OxBlog

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

# Posted 11:39 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING, PART II: Would you believe that Bob Schieffer got rough with one of his guests? Just take a look at the transcript. Schieffer's four guests were John Murtha, House Armed Services Chair Duncan Hunter, and party chairmen Ken Mehlman and Howard Dean.
Murtha: B-. I'm tempted to say it was the usual Murtha, but actually he was fairly coherent and said nothing outrageous. The closest he came to absurdiy was with his relentless optimism about how much better Iraq will be without the US military. it's an appropriate counterpart to some of the strange bastions of optimism about Iraq in the GOP.

Hunter: C. He speaks well and with conviction. But you really have to wonder which Iraq and which war he's talking about. His comments were pretty much an extended version of the President's unfortunate statement that "Absolutely, we're winning."

Ken Mehlman: B. Mehlman is the one who got a tongue-lashing from Schieffer, who was outraged by a recent ad attacking Harold Ford for his dalliances at the Playboy mansion. I haven't looked at the issue closely, but my limited knowledge of campaign finance law coincides with Mehlman's assertion that the RNC couldn't control the content of the ad. Those with more knowledge of the subject are welcome to comment below.

Howard Dean: C. As Kevin Drum (yes, the liberal Kevin Drum) noted before, Dean has a remarkable ability to reinforce the notion that Democrats have no real interest in security and only want to attack big business. Dean obliged once again by saying that the real war we need to talk about is the "Republican war on the American family." Then he said that people are too worried about the consequences of withdraw form Iraq the same way they were too worried about the consequences of withdrawing from Vietnam. My best guess is that Dean let Mehlman write up his note cards.
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Monday, October 30, 2006

# Posted 11:06 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PARTIAL SUNDAY ROUND-UP: There was a glitch that held back the CBS podcast, so this post will only cover the other two networks. Perhaps I should be thankful. That glitch saved me from hearing the latest rant from John Murtha. Anyhow, NBC featured a Senate debate between Maryland canidates Ben Cardin and Michael Steele. ABC had John Boener followed by Michael J. Fox.
Steele: C-. It would be hard to come up with a more incoherent position on Iraq if you tried. From cheerleading one day to posing as a critic the next. You get the sense Steele will say anything he has to to please the audience of the moment. That's not unusual for politicians, but most hide it better. On domestic issues, Steele made some good points and actually showed an ability to engage both Russert and Cardin instead of reading a script. But the damage was already done.

Cardin: C+. Cardin also has serious problems when it comes to coherence and Iraq. When confronted by Russert, he tried to dance away from his suggestion that he might try to stop the war by cutting off funding for the troops. Dance away, but not disavow. Cardin also shared most of the usual Democratic pathologies on Iraq. He somehow managed to come out both for and against a set timetable for withdrawal. He refused to acknowledged there might be total chaos or worse in Iraq after a US withdrawal. He declared that engaging Iraq's neighbors would help stabilize the country. Cardin's personal twist was his continued belief that it is imperative for the US demonstrate that it doesn't want to occupy Iraq permanently, because that contributes to the violence and chaos. Yup, that's why Sunnis bomb Shi'ites and Shi'ites send in the death squads. Because what they really fear is American imperialism.

John Boehner: C. It was a pretty good interview, except for one glaring absurdity. Boehner declard that "Donald Rumsfeld is the best thing that has happened to the Pentagon in the past twenty five years." Sort of like Michael Dukakis is the best thing that ever happened to the Democratic party. He was the one who gave the party hope, because there was nowhere to go but up.

Michael J. Fox: B+. Sincere emotion is hard to come by on Sunday morning. Sure, Stephanopoulos mostly threw him softballs. But the man has a serious case of Parkinson's, so I guess he deserves a break. Then again, part of Fox's message is that you don't help people by giving them pity. If he decided to get actively involved by doing TV commercials in high profile Senate races, then he probably deserves to be cross-examined just as harshly as anyone else who's trying to influence national politics. But when you listen to him, it just so hard not to think that he's a real example of fortitude for all of us.
I'll update this post with comments for CBS once podcast comes through. Otherwise, hats off to Tim Russert for being a superb moderator in all of the Senate debates on Meet the Press. I often give Russert a hard time, but I think he really earned this one.

See ya next week.
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Sunday, October 29, 2006

# Posted 6:36 PM by Patrick Porter  

OXBLOG INTERVIEWS HITCHENS: You heard it folks!

A few weeks ago at the London-Paris Festival, Patrick Belton and I interviewed the British pundit and contrarian Christopher Hitchens.

Here is the first part of the interview, we'll post the second part shortly.

London, 8 October 2006
Oxblog's Patrick Porter and Patrick Belton with Christopher Hitchens

PP: Today is the anniversary of the Cable Street riots in London’s East End, and also of Kim Jong-Il's ascent to leadership of the North Korean Workers’ Party. Fascism is a word that has been used a lot today. So what is fascism?

CH: Fascism? First of all, it has to meet two or three conditions. One is ethnic, national, even religious paranoia - either that the group itself is in danger, or has special privileges, or both. Almost inevitably, that means anti-semitism-the idea there is a secret government out there, responsible for your woes.

Second, an alliance between the oligarchy and the lumpen. You couldn't have it better than the Saudi sponsorship of madrassas.

Another is its irrationality. With the Soviet Union there was a degree of predictability, it was essentially rational. There were certain things we knew they weren’t going to do. It was containable. But fascism tends to irrationality. It is not an accident that suicide - the death cult - is a part of this. Attacking New York in broad daylight on 9/11, for example, when they could have taken over Pakistan, and had a nuclear-armed state in their hands, if they were just willing to do it quietly. On the other hand the elaborateness of the display meant battle is joined, which excited some of their constituents.

It both hates and envies modernism. It doesn't want to do science, but it wants what science produces, to seize and pervert it. The Nazis could have had the nuclear bomb, but they got rid of all Jewish scientists. In this, you can look at A. Q. Khan, and his work to exploit science, and turn it against modernism.

The leaders of the Soviet Union were even if bastard children of the Enlightenment, were its children nonetheless. It was nothing like the totalitarian principle: one book, one leader, one principle, the book is infallible - you don't need any other.

PP: Is this rhetoric of a war against fascism actually counter-productive, as some have argued? Just to act as a devil's advocate, is there the danger that in referring to disparate phenomena as Islamo-Fascism, itself reaching back to a semiotic from 60 years ago, you encourage different groups to identify with each other as a worldwide cause, helping to call into being the very thing you're trying to oppose?

CH: No, I don't think so. Before 9/11, only myself and a few others who were trying to call attention to it would have known the name of Al Qa'ida. They've been at it for ages, not only trying to detract Kashmir from India, create a Muslim state in the Philipines, Jamat Islami in Indonesia, in the Philippines the Al Sayef, which was directly financially supported by Iraq. These groups are not the product of western overreaction, they are the products if anything of being underreacted to. We should resist this idea that we are the author of this problem.

You could make an exception, I think, for Palestine. Palestinians did not choose the government under which they have been living for a generation, they did not take to Islam until recently and some did not even then, it's different. The Israelis respond to Iraq with the answer ‘now you know what it's like’ - I don't believe that, we don't try to govern an Arab people against its will, because our right to do so is in our holy book.

PP: What do you think of news that your bete noir, Henry Kissinger, is advising the White House on Iraq?

CH: Well, I've just filed an article on just that for Slate. The Kurds were horrified when Bremer was appointed in Iraq, because the name Kissinger makes them pee green. Bush did ask Kissinger to be head of the 9/11 Commission, for which I can claim to have made him not do that – for the simple reason he was a war criminal, terrorist, couldn't travel to all other countries because he is under indictment in many of them, which would have been a significant impairment in his ability to do the job, and he couldn't declare his interests. I know he hates me because I have had an impact on his life.

PP: In today’s foreign policy debates over the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is the the traditional left-right distinction now unviable? Doesn’t both isolationism and interventionism now cut across the political divide? Is neoconservatism revolutionary?

CH: The main enemies I have had, have always been on the right - Kissingerian realists, old State Department Arabists, nativist isolationists who are not always particularly philosemitic, who have their counterpart on the left in Gore Vidal.

In the debate with Scott Ritter there was a man of the Reaganite right with a very insular concept of the American national interest.

On neoconservatives, the term is coined by Michael Harrington, and like the Tories and Suffragettes, they eventually agreed to adopt it in an example of word circulation. The New York Times author got it right on this point.

As a term used in the mainstream, neo-conservative has its confusing elements. The conservative position is that the dangers of change are greater than the dangers of the status quo- in this, they and I could not be more un-con. George Packer's Assassin's Gate gives the best account I've read about how the conflict between prolongation of the status quo and overdue change plays out in Iraq. Innuendo is there in the term too, as its ethnic implication is not always well concealed. The first time I had a look at them was during Bosnia, when they were defending Muslims while others opposed their right of return - if not for that precursor, I couldn't trust its moral credibility on Iraq.

PP: What do you think of Nick Cohen’s analysis, that when it comes to foreign policy there is a distinction between those who think of themselves as anti-imperialist, and view America as the imperial threat, and those who think of themselves as anti-fascists?

CH: That is actually an older theory dating back at least to Gulf War One, though I don’t like to call it Gulf War One, I see both conflicts in the Gulf as part of the same war. Fred Halliday posed the need for the left to choose between fascism and imperialism. He argued that the left could be anti-imperialist about American intervention, as long as it accepted the abolition of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. I was hostile to the war of George Bush senior, and at the time I argued that the outcome of that war proved that you could have both ­ Saddam Hussein as a fascistic ruler who was confirmed in power by the USA. But that was avoiding the essential truth of Halliday’s argument.

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# Posted 5:44 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SAFE SEAT IN NEW HAMPSHIRE NOW VULNERABLE TO DEMS: Liz Mair has an interesting post on how GOP incumbent Charlie Bass went from 20 points up to fighting for life against Democratic challenger Paul Hodes.

Even though New Hampshire is basically Red and Bass is a moderate conservative, the national climate is hurting him. Some polls have shown Bass tied with Hodes, although others show him with a substantial lead. According to Evans & Novak, Bass has run a disorganized campaign.

But some still think Bass' seat is safe. RCP ranks his district as only the 38th most likely to change hands. Similarly, the National Journal puts the district as 40th most likely to flip. But the simple fact that the seat is in play tells you a lot about how much trouble the GOP is in.
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# Posted 3:35 PM by Patrick Porter  

ITS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE and therefore it probably won't last long, someone will shut it down, sue them, or otherwise beat them somehow with the copyright stick or something.

But I can't let Oxblog readers miss it while it struggles to live. What a site.
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# Posted 2:21 PM by Patrick Porter  

PREDICTABLY I don't quite agree with Taylor on the essential success of the UN.

I do agree that many of its humanitarian programmes are benign and good things. Long may they thrive. And that the Genocide Convention, the declarations of rights and some of the foundational ideals are inspiring.

And I say this as unerotically and in as manly a fashion as possible, Taylor's interest in human security and in the development of better norms of international law reflect this more civilised aspect to the UN as an institution and as a set of ideas.

I can't agree, though, that the UN played a primary role in preventing World War III. I would attribute the absence of a major global hot war more to nuclear weapons, the restraints placed on apocalyptic conflict by the Cold War (though not on terrible wars in Vietnam, El Salvador or Afghanistan), and the actual horrific experience of World War 2 itself. The existence of the UN during a period where there was not World War III does not automatically mean that there is a causal relationship, or at least, it needs to be argued through rather than assumed.

On an occasion where World War III looked alarmingly possible, the Cuban Missile Crisis, its true that the UN functioned as an important forum for debate and accusation and as a place where both sides appealed to world opinion. But the crisis itself was alleviated primarily by concrete (and partly secret) diplomacy, where President Kennedy agreed to remove American missiles from Turkey in return for the withdrawal of the Soviet missiles. The UN was arguably not the essential element in the prevention of a world war.

And there are a few weaknesses that surely are disappointing. The UN has recently proven too often to be overly bureaucratic and corrupt. And just in case you think those two allegations are coming from rightist UN-haters, well no, they are coming from Hilary Benn, (Britain's Labour international development secretary), and a Human Rights Watch representative.

There is also the faintest suggestion that accountability for these kinds of failures could be improved.

The UN leadership has also at times been a disappointing actor in several crises Kofi Annan's intervention to forestall even the suggestion of pre-emptive action against the Rwandan genocide. Romeo Dallaire, the UN commander, was actually rebuked by UN senior figures for even proposing to attempt to seize the Hutu militia's weapons caches.

In other words, against the claims of those who dismiss criticisms of the UN on the basis that it is just the sum of aggregate national interests, the UN through its representatives is actually an agent in itself, and must therefore be held to account.

It also has a doctrinal flaw: in its commitment to the sovereign integrity of states, it recognises illiberal, nondemocratic states as equally legitimate and admits them on an equal basis. So large states that butcher their own wield veto powers, and Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe was elevated to a place on the UN Commission on Human Rights. Humanitarian interventions, for example in Kosovo, have sometimes had to take place outside the formal imprimatur of UN agreement.

The UN's dogmatic commitment to a posture of neutrality in civil conflicts has also sometimes led the UN to fail to identify aggressors when it intervenes in civil wars, as in the Balkans where the largest massacre on European soil took place under its nose at Srebrenica, with the commander of UN forces in the region refusing the request for air strikes to halt Serbian aggressions against the Bosnian Moslems.

As Nick Cohen argues:
It is a club without membership restrictions. Genocidal states aren’t suspended from the UN or expelled. While they perpetrate crimes beyond the human imagination, their ambassadors remain honoured figures at the UN headquarters in Manhattan.

Thus in 2004, the block votes of Arab and African dictatorships secured Sudan a place on the UN Commission on Human Rights, alongside the vile tyrannies of Libya and Zimbabwe. The fact that Sudan’s militias were engaged in systematic murder, rape and looting did it no harm whatsoever and may well have boosted its electoral appeal.
Not all of these problems can be easily solved, and partly it might be in the nature of trying to put together an international organisation of states which include some bad bad regimes.

On the positive side, long live UNICEF!
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# Posted 2:05 PM by Patrick Porter  

FEAR DOWNUNDER: Recently I found this gem in my files.

A while back, a survey (which I've lost the link to) asked Australians who they find to be undesirable neighbours.

While 74 % of people surveyed identified Drug Addicts as undesirable, 45% of them identified Political Extremists.

So on the figures, Aussies would rather live next door to Timothy McVeigh than Robert Downey Jnr.
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# Posted 9:56 AM by Taylor Owen  

IN CASE THERE WAS ANY DOUBT: I suppose this is what the bottom of the barrel looks like.

FURTHER: on This Week this morning, Michael J Fox proved himself the exact opposite. Game. Set. Match.
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Saturday, October 28, 2006

# Posted 3:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

REPUBLICANS ABANDON DeLAY'S DISTRICT: Liz Mair reports that the GOP has given up hope of holding onto Tom DeLay's district, the Texas 22nd.

The race is especially tough because there is no GOP candidate on the ballot, only a write-in supported by the Texas state party. Her name is Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, a name that will surely be mangled often enough to invalidate a lot of votes.

However, there is a Libertarian candidate running as well, by the name of Bob Smither. and Liz recently sat down to talk with him about taxes, warantless wire-taps and other subjects of interest to libertarians. You may conclude, as Liz already has, that Smither would make a much better congressman than the arch-conservative Sekula-Gibbs.

Also of libertarian interest, Liz takes a closer look at the New Jersey court's recent ruling on gay marriage. She thinks it was not just the right decision, but one that in no way constitutes judicial activism. Liz argues that social conservatives may not like the ruling, but should recognize that their position is the one which relies on the support of activist judges.
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Friday, October 27, 2006

# Posted 7:25 PM by Taylor Owen  

IN THE SO CRAZY IT JUST MIGHT WORK DEP’T: UK-based Egyptian mobile phone tycoon (and presumably rather wealthy) Mo Ibrahim has one of the better development ideas ever. He is going to give $5 million to African heads of state who leave office democratically and act that way while in power. Just to insure they don't get any post-award-coup ideas, they will also get $200,000 a year for life.

The Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, as it will be called, will be judged by a team at Harvard, based on the democratic delivery of security, health, education and economic development to their constituents. It will now be the world's biggest prize, well in front of the measly 1.3 million noble peace prizes are good for. Clinton, Mandela and Kofi have all indorsed it.

As Patrick B would say - 'well done you!'
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# Posted 7:23 PM by Taylor Owen  

I AGREE WITH TED TURNER: hmm, that felt odd. But seriously, Ted Turner on the UN:
The fact is that the UN works - for the world's poor, for peace, for progress and for human rights and justice.

And we need it to go on working if we're going to deal with the serious and sometimes frightening challenges facing us in the 21st Century.

I'll admit that cooperating through the UN can be difficult at times; and I'll admit that the UN can be improved. But anything worthwhile is hard - and frankly I can't think of a more worthwhile endeavor than what the UN does to foster peace and prosperity on a global scale.

Let's look at the reality.

The reality is that the UN has succeeded in its essential mission of preventing World War III.

The reality is that UN peacekeeping is an incredible value for the United States and the rest of the world.

In fact, UN peacekeeping is one of the great bargains of all time, ensuring that no one country has to pay all the bills or take all the risks for peace and security around the world. The RAND Corporation has estimated that UN peacekeepers can do the job at a fraction of the cost of U.S. troops. The U.S. does not contribute any of the almost 100,000 UN peacekeepers deployed around the world. Financially, the U.S. share of the UN's 17 peacekeeping operations is about $1 billion this year -- equivalent to about 5 days of the U.S. deployment in Iraq. In the world of business, we call that a bargain.

The reality is that the UN handles humanitarian emergencies skillfully. When the Asian tsunami struck, the UN was there immediately, they got the job done - food, water, health shelter - and they are still on the scene helping those communities rebuild. The people of New Orleans would have been lucky to have had such an efficient and effective response after Katrina.

The reality is that there are dozens of unrecognized ways that the UN helps make our complicated world work. The UN's International Civil Aviation Organization makes possible the system of international air traffic. The Universal Postal Union makes it possible to put an American stamp on an envelope and send a letter that will arrive in an Australian mailbox. The World Meteorological Organization monitors global weather patterns. The Food and Agriculture Organization helps keep the world fed. And the World Health Organization and other health agencies help research, monitor and contain diseases that transcend borders.
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# Posted 7:19 PM by Taylor Owen  

COOL: Or a cheap stunt...but the geologist on CBC yesterday said it was real...cool

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# Posted 8:24 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IS THERE ANYTHING LEFT TO SAY ABOUT WEBB AND ALLEN? This morning, the WaPo has an in-depth profile of Jim Webb, the candidate and the man. Yesterday it had an in-depth profile of George Allen, the candidate and the man. The current issue of the New Yorker also has a profile of the Virginia senate race as a whole.

The strategy of all three profiles is to burrow deeper into the established storyline rather than to break new ground. Jim Webb the warrior and Jim Webb the sexist who humiliated women at the Naval Academy. George Allen the friendly faux cowboy and George Allen the racist bully. Hitting those points is obligatory, but I think there's still new ground to be covered.

For example, I know very little about anything George Allen did as governor of Virginia or as a member of its Senate delegation. As for Webb, he was Secretary of the Navy for about a year and spent three additional years in a position of significant authority at the Pentagon. Although character and psychology certainly matter, I would be interested in a much closer look at how the two men actually performed in office.
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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

# Posted 11:13 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BRING BACK SADDAM! I'm pretty sure this article from The Nation was meant to be sarcastic, but it's sort of hard to tell. Either way, its comparison of Operation Iraqi Freedom to Rwanda and Darfur seems to be serious.
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# Posted 10:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE IRAQ DEATH TOLL: Richard Miniter of Pajams Media recently interviewed Prof. Gilbert Burnham of Johns Hopkins, author of the study that placed the death toll at 655,000. Burnham has good answers for all of Miniter's questions.

However, researchers at Oxford and Royal Holloway, writing in the current issue of Science, argue that Burnham's methodology is profoundly flawed. According a press release from Science:
Sean Gourley and Professor Neil Johnson of the physics department at Oxford University and Professor Michael Spagat of the economics department of Royal Holloway, University of London contend that the study’s methodology is fundamentally flawed and will result in an over-estimation of the death toll in Iraq.

-> The study suffers from "main street bias" by only surveying houses that are located on cross streets next to main roads or on the main road itself. However many Iraqi households do not satisfy this strict criterion and had no chance of being surveyed.

-> Main street bias inflates casualty estimates since conflict events such as car bombs, drive-by shootings artillery strikes on insurgent positions, and market place explosions gravitate toward the same neighborhood types that the researchers surveyed.

-> This obvious selection bias would not matter if you were conducting a simple survey on immunisation rates for which the methodology was designed.

-> In short, the closer you are to a main road, the more likely you are to die in violent activity. So if researchers only count people living close to a main road then it comes as no surprise they will over count the dead.

During email discussions between the Oxford-Royal Holloway team and the Johns Hopkins team conducted through a reporter for Science, for an article to be published October 20, it became clear that the authors of the study had not implemented a clear, well-defined and justifiable methodology. The Oxford-Royal Holloway team therefore believes that the scientific community should now re-analyze this study in depth.
I'm in no position to evaluate this kind of thing, but the criticism sounds sensible enough. For lots more discussion, check out this post by A Second Hand Conjecture.
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# Posted 10:30 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEMOCRACY ON AN EMPTY STOMACH: Tomorrow, the PostGlobal's "The Question" will focus on democracy in the West Bank and Gaza:
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has said bread is more important than democracy, and he may be preparing to dissolve the Hamas-led Palestinian parliment.

Does a leader have a right to bypass democratic institutions to ensure his people are fed and secure?
You can weigh in on the The Question at PostGlobal.com.

Here's my two cents: Dictatorship has only reinforced the poverty and suffering of the Palestinians. Democracy has yet to prove itself in the PA, but it deserves a serious chance. The Palestinians are not starving nor will they starve while Europe and the UN stand by, ready to help. Abbas is treading a dangerous path.

It is harder to say whether sometimes democracy ought to be bypassed to ensure security. Historically, this tends to be little more than a pretext for aspiring dictators to take power for themselves.
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# Posted 10:03 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHICH OBAMA? The buzz is growing. Who can resist the senator from Illinois? Apparently, Maureen Dowd can. She wrote a nasty column last week accusing Obama of being self-centered, superficial and in love with his own publicity. Perhaps MoDo is jealous of the handsome, younger man who can make more Democrats swoon with his warmth than she can with her hard-bitten cynicism?

The more substantive questions for Obama, came from Tim Russert. This one should not have been any kind of surprise, but Obama wasn't sure how to handle it:
MR. RUSSERT: Well, nine months ago, you were on this program and I asked you about running for president. And let’s watch and come back and talk about it.

(Videotape, January 22, 2006):
MR. RUSSERT: When we talked back in November of ‘04, after your election, I said, “There’s been enormous speculation about your political future. Will you serve your full six-year term as a United States senator from Illinois?” Obama: “Absolutely.”

SEN. OBAMA: I will serve out my full six-year term. You know, Tim, if you get asked enough, sooner or later you get weary and you start looking for new ways of saying things, but my thinking has not changed.

MR. RUSSERT: But, but—so you will not run for president or vice president in 2008?

SEN. OBAMA: I will not.
(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT: You will not.

SEN. OBAMA: Well, the—that was how I was thinking at that time. And, and, you know, I don’t want to be coy about this, given the responses that I’ve been getting over the last several months, I have thought about the possibility. But I have not thought it—about it with the seriousness and depth that I think is required. My main focus right now is in the ‘06 and making sure that we retake the Congress. After oh—after November 7, I’ll sit down and, and consider, and if at some point, I change my mind, I will make a public announcement and everybody will be able to go at me.
Big deal. Every candidate plays down his or her ambition before deciding to run for president. But most candidates dance around the question instead of committing unequivocally to serving out their current term of office. They look silly when they do, but their dance is soon forgotten. But if Obama can make a personal promise with such certainty only to go back on it nine months later, perhaps he needs to know himself better and place less emphasis on saying what others want to hear.

But running for president wasn't the only question that Obama tripped on:
MR. RUSSERT: Two years ago in September of ‘04, this is what you told the Associated Press: “Democratic Senate candidate Barack Obama ... opposed invading Iraq ... but pulling out now [he said] would make things worse.

“A quick withdrawal would add to the chaos there and make it ‘an extraordinary hotbed of terrorist activity,’ he said. It would also damage America’s international prestige and amount to ‘a slap in the face’ to the troops fighting there.” So two years from now—from then, you no longer believe pulling out would damage our prestige or slap our soldiers in the face?

SEN. OBAMA: I—at the time, as you know, I, I thought this whole venture was, was poorly conceived. Not just poorly executed, but poorly conceived. I think it was a mistake for us to go in. I felt that once we had gone in, it made sense for us to try to make the best of the situation. And my hope was is that the Iraqi government could in somewhat—some ways, bring about some sort of stability in the region.

What we’ve seen is such a rapid deterioration of the situation...it is clear at this point that we cannot, through putting in more troops or maintaining the presence that we have, expect that somehow the situation is going to improve, and we have to do something significant to break the pattern that we’ve been in right now.
Again, Obama seems forced to retreat from a position he took that was convenient at the time. There is a certain amount of sense to saying that things are worse now than they were in 2004. But the real issue is tone. "A slap in the face" to our soldiers? Those sound like the words of either a GOP hack or a Democrat acting tough when the polls say that tough is good. Now that tough is bad, Obama has softened his tone.

To be fair, neither of the gaffes I've pointed out are of major significance. But they do provide an important contrast to the adoring press coverage that presents Obama as nothing short of the next JFK (who himself was no JFK until after he was dead).

Moreover, Obama seemed genuinely surprised at being confronted with what he himself had said not too much earlier. Perhaps he will learn the lesson of consistency now, when he can afford it.
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# Posted 9:35 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: Barack Obama made news with his presidential ambitions on NBC. Chuck Schumer and Liddy Dole offered party-line spin on CBS. And ABC almost matched Barack Obama's star power with its exclusive interviews of President Bush and Senator Kerry.
Obama: B. His combination of warmth, balance and candor are what have made him a political star. But Russert (see above) caught Obama tilting with the wind, changing his positions to fit the political moment.

Schumer: B+. He reads out the party line, but I am continually impressed with his incorporation of sharp details and barbs that make him better than most.

Dole: C. First, she sounded like a robot. Then she got thrown on the defensive and began to fish for talking points that had nothing to do with the discussion.

Bush: B-. A natural he ain't. But his manner has developed to the point where his deer-in-the-headlights candor has been replaced by a candor that reflects a struggle with hard issues. Bush also seemed sullen and almost vulnerable, in the emotional sense of the word. At certain moments he was brusque, insisting for example he won't read any books about himself as president. But mostly, he seemed to have submitted to the reality of being one of the last advocates of an unpopular that no amount of speechifying can make popular.

Kerry: B-. He seems to be going through the same angry phase that Al Gore was two years after he lost to Bush. Kerry called Bush a liar again and again, something Kerry was afraid to do while running for president. Kerry also made a point of expliciting attacking John McCain twice by name, as if he wants to make a name for himself by standing up to the GOP golden boy. Otherwise, Kerry offered his usual bit about how negotiating with Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia can help resolve the situation in Iraq. As Stephanopoulos asked his guest, why would Syria or Iran do anything to help us when they benefit so much from the chaos?
See ya next week.
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Monday, October 23, 2006

# Posted 11:25 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE ROOT CAUSES OF TERRORISM: Some on the left denounce Peter Beiart as a traitor. If so, it's hard to tell from his relentless denunciation of the Bush administration in his recent book, and especially in Chapter 5, entitled "Reagan's Children".

Beinart advances two fundamental propositions about why Bush, Cheney & Co. are conceptually incapable of fighting the war on terror as it should be done. The first is that they are heirs to the dangerous conservative tradition of willingly blinding oneself to America's ethical failures and hypocrisy. The second is that Bush, Cheney & Co. are in deep denial about the economic causes of jihadism.

Beinart writes that:
Salafist terrorists may not all be poor, yet salafism feeds on economic despair. It takes deepest root where states cannot offer their citizens opporunity or hope. (p.118)
Beinart immediately recongizes that this formulation is problematic, since it is very hard to explain why Saudi Arabia is the spiritual homeland of Al Qaeda. If economics were the root cause of terrorism, the 9/11 hijackers and Bin Laden himself should've been Pakistani.

To resolve this dilemma, Beinart introduces a second principle to modify his first:
Economic despair doesn't just stem from absolute depriviation; it stems from the gap between expectations and reality. And nowhere is that gap greater than in Saudi Arabia, where per capita income has dropped by more than half since the 1980s. (p.119)
First of all, I think Beinart's description of the data is very wrong. Second of all, his argument has some very important conceptual flaws.

With regard to the data, it's very easy to find. The remarkably easy use to IMF website lets you produce customized charts with time series data going back around 30 years. In the early 1980s, Saudi per capita income skyrocketed along with the price of oil, hitting almost $19,000 in 1981. Then oil prices collapsed, forcing Saudi income below $7,000 per capita for the latter half of the 1980s. Saudi income then gradually recovered to $11,000 by 2004, before skyrocketing once again as a result of the recent oil crisis. For 2007, the IMF estimates Saudi income at $16,612.

In light of this data, Beinart's hypothesis makes no sense at all. Saudi income may have fallen from its artificial high in the early 1980s, but was increasing at a respectable rate for the entire decade before 9/11. Where are the disappointed expecations that supposedly drive terorrism?

Saudi does have a number of serious economic problems, including unemployment, but if an economy like the Saudis' is what causes terorrism, than there should be a dozen more Arab states generating even greater terorism.

Of course, aggregate economic statistics never tell the whole story. What about the background of individuals such as Osama bin Laden and Mohammad Atta, the former a multimillionaire and the latter with a degree from a German university? If disappointment is the problem, why are the most successful individuals becoming the terrorists (a pattern also observed in the West Bank and Gaza)?

In theory, one could add a third principle to Beinart's argument, namely that successful elites embittered by the suffering of their countrymen are more likely to lash out with violence. But adding one principle after another is just a convenient way of overlooking the simple and compelling argument that violent Islamic extremism is the direct cause of terror. Beinart accurately quotes George Bush as saying about Al Qaeda that "These aren't a bunch of poor people that are desperate in their attempt. These are cold, calculating killers." That's an oversimplification, but Bush's argument makes a lot more sense than Beinart's.

But let's assume for the sake of argument that fighting poverty and disappointment is no less integral to the war on terror than hunting down terrorists. What should America do about it? Beinart's answer is that we need a new Marshall Plan. According to Beinart, the great merit of the Marshall Plan, beyond its incredible magnitude, is that it respected the autonomy of those in need of help. According to a study by the Council on Foreign Relations, aid recipients want the same today:
Asked what they wanted from the United States, the people interviewed [by the study] requested almost exactly what the Marshall Plan once provided: generosity without hubris, economic and educational development guided by local knowledge, not American fiat. "Dear President Bush," said one Jakarta woman, whom the study said spoke for many: "Please help us with our economy, but let our manage our country!" (p.123)
Actually, that is exactly the wrong idea. Beinart is presumably familiar with the recent history of the IMF and the World Bank, which have increasingly conditioned their help on effective governance because it is impossible to separate economics from politics. Corrupt governments waste the aid they are given. The advice of the Indonesian woman is especially ironic, since Indonesia and many of its neighbors suffered terribly when their corruption-riddled and unregulated economies melted down in 1997. In fact, the East Asian crisis of 1997 is one of the most important reasons that the IMF and the World Bank, as well as other development programs -- such as Bush's Millenium Challenge Program -- put so much stress on good governance.

Indonesia is relevant for another reason as well. Along with its neighbors, it has prospered to a remarkable extent not because of economic aid, but because of its consistent support for export-oriented free-market capitalism. The history of development aid also tends to show that this is not something that can be forced very easily on an unwilling government. But without reforms, anything more than humanitarian aid is pointless. In short, helping someone with their economy is no different than managing their country, unless they already have the same ideas as we do about economic policy.

This principle was no less true in 1947 than it was today. Fortunately, many of the European nations who benefited from the Marshall Plan had relatively similar ideas to our own about economic policy, although conflicts were still frequent. But the United States did impose its political will on Europe in a way that Beinart would have to condemn as being characterized by American hubris and American fiat. For example, the US often conditioned its aid on the exclusion of Communist parties from Western European governments, even if they had legitimate won enough seats in the legislature to merit inclusion. In short, the Marshall Plan was not the fantasy that today's multilateralists wish it were.

And this is a good point to end on, since I am going to reserve for my next post an evaluation of Beinart's argument that conservatives have blinded themselves to America's hsitory of moral shortcomings. As I pointed out yesterday, Robert Kagan's new book is built around an appreciation of precisely those shortcomings. In contrast, Beinart is the one who seems unable to reckon with what the Marshall Plan really was.

To be continued...
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# Posted 12:06 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AMERICA THE DANGEROUS: Robert Kagan has a new book out. I've known for seven years it was going to be a good one. I worked for Kagan as a research assistant right after I graduated from college and had the privilege of reading some early drafts of his chapters on the age of Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison.

I believe this will be the book that establishes beyond a shadow of a doubt that Kagan is the kind of original thinker who transcends partisan or ideological labels. I believe that Dangerous Nation will be the kind of book that liberals don't just read because they want to know what conservatives are thinking, but because it is a book that can educate any reader, political disagreements aside.

At a moment when 'neo-conservative' has become something of a slur on both sides of the aisle, it is especially fitting for a book to come out that demonstrates not just how powerful neo-conservative thinking can be, but also how subtle -- or dare I say "nuanced"?

Yes, that is the right word. That nuance is on display in the cover story of the October 23 edition of The New Republic, which is Kagan's four-page digest of his book's main argument. The essay's sub-title summarizes its purpose quite effectively: "Against the myth of American innocence."

Earlier this year, Peter Beinart constructed an entire book around the premise that the most dangerous thing about conservatives is their inability to recognize America's moral failures. Yet a recognition of such failures is at the very heart of this work by Kagan, arguably the most important neo-conservative thinker today on the subject of foreign policy.

If the byline were removed from Kagan's essay in TNR, it might be mistaken for a polemic from the far left. Kagan writes:
Far from the modest republic that history books often portray, the early United States was an expansionist power from the moment the first pilgrim set foot on the continent; and it did not stop expanding--territorially, commercially, culturally, and geopolitically--over the next four centuries. The United States has never been a status quo power; it has always been a revolutionary one, consistently expanding its participation and influence in the world in ever-widening arcs. The impulse to involve ourselves in the affairs of others is neither a modern phenomenon nor a deviation from the American spirit. It is embedded in the American DNA.
More unusual is Kagan's paying attention to what Europeans think of the United States -- not now, but 200 years ago:
From the beginning, others have seen Americans not as a people who sought ordered stability but as persistent disturbers of the status quo. As the ancient Corinthians said of the Athenians, they were "incapable of either living a quiet life themselves or of allowing anyone else to do so." Nineteenth-century Americans were, in the words of French diplomats, "numerous," "warlike," and an "enemy to be feared." In 1817, John Quincy Adams reported from London, "The universal feeling of Europe in witnessing the gigantic growth of our population and power is that we shall, if united, become a very dangerous member of the society of nations."
This passage begins to suggest how a straightforward reckoning with American history can serve as the foundation for a conservative worldview rather than a liberal one. It was not the well-behaved, mythical America that rose from obscurity to greatness. By extension, the often arrogant and ideal-driven unilateralism of today won't bring down the "postwar international order".

One all-important reason that Kagan's writing transcends the partisan divide is that he is capable of seeing things from a perspective often reserved for liberals. (The same is true of Max Boot.) It isn't just that Kagan can recite his opponents' talking points, but that he can focus their interpretive lens on American history. For example, Kagan writes that:
By expanding territorially, commercially, politically, and culturally, Americans believed that they were bringing both modern civilization and the "blessings of liberty" to whichever nations they touched in their search for opportunity. As Jefferson told one Indian leader: "We desire above all things, brother, to instruct you in whatever we know ourselves. We wish to learn you all our arts and to make you wise and wealthy." In one form or another, Americans have been making that offer of instruction to peoples around the world ever since.
Yes, even in Iraq. How many critics of the occupation wish that they could have discovered that Jefferson quote for themselves in order to highlight some of the brutal ironies of our democracy promotion efforts?

Yet Jefferson's words also point to the less common conclusion that we have become far more humane in the pursuit of liberty. Native Americans feared white Americans. But Shia mainly fear Sunni, and Sunni, Shia. You won't hear Democrats say it, but we really are fighting for a noble cause in Iraq, however ineffectively.

But isn't there still a profound hypocrisy at the heart of an effort to promote democracy that entails horrors such as Abu Ghraib? Kagan's history provides insight into that question as well:
John Quincy Adams had noted with pride that the United States was the source of ideas that made "the throne of every European monarch rock under him as with the throes of an earthquake." Praising the American Revolution, he exhorted "every individual among the sceptered lords of mankind: 'Go thou and do likewise!'"

A Russian minister, appalled at this "appeal to the nations of Europe to rise against their Governments," noted the hypocrisy of Adams's message, asking, "How about your two million black slaves?" Indeed. The same United States that called for global revolution on behalf of freedom was, throughout its first eight decades, also the world's great defender of racial despotism.
As Kagan further illustrates, some Americans fiercely opposed Quincy Adams' zealousness, sensing the dangers of an ideological crusade:
The conservatives of the slaveholding South were the great realists of the nineteenth century. They opposed moralism, rightly fearing it would be turned against the institution of slavery. As Jefferson Davis put it, "We are not engaged in a Quixotic fight for the rights of man. Our struggle is for inherited rights. ... We are conservative."
To the chagrin of Mr. Davis, the moralists won out. And the lesson to be learned from this brand of aggressive idealism?
The result has been some accomplishments of great historical importance--the defeat of German Nazism, Japanese imperialism, and Soviet communism--as well as some notable failures and disappointments. But it was not as if the successes were the product of a good America and the failures the product of a bad America. They were all the product of the same America. The achievements, as well as the disappointments, derived from the very qualities that often make us queasy: our willingness to accumulate and use power; our ambition and sense of honor; our spiritedness in defense of both our interests and our principles; our dissatisfaction with the status quo; our belief in the possibility of change.
I look forward to a very impressive book.
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Sunday, October 22, 2006

# Posted 4:08 PM by Patrick Porter  

IDENTITY POLITICS: in a recent debate on the war in Afghanistan, pundit Peter Hitchens (the Tory and anti-war brother of Christopher) used a dubious challenge to embarass his opponent, Oliver Kamm, namely the argument that only those who fight in wars can support wars. Hitchens argued:
if I believed so strongly in the British mission in Afghanistan then perhaps I ought to volunteer for it myself.
There are lots of things wrong with this ugly gambit.

First of all, Hitchens risks being accused of inconsistency. As he has implied, he supported Britain's Falklands War in 1982, even to the point where he accuses those like Tony Blair who opposed the war of not liking Britain!

Why didn't Hitchens volunteer in 1982 then? He was 30 years old at the time of the war he supported, whereas Oliver Kamm is 43 now. If anything, Hitchens' rule would have applied even more to himself. Or does Hitchens' principle, that only combatants can support wars, apply only to wars he opposes?

Secondly, it is implicitly militarist. If only soldiers, sailors and airmen can vocally support wars, then it follows that only those in the military can make policies about war and send others to war.

This directly undermines the principle of civilian control, in which the armed forces are subordinate to state policy, which is made by elected representatives, whose electorate are able to discuss, debate and vote on their decisions. Its surprising that Peter Hitchens, an outspoken defender of British institutions and values, could overlook such a foundational idea.

Thirdly, it is particularly artificial when Afghanistan was the place which incubated the assailants and planners who orchestrated the attacks on 9/11, attacks on a city (and skyscrapers) full of at least 90 nationalities. It was emphatically an attack on pluralism and on civilians from all over the world. We are all targets, so its not unreasonable for any civilians, to take a view on how to handle the threat.

Fourth, Oliver Kamm presumably pays his taxes, and does so as a citizen of the UK. Part of his taxes is allocated to military spending. He's entitled, therefore, to have an opinion on whether and how the state should deploy forces he helps to fund.

The debate over war is painful and difficult enough without crude identity politics.
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Friday, October 20, 2006

# Posted 9:57 AM by Patrick Porter  

THE CONFLICT WAS SEVERE; reported Vice Admiral Collingwood:

the enemy's ships were fought with a gallantry highly honourble to their officers, but the attack on them was irresistable, and it pleased the Almighty Disposer of all Events, to grant his Majesty's arms a complete and glorious victory.
To Oxbloggers on the British side of the pond, happy Trafalgar Day (tomorrow)!

But in a spirit of reconciliation, French readers will note that this year marks the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's victory at Jena-Auerstedt the following year.

Evidently, the 'Almighty Disposer of all Events' was keeping things interesting.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

# Posted 7:59 AM by Patrick Porter  

MORAL LANGUAGE AND STRATEGY: I would be very interested to hear what our readers think of President Bush's term 'Axis of evil', which he used in January 2002 to describe regimes that sponsor terrorism and seek WMD.

When it comes to the word 'evil', I have little patience with those who dismiss it entirely as unsophisticated or low-brow. Some ideas and actions are evil, and after the century of the Holocaust and other genocides, there are few other words that can accurately describe and judge these crimes. The three regimes Bush characterised as evil, Iraq, Iran and North Korea, are all evil in their own way, though Saddam and Kim Jong Il probably exceed the Iranian theocrats in their brutality.

And of course, there are all sorts of dangers that come with the word. If used unreflectively, it can encourage the Manichean view of the enemy as inhuman and oneself as unimpeachable. If used too often, it can trivialise the word. And people can forget their own capacity to inflict or tolerate evil. But this doesn't mean the word is intrinsically objectionable, just that it should be handled carefully.

With respect to grand strategy, there is a debate that keeps coming back to Oxblog: is it a mistake, when making these judgements, to lump together different enemies? Was Bush accurately naming an existing threat, a threat in the form of regimes that were collaborating with one another, a threat that we could not afford to ignore?

Or does such language become self-fulfilling, encouraging a tighter relationship between such enemies? Even if the relationship already existed loosely, did Bush's words effectively harden it? Does a display of highly rhetorical hostility push them further into the quest for nuclear capability? Is it better to exploit divisions between enemies than name them as a single body?

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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

# Posted 11:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCAIN IGNORES POLLS, WON'T FLINCH ON IRAQ: Talk about saying exactly the opposite of what the polls tell you. Here's the relevant press release from McCain's office (with a hat tip to PH):
Washington D.C. ­– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today released the following statement in support of General Peter J. Schoomaker’s announcement on the Army’s long-term plans for Iraq:

“Today, Army Chief of Staff, General Peter J. Schoomaker announced that the Army has plans to keep the current level of soldiers in Iraq through 2010. Currently there are 141,000 troops in Iraq, including 120,000 soldiers. Earlier this year we heard reports that the Army would begin reducing the number of troops in Iraq to 100,000 by the end of the year. I support General Schoomaker's comments and believe we must increase troop strength if we are to win this war,” McCain said.

“The announcement also reveals how imperative it is to begin immediately to increase the end strength of the Army and Marine Corps. We are overstretched at a time of widespread and very serious challenges. Congress has authorized increases in recent years that the Defense Department has not acted upon with the urgency Congress intended, and events so clearly warrant.

“Senior officers from National Guard units and Reserve Centers across the Nation report the signs of strain on National Guardsmen and Reservists as they prepare for additional deployments to Iraq. Soldiers and Marines are reporting for their third tours in Iraq. We must begin now to increase substantially the troop strength of the Army and Marine Corps by at least 100,000.”
There's no question we need a major expansion of the Army and Marine Corps' end strength. I'm just still getting my head around the notion of keeping 140,000 troops in Iraq until 2010. A seven-year occupation. Four more years of bitter debate about the war. And can McCain win in 2008 with that approach to the war? Well, it certainly is straight talk.
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# Posted 11:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

McCAIN ALLY BLOGS TO DEFEND HER SEAT IN THE HOUSE: Heather Wilson's Arizona New Mexico district is one of the 20 or so most vulnerable in Congress. Last week, she did a guest posting on GOP Progress on the subject of wiretapping reform.

From what I know, Wilson seems like a solid rep. But like most pols, she has long way to go before figuring out how to do a blog post that doesn't sound like a press release. Of course, my first few posts weren't so great either, so who am I to talk?

On a related note, PBS NewsHour recently did a segment comparing House campaign commercials from a number of districts, including Wilson's. Wilson's commercial consisted of John McCain giving his endorsement. Here's what McCain said:
We live in dangerous times. We're fighting a war on terror, and it's unlike any before it. An Air Force Academy grad and fellow veteran, Heather Wilson has the experience these times require and the integrity our country needs.

Heather Wilson is an independent, principled leader who will stand up to anyone when it's right for New Mexico and America. I'm proud to have Heather Wilson as an ally in Washington, and I ask you to send her back.
The commercial from Wilson's opponent branded her as a rubber stamp for an endless war:
The war in Iraq. Three and a half years. Still no plan, and America's less safe. Heather Wilson is on the Intelligence Committee, but she never questioned George Bush on the war, and she never said a word about how we've spent $300 billion there.

Heather Wilson even missed a vote on setting a timetable for withdrawal so she could attend a fundraiser with George Bush. That's not independence, not by a long shot.
That strategy seems to be working.
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# Posted 10:54 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FIRST-HAND REPORT FROM BATTLEGROUND CONNECTICUT: Liz Mair from GOP Progress is reporting from the Nutmeg State. (Couldn't anyone come up with better nickname for it?)

More importantly, Liz provides a close look at three important races for the House, in which moderate Republicans are trying to hold on in a very Blue State. According to RCP, those seats are vulnerable, but none of them are in the ten most likely to become Democratic.

On a related note, RCP's poll-watching formula now predicts that the Democrats will take back the Senate. The key number responsible for putting the Democrats in the lead is Harold Ford's miniscule lead in Tennessee. But Ford may not be the clincher, since Jim Webb is just a few points behind George Allen.
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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

# Posted 9:14 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

GOODBYE, TOWER RECORDS: It was a Greenwich Village institution, as well as having a presence on the Upper West Side and even in Los Angeles. I grew up three blocks from the flagship store on the corner of West 4th St. and Broadway. Now it is gone. (Hat tip: MHM)

Tower Records was where I bought my first albums. On audio cassette. With a gift certificate I got as a present for my Bar Mitzvah. I hesitate to admit this additional, but I bought an album by Paula Abdul.

My last memory of Tower will be a fond one. I spent the summer of 2002 as an intern in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In the middle of the summer, I returned to the US for a week. My friend and Spanish tutor Silvio asked that I buy him an album by American jazz artist John Zorn, which simply could not be found in Argentina.

Of course I went to Tower. Not knowing much about either jazz or Jon Zorn, I asked a salesman which of Zorn's albums I ought to buy. The salesman said, "Why don't you ask him?" Standing there, browsing records in the jazz section, was none other than Jon Zorn. I bought an album and he autographed it. Silvio was stunned when I gave him his gift. And I smiled.

Tower Records, you will be missed.
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# Posted 8:40 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE THOUGHT PROCESS OF A WRITER FOR THE NATION: I swear I didn't make this up. Nor is anything taken out of context. It's all on the Nation's website, in a post by William Greider:
Okay, I admit it. As the election approaches, I am feeling a creepy sense of paranoia. My right brain reads the newspapers, studies the polls and thinks we are looking at a blow-out next month--Dems conquer at last. My left brain hoots in derision. Get real, sucker...

Yet the least little thing jerks away my optimism, like ripping off a scab that's not quite healed. When I heard the news flash that a plane had crashed into a Manhattan apartment tower, I didn't think, how horrible. I said to myself: those rotten bastards in the White House.
I wasn't thinking terrorists. I was thinking the Bush regime had gone to new extremes in its search for a believable "red alert." That tactic is worn out, it's been used so many times in election seasons. Instead, why not blow up a chunk of New York City to remind folks how scary life can be in these United States? Okay, that thought is irrational (also slanderous). But office conversations the next day told me I was not alone.
That's a very unusual office, to the say the least.
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# Posted 5:49 AM by Patrick Belton  

EULOGIA, 17 OCTOBER, 2006.
Let me tell you about my mother.
With like words have I entertained drinking companions, cemented friends and frightened second dates. No acquaintance of mine has passed into friendship without their utterance, nor sojourn far from these walls lacked for their bardic mention.
In an equation of existence, we defined each other, a trope of art and religion, my mother-Penelope to and from whom my own odysseys arced.

These days and more have I been hearing of the pride my mother nursed in me her son. Well, I believe it time to let everyone know, to announce to the very arches of heaven, how proud I am of my mother. So let me tell you about my mother.

Let me tell you about my mother, who was a stunner. Those who had at any point in her life seen her will agree, mothers the like of mine are an apology for Oedipalism. Her glories, May Courtdom, regnance as homecoming monarch amongst a court of lesser butterflies, a youthful modelling career, have been rehearsed already. Yet it is a Newtonian truth, a matter of first principle in scientific charting and exploration of my mother's life, of my mother's self-effacement before others. Like charity itself, to which word my mother in herself gave flesh, she suffereth long, [and] is kind; she envieth not; she vaunteth not herself, is not puffed up.

Let me tell you about my mother, who was loving, and who was generous. When the last time she and I would speak, I suspecting the time for such professions not far off, exhausted my universe of reference recounting for her my love for her, she replied simply, 'I love you more.' What was Fred, my teddy ursine become signature stroke for which mother was known, heart worn upon still better yet his nose, but an icon of love. She left, as ciphers of her affection, about her garden, stone bunnies for me, cats for her sister Laura, to discover after she was gone and read, correctly, as love letters. I have, these days and more, been hearing tidings of secret generosity from employees, friends, beneficiary associates within this their, and my, church, let[ting] not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thine alms may be in secret. Let me tell you about my mother who was love. Yes, let me tell you about my mother.

Let me tell you about my mother, and her mischievous sense of fun and humour, who was not only a Saint, to her den-maternal status within my second cherished school community next door, but could laugh heartily with such sinners as me.

My mother, who in her tenure as executive secretary to the aluminium stars of Reynolds Metal, chanced once during a lunch break upon what I believe in consecrated space I must refer to as a lad's mag, property of her immediate employer, which by the end of the heretofore referenced lunch break had received gift of paper lingerie, handcrafted with discretion and pasted in appropriate points on to each page.

She loved plastic bags. And for the incognescenti, unaware of their numerous pleasures to the appropriately educated, such as they will not recognise the manifold difference between the resealable (uses: sandwiches, crownies (an idiosyncratic mix of brownies, and cakes), green drinks dispensed during St Patrick's Day parades), those sealable with green twisty-ties (uses: pineapple juice and raisin cartons for St Bridget's school lunches, and really a terribly handy one as most things found around a house can be inserted into it, with profit), and for special occasions, the black hefty bin liner (uses to include disposal of curiously uneaten Veal Scaloppini, conveyance of ghost costumes in a pinch and ones of St Patrick, Bishop, for St Bridget's All Saints Days, and into which most household items and guests not fitting into the green twisty-tie version may also be placed, to profit).

She made my father sandwiches each day for 34 years, which I calculate a net yield of 12,410 sandwiches. Miraculously, they still maintained that - what I like to think of as freshly untutored style of cooking, that generally not displayed outside the world of the unusually undomesticated male freshman dorm rat, and as such worthy of culinary as well as zoological inspection.

Laughter is the final act of rebellion of life against the dark, breaking the silence of the grave. Let us think of mum, and laugh heartily. Mum, you who spent some not inconsiderable portion of your life deriding chrysanthemums as beastly frightful funereal flowers, have had the jocular fortune to have your own funeral during the height of chrysanthemum season. You would, I am sure, laugh. I shall nurse its echoes in my ears, mum.

Mother had no truck with funerals. Would that we could truly have followed your wishes, mother, we would today have sung the Hallelujah Chorus, soul would have clapped hands and dance, your ashes, with a minimum of bother and a bit of fun, disposed discreetly in an envelope by post to an unsuspecting postal customer.

Let me tell you about my mother, who was zealous that those whom she loved rest. Mum, I am your son, sprung of your loins, and today I am zealous that you rest. That your heart, so loving, rest now from its strenuous exertions of a lifetime. That your body, so wearied from unstinting quiet, quiet service to others, and your final illness, rest in the embrace of a loving earth which spawned you. Requiem, rest. Requiem aeternam dona matrem meam, Domine. Eternal rest, o God, to whom all flesh comes. Et lux perpetua luceat ei.

In the casket of Charlotte Valdrighi Belton, until the end of the present age rests a letter. On it are written these words, which shall remain the companion of her body.
My dear, beautiful mother,
With a heartbroken heart I will always love you. I am not ready to be without you, but if I must then I will endeavour always to be heir to your virtues as well as your body. You have given me a lifetime of love, for which I shall always be in your debt. You shall always be my best friend; and I, proud to be your son. I love you, mother. Sleep well. Your heartbroken son, Patrick Belton, son of Charlotte Ann Marie Valdrighi Belton, who here rests

I have told them about you, mother. May they inscribe you within their heart, emulate your selfless love and humour, so that you shall live on through them too.

You who wished those you loved to rest, rest gently now.

You who died alone, to be discovered at the bottom of a staircase by your sister whom you loved, receive now the love with which we could not surround you in the moment you breathed your last.

You who inwardly kept to high lustre the blessed memory of two Italians whom you cherished, Charles your father and Evelyn your mother who like you her daughter was imparted to her rest at 63, your genes of which I am sole heir have today become my most prized patrimony, and mother, upon your casket I shall repay my debt for your service as consummate parent to your grandchildren whom you shall not know.

Mother, you often sang to me. May I now sing you to rest.

May the Angels lead you into paradise:
may the Martyrs come to welcome you,
and take you to the holy city, Jerusalem.
May choirs of Angels welcome you,
and with Lazarus who is poor no longer
may you have eternal rest.


In paradisum deducant te Angeli:
in tuo adventu suscipiant te Martyres,
et perducant te in civitatem sanctam, Jerusalem.

Charlotte Ann Marie Valdrighi Belton, Carlata, Chicky, Charlotte Ann, my cherished best friend, mother, mama, mum, rest gently.
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# Posted 12:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

655,000 DEAD IN IRAQ? What is one to make of the recent study in The Lancet, a prestigious journal of medicine, claiming that the war has resulted in the death of 655,000 Iraqis? I don't know. I haven't had to time examine the evidence yet.

Yet strangely enough, even the mendacious anti-American propagandists over at Iraq Body Count are rejecting the figure of 655,000 as absurd. (Hat tip: Glenn again) IBC's arguments seem sensible, but they are so untrustworthy I still won't believe them even when they seem to have no political motive.

In addition, I'd like to respond to IBC's statement that:
Totals of the magnitude generated by this study are unnecessary to brand the invasion and occupation of Iraq a human and strategic tragedy.
No, not a strategic tragedy. A strategic success. The insurgents and their foreign allies sought to murder as many Shi'ites as possible in order to provoke a brutal reaction, a civil war, and ultimately an American withdrawal. The brutal reaction has begun. So has something akin to a civil war. Pressure for an American withdrawal continues to mount.

IBC's references to the "invasion" and "occupation" as the problem are a distraction. The insurgents and their allies decided to make Iraq this way, just as Saddam made it before the invasion. That is the human tragedy.

No back to the study for a moment: Have you had a look at it, Taylor? You seem to share my somewhat morbid interest in the subject of mass casualties (and how, in an ideal world, we might prevent them). Any thoughts?
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# Posted 12:38 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOTE: THIS POST WAS A DUPLICATION OF THE ONE ABOVE IT. I HAVE NOW DELETED ITS CONTENTS. The comment appended to this post has been reposted in the comments section of the post above.

NOTE: THIS POST IS AN (ACCIDENTAL) DUPLICATION OF THE ONE ABOVE IT. HOWEVER, I DID NOT NOTICE THE MISTAKE UNTIL AFTER A COMMENT HAD ALREADY BEEN LEFT, SO I"M LETTING THE POST STAY.
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Monday, October 16, 2006

# Posted 11:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO THE DUKE LACROSSE SCANDAL? Beats me. I figure if there were any evidence of a crime, we'd be hearing a lot more about it. K.C. Johnson provides an in-depth round-up that argues passionately for the innocence of the defendants and the incompetence of the police and the prosecutor. (Hat tip: Glenn)
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# Posted 11:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING KABUKI ROUND-UP: It was one helluva week on the talk shows. The Bush team spoke in solemn tones of its commitment to diplomacy and avoiding war, while Russert, Schieffer and Stephanopoulos all asked question after question designed to show that the UN is powerless, China is selfish and negotiation with North Korea is pointless.

So what are we to make of these pervasive role reversals? Is everyone a hypocrite? No, that's not fair. Circumstances do matter. The critics can argue that North Korea is far more dangerous than Iraq ever was. The White House can argue that it tried to get the UN to get serious about Iraq, but it wouldn't. Now, they're giving the UN its chance on North Korea.

Personally, I think the administration has the better argument here, but the margin is not enough to win over any of the critics. So let's get down to grades. John Bolton went first on NBC, followed by dueling Minnesota Senate candidates Mark Kennedy and Amy Klobuchar. Condi led off on CBS, followed by John Warner and Sam Nunn. Bolton was number one again on ABC, followed by duelling Tennessee Senate candidates Harold Ford and Bob Corker (who appeared separately).
Bolton on NBC: A-. Where was the monster I've been led to expect? I think he answered every question exactly as Condi would have, and with the same calm resolve. Although he could learn something from her about hairstyles.

Kennedy: B. Relentless but never vicious with his attacks. There was no way to look good when Russert confronted him with some of his very optimistic statements about Iraq, but Kennedy was still pretty candid. In terms of substance, he just had party-line talking points.

Klobuchar: B. Less agressive on both offense and defense. But Klobuchar is sitting on a decisive lead, so she doesn't need to get tough. Could she get tough if she had to? Who knows. In terms of substance, Klobuchar just had partly-line talking points.

Condi: B+. Ahh, the absurd rituals of diplomacy. While negotiating at the UN and with North Korea's neighbors, our Secretary of State must pretend that this approach has a good chance of working. But so far she's running the best diplomatic effort I think anyone could expect. I'll forgive her for having to protect it with this bit of Kabuki.

Warner and Nunn: B+. Reasonable and fair-minded. Long retired, Nunn has no need to play games. And Warner couldn't be bothered.

Bolton on ABC: B. Basically the same performance, but I'll only give him 'A-' to reward him for others' low expectations. What I want to know is whether his observation that North Korea's nuclear test "humiliated" China was carefully planned or if it was a bull-in-the-China shop moment.

Ford: B-. Ford struck me as profoundly manipulative. The only way he could exploit his faith more shamelessly would be to shoot his campaign commercials in a church. Oh wait, he did that.

Corker: B-. His attacks on Ford fell flat and he doesn't seem to have much to offer as a candidate.
I should just note, it was another solid performance for Russert as Senate debate moderator. I think the scrutiny that comes with explicit political showdowns forces moderators to do their best.

See ya next week.
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# Posted 10:34 PM by Taylor Owen  

THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: Canada currently has a lot of problems in Afghanistan - shifting support to the Taliban, rising casualties in Kandahar, ineffective counterinsurgency strategies, bad poppy crop irradiation polices, the list goes on. But 10 ft high heat absorbing, Taliban hiding, impenetrable marijuana plants? mon dieu...things are worse, well maybe better , ok worse , no definitely better than I thought...this one's just too close to call...

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# Posted 2:10 PM by Patrick Porter  

BAD COP: I watched a disturbing film last night about John Reginald Halliday Christie, an English serial killer:
Christie married 22-year-old Ethel Simpson from Sheffield, on 10 May 1920. It was a dysfunctional union, as Christie was impotent with her and frequented prostitutes. Friends and neighbors gossiped that she stayed with him out of fear. They separated after four years, when Christie moved to London and Ethel lived with relatives.

His convictions included three months imprisonment for stealing postal orders while working as a postman in April 1921, nine months in Uxbridge jail in September 1924 for theft, six months hard labour for hitting a prostitute (with whom he was living at the time) over the head with a cricket bat during an argument in May 1929, and three months imprisonment for stealing a car in 1933 from a priest who befriended him. Christie and his wife reconciled after his release in late 1933, but he did not reform, continuing to seek out prostitutes to relieve his increasingly bizarre, violent sexual urges, which included necrophilia.

On the outbreak of WWII, he joined the police force and was accepted, despite his criminal record. Assigned to Harrow Road Police Station, he enjoyed the new respect his position gave him and was hard working and efficient.
You should have seen Harrow's mean cop.
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# Posted 1:54 PM by Patrick Porter  

SECULAR DOGMATIST: Secularists can be dogmatic too, as Terry Eagleton argues, against the scientist and leading critic of the churches, Richard Dawkins (hat-tip normblog):
Such is Dawkins's unruffled scientific impartiality that in a book of almost four hundred pages, he can scarcely bring himself to concede that a single human benefit has flowed from religious faith, a view which is as a priori improbable as it is empirically false. The countless millions who have devoted their lives selflessly to the service of others in the name of Christ or Buddha or Allah are wiped from human history - and this by a self-appointed crusader against bigotry.
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# Posted 4:59 AM by Patrick Porter  

OXBLOG ON RADIO: To Oxblog readers with a moment to spare, tune in this week to hear my radio debut. I'll be talking to Richard Albert on Oxford Radio on Wednesday, about politics in Australia.

It will be going out live here, between 11am and noon, UK time.

You heard it here first folks, don't go away, etc.
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Sunday, October 15, 2006

# Posted 9:27 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LAST WEEK'S MISSING ROUND-UP: Is the content of the Sunday morning talk shows of no more than fleeting significance, or does it have a measure of lasting value? If one judges it to be little more than self-serving spin, then there is no reason to revisit it once the next media cycle has begun.

But perhaps the half-life of such material is greater than just a few days in duration. For example, last week's debate on Meet the Press between Missouri Senate candidates Jim Talent and Claire McCaskill will remain relevant at least until election day. And Tim Russert's discussion with Bob Woodward reflected an interesting development in the journalistic profession's sense of itself.

Of course, you could always just say that I'm too set in my ways to miss a round-up. If so, then forgive me and keep on scrolling. Otherwise, let me say that Reps. Ray LaHood (R-IL) and Tom Davis (R-VA) were on CBS, while ABC had Reps. Rahm Emmanuel (D-IL) and Adam Putnam (R-FL), followed by Jim Baker talking about the Iraq Study Group.
Talent: B. Aggressive. Reasonably well-spoken. But little to offer beyond talking points from the Republcian play book.

McCaskill: B. More eloquent than her opponent. Yet she seemed to bend before the force of Talent's attacks, even though they were wholly predictable. Her talking points were also straight out of the party play book, resulting in the expected confusion re: Iraq.

Woodward: B. When Russert talks to journalists, he usually treats them as colleagues who are implicitly to be trusted, so no tough questions. But not this time. Russert kept confronting Woodward with criticism of his book by adminstration spokesmen and others. No question was particularly tough, nor was any of them in Russert's voice, rather than taking the form of verbatim quotations. But the simple length of Russert's list made Woodward's constant denials seems just a mite less than 100% credible.

LaHood: C. A friend of Hastert, and committed to the hopeless cause of defending the GOP leadership's handling of the Foley scandal. Good grades were simply out of reach.

Davis: B. He's one of those Republicans who has chosen, if only because of self-interest, to carefully distance himself from the leadership without burning any bridges. Regardless of the motive, that's better than defending incompetence.

Putnam: C. Aggressive and well-spoken. As a rising member of the GOP leadership, he may have felt he had no choice but to spin for a hopeless cause. But perhaps this was a lost opportunity to demonstrate some independence.

Baker: B. Said nothing and basked in the glory of being a Republican who once had the chance to overthrow Saddam and occupy Iraq, but decided to it wasn't a good idea. That's good politics. And it helps that Stephanopoulos didn't come up with a single tough question to ask him.
Although soft on Baker, Stephanopoulos was very good about challenging Emmanuel, even though Democrats have almost nothing to apologize for in relation to Foley. Steph asked how it's possible that twenty years ago, when Rep. Gerry Studds (D-MA), was discovered to have sex with a page, the party did nothing more than censure him. Whereas Foley had to resign immediately even though he never touched a page (although I'm sure he would have), Studds served 14 more years with the full support of his party.

Emmanuel couldn't explain. I'd suggest the Democrats could afford to protect their own when they had a huge majority in Congress. In addition, the fact that GOP congressmen Dan Crane (R-IL) also had sex with a page meant the Democrats didn't have to worry about being the focus of public anger.

On a related note, Studds died yesterday. It is unfortunate that the first openly gay congressman had to undermine such a notable achievement by sleeping with a page.
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# Posted 9:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

AT A LOSS FOR WORDS: All of us here at OxBlog are greatly saddened by Patrick's loss. There are no words I have that can match the eloquence of Patrick's brief statement and photographs. Somehow it seems unfair that they should ever descend from the top of our homepage, replaced by sentiments far less profound. Yet in the face of it all, we must go on.
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Thursday, October 12, 2006

# Posted 9:57 PM by Patrick Belton  

IN MEMORIAM. Charlotte Ann Marie Valdrighi Belton, 15th June 1943 - 12th October 2006, and my mother. Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.


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# Posted 6:42 PM by Patrick Porter  

ANNIVERSARY AND BIRTHDAY: Its four years since Islamicists murdered over two hundred people at a Bali nightclub, and injured over two hundred more. Among the dead were 88 Australians.

While its hard to navigate the full landscape of the interior world of the terrorist, we know that they were targeted partly for the provocation of several policies: Australia's belated support for East Timorese Independence from Indonesia, and Australia's role in assisting in the overthrow of the Taleban in Afganistan. I guess it demonstrates that just because your policies incite terrorists to hate you more, doesn't mean they are bad policies.

Speaking personally for a second, a line that was drawn politically for me on 9/11 was reinforced that day. It divided between two different responses, between those who were quick to assign blame and rationalisation to the Australian government and people and even the victims themselves (they had been drinking in a Moslem majority country, you see) and people who were unembarrassed to say this was murder, it was wrong, and the root cause was the ideology and methods of the killers.

Solidarity and commiserations with the families of the victims.

And today is my lovely wife's birthday! Happy birthday Andrea!
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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

# Posted 4:56 PM by Patrick Porter  

ON SAFETY AND VICTORY: Trying to win a war is not exactly the same thing as trying to maximise your immediate safety, as Charles Krauthammer argues:
On the one hand, the American presence [in Iraq] does inspire some to join the worldwide jihad. On the other hand, success in the Iraq project would blunt the most fundamental enlistment tool for terrorism -- the political oppression in Arab lands that is deflected by cynical dictators and radical imams into murderous hatred of the West. Which is why the Bush democracy project embodies the greatest hope for a reduction of terrorism and why the NIE itself concludes that were the jihadists to fail in Iraq, their numbers would diminish.
As I posted recently, recent polls suggest that Iraqis themselves have not been converted by Bin Ladenism. In fact, they demonstrate that Al Qaeda is ultimately self-defeating by its very presence, murderous and alienating as it is. The USA isn't the only side with a 'winning hearts and minds' problem.
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# Posted 4:26 PM by Patrick Porter  

A GLOBAL ATLANTIC: There is a frustrating tendency in the debate about the relationships between democratic allies in the war on terror. It is often dominated by the issue of relations between Europe and America, or by the question of the 'special relationship' and the viability of the trans-Atlantic alliance.

Defenders of NATO argue that just because the Cold War is over, doesn't mean that the alliance members don't have common security interests. Which is true. But their interests are now shaped and pursued more globally than ever before: operations in Afghanistan, humanitarian aid in Indonesia, and logistical support to the African Union in the Sudan.

So Ivo Daalder and James Goldgeier propose that NATO accepts non-European liberal democracies as members. It should redefine its view of security, no longer as a territorially delimited sphere, but as a set of shared liberal and democratic values. A resurgent and giant India, the economically vibrant Japan, and militarily effective Australia would enhance its capabilities and its resources.

What are the benefits? First, there are the hard benefits of military interoperability that join training, planning and campaigning would yield. It would also create closer relationships in areas where the security of older NATO countries are effected, to increase its ability to combat terrorist networks operating from the Pacific to Europe to America. It would also strengthen NATO's legitimacy, and provide it with more resources.

The main problem I can imagine with this proposal is that the question of admitting Israel would divide its members: admit Israel, and others might not join, refuse Israel entry, and it threatens the political basis and identity of the alliance. Hmmm.
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