been hearing a great deal in the last years about the neo-conservatives' intellectual development, from the City College of New York on. What we haven't heard is how Clintonites' ideas have evolved during their time in the wilderness. We've touched on security, but how else have the ideas of New Democrats evolved since last we met them in 2000?

Our thinking has really evolved on health care - on the amount of money involved, cost control, and how to adapt health insurance to the changing practice of medicine, which is becoming preventive rather than centered around catastrophic, acute care, generally in a hospital. Also, how to make sure that what you're paying for corresponds to healthier people. Another area where our thought has developed is energy independence - a new field for us, particularly at the intersection of energy and environmental work. There's also been a great deal of work done on cultural politics--the 2000 elections divided the country more along cultural than class lines, and we'd like to think of ways New Democrats can help to remedy that increasing cultural alienation between the two halves of America. On international economics and trade, the role of government has changed. When we started, it was around lines of an understanding of globalization in which the state should play a small role; now we have a new understanding of what drives growth in a knowledge-centred economy - innovation, knowledge, and other areas in which government can play a role to foster.

The cultural divide between coasts and heartland is pronounced, and is generally treated as a fact of political nature. How can it be bridged?

In Blueprint magazine, we analysed the 2000 election in greater detail than the first responses - 'it's the culture, stupid'. The solution we ended up with was that Democrats should be conscientious objectors in the culture wars. Clinton could see moral validity in more than one sides. The formulation 'safe, legal, and rare' for abortion is an example - it reflected that the country was morally conflicted about abortion. Contrast that, for instance, with the message that 'we're for choice, and they're extremists who want to blow up abortion clinics.' There are cultural swing voters, and they can be brought over with carefully crafted arguments.

Another example is the movement Americans for Gun Safety. Gore and Democrats running for Congress were crushed by the gun issue in 2000. Gun owners respond favorably to a rhetoric of rights and responsibilities - of the vast number of American gun owners, only a small number are NRA members who regard any restriction on guns as unacceptable, and the rest are happy to respond to arguments of reasonableness and responsibilities that recognises, on the other hand, their Constitutional right under the second amendment. You can convince most gun owners to accept assault rifle bans, trigger locks, and waiting periods,m as long as you treat with respect their decision to own guns, and don't treat them as unfortunate rednecks.

Silence is not golden - don't think you can avoid being damaged by the cultural wars simply by changing the subject. It's important to make an attempt to redefine 'values' to target Democratic strengths, such as stewardship of the environment and concern for opportunity.

Centrism seems at the moment to be the strong trend of the Democratic party, but the unfortunate remaining Rockefeller Republicans are seeing their position declining in their party. Why have political fortunes been so much better for Democratic centrists than Republicans?

It's the final realization of Nixon's Southern strategy- you could use race and religion as wedge issues to steal the South away from Democrats. We allowed our position to be defined by arch-secularity, and a hostility to religion. Political change happens over long cycles, over generations, not the short term. The flip of the South has made Republicans much more conservative. A strong plurality, perhaps a majority of Republicans are conservative. The sunbelt and South are much more ideologically coherent as a result. Ask Democratic voters, and roughly 40 percent self-identify as moderate, around 1/3 as liberal, and the rest as conservative. So we're a more naturally moderate party, they are more conservative. They can rally their conservative base, which is bigger than our liberal base, to reelect Bush. This is why they've done nothing to put flesh on the bones of compassionate conservatism, put forth a second term agenda, or present domestic reform ideas. We are, and always have been, a more heterogeneous party.
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# Posted 11:27 AM by Patrick Belton  

CONVENTION-BLOGGING: Having tried doing gavel-to-gavel diaristic coverage here on Monday, I wanted to also try experimenting with other ways of covering the convention. So over last two days, I've been huffing it around town to different factions' cocktail hours and strategy meetings, which have been a wonderful opportunity to take a snapshot of trends in different corners of the Democratic party. I've been able to speak with the DLC's Will Marshall and Al From, with an aide in Rep. Pelosi's office and a second Democratic congressional aide (both of whom spoke on background), as well as with several ethnic-group and gay delegates, foreign observers, Democratic foreign policy professionals and campaign operatives. I'll be posting all my results here over the course of the day as I have internet access, to provide a diary of life on the margins of the convention - and then I'll be returning to the convention hall itself later this evening for Kerry's acceptance speech.
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# Posted 1:17 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FOREIGN POLICY SIDESHOW: Even though national security has been given short shrift at the Fleet Center, this morning's roundtable at the Charles Hotel was supposed to give insiders a clear look at the difference between a Bush foreign policy and a Kerry foreign policy.

The four panelists were Rand Beers, Richard Holbrooke, Gary Hart and Laura Tyson.  All of them except Hart can expect high-ranking posts in a Kerry-Edwards administration.

For a solid overview of what they said, see Laura Rozen's accountMatt Yglesias was less enthusiastic on the grounds that the four panelists provided a lot of details without giving any sense of the overarching principles or interests that will animate a Kerry-Edwards foreign policy.

Based on Laura's account, I'd go one step further: It's extremely disappointing to see Democrats talk only about alliances and multilateralism while completely ignoring the imperatives of democracy and human rights.  The Democrats used to be the party of the idealists, but now their claim is tenuous at best.
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# Posted 12:47 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

I HOPE SO: While live-blogging the Edwards speech, Pandagon writes that the
Disturbing lack of foreign policy discussion has actually probably been purposeful, not because Dems are weak on it, but because tomorrow's schedule is going to be all about Iraq, terrorism and national security, looking at the list of speakers.
I hope so but I'm afraid not.  If the party doesn't have a strong, coherent message on foreign policy, the candidate can't create it by himself.  The depth of the Democrats' confusion on foreign policy struck me today while I was listening to a short, informal speech by Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu.

Speaking at a reception held in her honor by the DLC, Landrieu flawlessly hit on all of the New Democrat buzzwords: opportunity, responsibility and community.  But nothing on national security.

This oversight wasn't Landrieu's fault.  If you look at the speeches given by the Democrats' three most experienced foreign policymakers -- Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and Jimmy Carter -- you won't find any common message about how America's interests and ideals should shape its foreign policy.

Yes, America should establish better relationships with its allies.  But to what end?  What is it that America stands for?
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# Posted 12:23 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ACTUALLY, I'M MORE WORRIED ABOUT OSAMA:
In the depths of the Depression, Franklin Roosevelt inspired the nation when he said, ''The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'' Today, we say the only thing we have to fear is four more years of George Bush. --Ted Kennedy, July 27, 2004 
And then there's this:
If each of us cared about the public interest, we wouldn't have the excesses of Enron. We wouldn't have the abuses of Halliburton.
Or for that matter, of Chappaquiddick.
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