Wednesday, May 31, 2006

# Posted 11:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CONSERVATIVE ROCK SONGS? John J. Miller of NRO compiled a list. Number One is "Won't Get Fooled Again" by The Who. According to John,
The conservative movement is full of disillusioned revolutionaries; this could be their theme song, an oath that swears off naïve idealism once and for all.
Now, John J. probably never imagined that Pete Townshend himself would take issue with his interpretation. (For the uninitiated, Townshend is/was the songwriter and lead guitarist for The Who.) Writing on his diary/blog, Pete says that
Won't Get Fooled Again has been listed in the UK Independent Newspaper as the number one song with - as I understand it - the political message most often misunderstood - in this case the message is said to be 'conservative', a word that may mean different things in the UK and USA.
Pete does acknowledge, however, that the song is very much concerned about the potential for disillusionment with noble ideals. More than a decade after writing the song, Pete himself experienced one such moment of disillusion in the 1980s:
Peter Gabriel and I spoke often on the phone about work we were doing...to raise money to help spring Nelson Mandela from gaol [jail] in South Africa. We realized quickly that what we were doing was buying guns for the ANC.
Which is guess is a way of saying that we will get fooled again. Oh well.

UPDATE: Perhaps I was too quick to judge. Michael Moore asked Pete Townshend to use "Won't Get Fooled Again" in Fahrenheit 9/11, but Townshend refused. Plus, TAP suggests Pete is a bourgeois, pro-war sell-out.

And more links at Memeorandum.
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# Posted 11:48 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

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# Posted 10:50 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WAY OVER MY HEAD: I can only dream of having the legal expertise necessary to provide an authoritative opinion of whether or nor it was unconstitutional for the FBI to search Rep. William Jefferson's office as part of a bribery investigation.

However, there is one OxBlogger who need not dream of such things. Josh Chafetz, our erstwhile colleague and author of a whole damn book on parliamentary privilege, argues in TNR that the constitution actually does forbid executive agencies from searching legislative offices. As I understand it, the essence of his argument is as follows:
In fact, the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution should be interpreted to prohibit searches like these. To allow such searches undermines the independence that the clause is meant to secure for Congress...

Meeting with constituents most certainly is part of a legislator's legitimate duties. And any prosecution for bribery or similar offenses necessarily involves an inquiry into whether these meetings involved improper promises or representations--that is, it involves poking around in legislators' dealings with constituents and attempting to divine their true reasons for acting the way they did. The Speech or Debate Clause was intended precisely to prevent the executive and the judiciary from passing judgment on how members of a coequal branch perform their official duties...

Moreover, because the Speech or Debate privilege was meant to be a shield against the judiciary, as well as the executive, it is irrelevant that the search of Jefferson's office was carried out pursuant to a warrant.
I do recommend that you read the whole of Josh's article, since this summary does not do it justice.

For an opposing perspective, I recommend this essay in Slate by Akhil Reed Amar, a professor at Yale Law School whom Josh knows quite well. (Hat tip: WB) Amar argues that:
The [Speech and Debate] clause does not insulate sitting Congress members from ordinary criminal arrest and prosecution. No arrest-immunity exists whenever a congressman stands accused of "Treason, Felony, [or] Breach of the Peace"—and the last phrase was, according to the canonical jurist William Blackstone, a catchall term of art that effectively covered all crimes...

So, what did the [US Constitution's] Arrest Clause actually privilege? Basically, it insulated a sitting congressman from certain civil lawsuits brought by private plaintiffs seeking a court order that would physically "arrest" the defendant, with the effect (and perhaps purpose) of removing the congressman from the floor and thus disenfranchising his constituents...

What about the remainder of Article I, Section 6, which specifically protects congressional "Speech or Debate"? Here, too, the language provides little shelter for [Rep. Jefferson].

Essentially, this is a clause about political expression. In 18th-century England, Parliament (whose name derives from the French verb parler, to speak) was a speech spot—a parley place, a venue in which free speech needed to prevail, and thus where no member was properly subject to civil or criminal prosecution for libel as a result of something he said on the floor.
So who is right? As I said, this one is way over my head. What I can say is that Josh's essay brings forward a lot of evidence that Amar's essay does not address (and vice versa, to a certain extent). Of course, Prof. Amar may have a ready response to such points but did not see fit to include them in his essay.

But I wouldn't be so sure, since Prof. Amar knows what a formidable scholar Dr. Chafetz is. On the back cover of Josh's book, this is what Prof. Amar had to say:
This book heralds the arrival of an important new scholar in the fields of comparative constitutional law and legal history. Fitting a broad range of institutional details into a comprehensive and subtle theoretical framework, Chafetz shows how Congressional privileges in America and Parliamentary privileges in England sprang from common origins but then evolved along separate paths as a result of basic differences in the political ecosystems. An excellent chronicle of the evolution of legislative privileges from the parliamentary supremacy of England to the popular sovereignty in kingless America."
High praise from such a prominent author. Good work, Josh. My guess is that William Jefferson will get what's coming to him regardless of what becomes of the evidence taken by the FBI search.
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# Posted 10:32 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LATENIGHT CHEESECAKE: Will Baude reviews a promising entrant to the Washington's nighttime cafe scene.
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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

# Posted 10:20 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER ARKANSAN IN THE WHITE HOUSE? OR: I (HEART) HUCKABEE. Reihan explores the social and religious ideas embraced by Arkansas' GOP governor and dark horse presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee.

Reihan also manages to throw in a reference to Voltron, defender of the universe.
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# Posted 9:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DO JOURNALISTS HAVE IT IN FOR HILLARY? If I were one of her fans, I would've been pissed off by Dan Balz's front-page profile in this morning's WaPo.

Although I do tend to see Hillary as a tactician without core values, I recognize that my opinion is just that: an opinion. An interpretation. An inference. But Balz does quite a job of portraying that opinion as a matter of fact in an article that isn't even labeled as "news analysis".

Although correspondents don't write headlines, this one is telling: "Clinton is a Politician Not Easily Defined; Senator's Platform Remains Unclear". The first half isn't terrible, but "Platform Remains Unclear" may as well be the same as "Flip-flop! Flip-flop!"

The article's first sentence is:
Hillary Rodham Clinton has fashioned a political persona that generates intense passions but defies easy characterization.
Authentic human beings don't fashion personas. As our teachers all told us in elementary school, "Just be yourself. Don't pretend to be someone else just because you want to be popular."

Of course, being oneself is a very hard thing to do, so one ought to cut Hillary some slack. But I don't think many journalists will. Here's another gem from Balz's profile:
Yet for all her fame, there are missing pieces to the Clinton puzzle: What does she stand for? And where would she try to take the country if elected?
One can pretend that such questions are objective and neutral, but Balz's talk of "missing pieces" lets you know these questions are reprimands for Hillary's evasiveness. And then there's this:
For now, [Hillary] is defined by a combination of celebrity and caution that strategists say leaves her more vulnerable than most politicians to charges that she is motivated more by personal ambition and tactical maneuver than by a clear philosophy.
In the name of balance, Balz does include the obligatory quote from Hillary, as well as praise form some of her supporters, followed by antagonistic quotes from Kos and Jerry Falwell. (The juxtaposition of those two was absolutely delightful.)

If you want to defend Balz's approach to Hillary you definitely can. His profile is a long one includes lots of material from both sides. There is one assertion (in the ominiscient, impersonal voice journalists so adore) that "there are clear patterns" to Hillary's behavior on both foreign and domestic issues. Yet on balance, there is no question that this profile belongs with all those that reinforce the caricature of Hillary as yet another slippery Clinton.
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Monday, May 29, 2006

# Posted 11:55 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Anybody else notice that the Washington Post today has not a single tribute to a fallen warrior?
But the title of the Post's lead editorial is "Memorial Day", in which the editors observe that
What ought to be unquestioned among us is the honor due those who have little to say about the rightness of a war but who take on the duty of fighting it.
The Post also ran the latest installment of Faces of the Fallen, in which it publishes a photo of each fallen servicemember from Iraq and Afghanistan. I think that counts.
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# Posted 11:51 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A CRIME THAT MAY NOT PAY: The National Review warns that con-artists have been posing as NR representatives and attempting to collect subscription-renewal payments from subscribers. You'd think a reasonably smart criminal would go after a magazine with more circulation, but what do I know?
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# Posted 11:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

NOW SERVING WITH THE ARMY IN IRAQ, Phil Carter reflects on Memorial Day. (Hat tip: Glenn)
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# Posted 11:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHAT HAPPENED AT HADITHA? John Murtha insists that US Marines murdered Iraqi civilians "in cold blood" and that their superiors covered up the incident aggressively. For two days running, the WaPo has been running the same vague statement about Haditha, based on anonymous sources:
People familiar with the case say they expect that charges of murder, dereliction of duty and making a false statement will be brought against several Marines.
The NYT dispatched an Iraqi writer to interview the relatives of the dead, who affirmed Murtha's version of the story. The Times hedged on the believability of those accounts, and then cited anonymous sources in a manner similar to the Post. It reported that:
The four survivors' accounts could not be independently corroborated, and it was unclear in some cases whether they actually saw the killings. But much of what they said was consistent with broad outlines of the events of that day provided by military and government officials who have been briefed on the military's investigations into the killings, which the officials have said are likely to lead to charges that may include murder and a cover-up of what really happened.
If the allegations are true, punishment must firm and swift. But that will not repair the damage.

UPDATE(S): Kevin looks at some of the other information available, none of it yet definitive.

Gary Farber is following Haditha very closely.
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# Posted 10:59 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: On Meet the Press, Jim Sensenbrenner battled it out with Chuck Hagel on the subject of immigration. On Face the Nation, Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell debated the Democrats' prospects of taking back the Senate in the fall. On This Week with George S., John Murtha talked about the Haditha incident and allegations of a cover-up. John Warner then addressed the same subject.
Sensenbrenner: B+. He's very good at making the case against a rush to reform. I've graded him down in the past for insisting that any path to citizenship for illegal immigrants amounts to amnesty, but since the folks on my side of the debate won't admit that their plan, intentionally or not, rewards illegal behavior, I'm going to give Sensenbrenner a pass.

Hagel: B-. I agree with what he said, but he isn't much of an advocate for our cause. His arguments were all over the map. Most importantly, he didn't make a clear case for why immigration reform is an extension of basic American values.

McConnell: D. I easily would've given him a 'B+' for candor and reasonability except for one thing he said:
Americans have forgotten what [Democrats] do when they're in the majority. I can tell you what they'll do. They'll wave the white flag in the war on terror.
That's just appalling. It is a smear on the Democrats' patriotism, not a criticism of their agenda.

Schumer: C. I would easily have given him a 'B' for reciting his talking points with more feeling than most, but he just took it lying down when McConnell smeared the Dems. I wonder if he'll get slammed by Kos, Atrios, etc.

Murtha and Warner: No grade. It's impossible to assess what they said until I know a lot more about what actually happened in Haditha. The stories being told are gut-wrenching, but facts are scarce.
And now for the hosts:
Russert: B.

Schieffer: B.

Stephanopoulos: B. I'm glad he made Haditha the focus of his show, but he didn't do much to help establish the facts of the case.
See ya next week.
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Sunday, May 28, 2006

# Posted 1:46 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DISPATCH FROM IRAQ: Nir Rosen is one of the fastest-rising stars among the ranks of foreign correspondents. He shipped out for Baghdad as a freelancer immediately after the invasion and quickly learned to speak Iraqi Arabic. Thus, he became the only American (that I know of, at least) to report extensively from inside insurgent-occupied Fallujah in 2004.

Nir's dispatch from Fallujah was given pride of place in the July 5, 2004 issue of the New Yorker, an accomplishment that immediately established his reputation as leading observer of occupied Iraq. A book contract soon followed. Earlier this month, the Free Press, a division of Simon & Schuster, published In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq. In addition to various assignment for the The NYT Magazine and The Atlantic, Nir also has a major article on the cover of this morning's Outlook section in the WaPo.

Before getting to the substance of Nir's publications, I should warn you that I have been friends with Nir since elementary school. There is no question that I want him to succeed and I am proud to have OxBlog contribute to his success in whatever small way it can.

However, you don't need to worry at all that I will show any undeserved kindness to Nir's opinions, since I disagree with him vigorously about almost everything. He says the occupation is a manifest failure and wants to the bring the troops home now. To put it mildly, I think that's a bad idea.

But rather than rehashing that debate, let's talk about Nir's article in the WaPo. The first and last paragraphs of the articles summarize its message quite effectively:
Every morning the streets of Baghdad are littered with dozens of bodies, bruised, torn, mutilated, executed only because they are Sunni or because they are Shiite. Power drills are an especially popular torture device...

[The civil war] started when U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad. It began when Sunnis discovered what they had lost, and Shiites learned what they had gained. And the worst is yet to come.
The article doesn't mention any of Iraq's three elections or its new government, but suggests that they are irrelevant by focusing on the viciously sectarian nature of the police and armed forces:
The Mahdi militiamen were already back in force that morning, blocking off the roads and searching all who approached, wielding Iraqi police-issue Glock pistols and carrying Iraqi police-issue handcuffs. In Baghdad and most of Iraq, the police are the Mahdi Army and the Mahdi Army is the police. The same holds for the actual Iraqi army, posted throughout the country.
Although the overarching narrative here should be familiar to anyone who reads the newspapers, I think Nir is especially good at capturing details that bring the narrative to life, such as the police issue Glocks and handcuffs that found their way to the Mahdi army.

Of course, capturing such details is not the same as making a definitive case for the failure of the occupation. In that respect, I found the following passage from Nir's artilce to be quite revealing:
Even shared opposition to the Occupation couldn't unite Iraq's Sunnis and Shiites, and perhaps that was inevitable given their bitter history of mutual hostility. Instead, as the fighting against the Americans intensified, tensions between Sunni and Shiite began to grow, eventually setting off the vicious sectarian cleansing that is Iraq today.

During the first battle of Fallujah, in the spring of 2004, Sunni insurgents fought alongside some Shiite forces against the Americans; by that fall, the Sunnis waged their resistance alone in Fallujah, and they resented the Shiites' indifference.
If you happen to know Nir personally, you may recognize this passage as a veiled mea culpa. After returning from Fallujah in 2004, Nir was passionately persuaded that Iraqi Sunnis and Iraqi Shi'ites would unite against the Christian, American occupation.

This was what Nir told me in Lombardi's Pizza in SoHo in the late summer of 2004. I mostly kept my disagreement to myself since Nir had the ultimate trump card to play: he was there and he saw it all for himself. I just read the newspapers, which actually supported his argument more than they supported mine.

Although there is no question that I am enjoying this little "I told you so", the real point here is that even those with unprecedented access to the facts on the ground in Iraq are profoundly influenced by their preconceived notions. Knowing Nir's politics, I couldn't help but infer that his observation of an emergent Sunni-Shi'ite alliance in 2004 reflected his desire for a united front against the American occupation.

Of course, I have made similar mistakes myself. Go through the OxBlog archives and see how long it took me to recognize just after the invasion that a full-scale insurgency was underway.

In the end, I don't think the outcome of the occupation will turn on who made more predictions that were right or wrong. It will turn on a few critical issues that are much more important than the rest: whether an elected government can hold together, whether the army can fight, and whether the police will enforce the law or function as sectarian militias and death squads.

Nir and others have made a strong case that the trend in each of these issue areas is running in the wrong direction. But I'm not throwing in the towel just yet, because even those with first-hand experience have been wrong before about the most important trends in Iraq.
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# Posted 1:07 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVEN HILLARY'S FANS DON'T WANT HER TO RUN: Last night I was a fly on the wall at a liberal gathering. Eight of us had just returned from an outdoor performance of Shakespeare's Pericles and were now sitting on the front porch of a row house on a tree-lined street near Rock Creek Park.

I had met four of my companions for the first time earlier that evening and had met two of the others only a couple of times before. My final companion was a good friend but a man of few words, who said nothing of my politics. Thus, the other six assumed that I was just like them: a young, white, well-educated, well-intentioned liberal.

Eventually the subject of discussion turned to politics, specifically Al Gore's new film The Inconvenient Truth. A few of my companions hopefully asked whether we thought Gore would run in 2008. Others lamented the Democratic Party's pathological habit of nominating unelectable losers.

One of my companions hoped aloud that there wouldn't be 74 different Democrats running for the nomination in 2008. Someone else responded that if 74 different Democrats actually ran, maybe one of them would turn out to be a good candidate.

Inevitably, the subject turned to Hillary. I expected nothing less than firm support, but I was wrong. Concerns about her being unelectable emerged almost immediately, and no one bothered to dispute that assessment. One person went as far as to say that he hoped Hillary wouldn't run because it would hurt the party and its chances in 2008.

But why was Hillary unelectable? One person quickly suggested that she was too liberal. Another person responded that she really isn't all that liberal. But no one denounced the First Lady they way they regularly do over at Kos. This exchange confirmed in my mind that I was listening to part of the mainstream Democratic electorate and not the party's left-wing base. In other words, these concerns about Hillary's electability were coming from her most favorable demographic.

My inference based on last night's discussion is that my companions would vote for Hillary in the primaries, although with a heavy heart. They would only abandon her if the party produced a candidate that seemed unbeatable (which is a very remote possibility).

The reigning conventional wisdom on both sides of the aisle is that mobilizing a passionate base is the key to victory in 2008. But conventional wisdom has a very short life span. After all, in 1996 and 2000, the conventional wisdom was that you have to play to the center.

In the end, politics is always a gamble. If I were Hillary's, I wouldn't even think about giving up just yet.
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Saturday, May 27, 2006

# Posted 3:29 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUMMER READING: I just finished the Rule of Four, racing through more than 300 pages in less than three days. The novel was published in 2004, sold more than a million copies in hardcover and stayed on the NYT bestseller list for over six months.

But that isn't what's remarkable about the book. Publishing houses churn out hundreds of suspense novels a year, some of which become very popular but amount in the end to nothing more than light reading for a few hours at the beach.

Not so The Rule of Four, co-authored by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason. The Rule is the brilliantly imaginative story of two students at Princeton who struggle to decipher hidden messages in a Renaissance text known as the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili. Their nemesis is an aging scholar who struggled with the Hypnerotomachia in his youth and has now become insanely jealous of the protagonists.

(Full disclosure: I discovered the Rule of Four because Thomason's father is my supervisor at work.)

What I didn't know while reading the Rule is that the Hypnerotomachia is a real book from the late 15th century, prized by scholars but little known to the general public. What Caldwell and Thomason have done is used the Hypnerotomachia as a template from which they draw to invent impossibly complicated riddles whose answers point to the location of a (fictional) buried treasure, lost since the days of the Renaissance.

Such riddles are best illustrated by example. Early on, one of the book' s protagonists, Paul Harris, receives a remarkable gift from his mentor, a trustee of the Princeton University museum of art by the name of Richard Curry. The gift takes the form of an exhibit in one of the museum's galleries. It consists of twelve paintaings by Renaissance masters such as Pontormo and Andrea del Sarto. Each paintaing recounts some part of the bibilical story of Joseph.

The second protagonist, Tom Sullivan is mystified by the exhibit and demands an explanation from Paul. The answer lies is a bibilical verse, Genesis 37:3, which reads "Now Israel [Jacob] loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors." The twelve paintaings on the wall are also a coat of many colors, a gift from Richard to Paul as a symbol of his affection.

Of course Richard said nothing to Paul about the significance of the paintings or the Biblical verse that unlocks their meaning. Richard simply presumes that Paul will decipher his code, because both of them inhabit an intellectual world that prizes playful erudition.

What is doubly amazing about such puzzles is the extensive knowledge of Renaissance, Classical and Bibilical learning that Thomason and Caldwell had to master in order to create such riddles. And more than learning, Thomason and Caldwell possessed the imaginative flair necessary to transform such knowledge into a compelling narrative rather than a dry academic text.

But the merits of their book are even greater. Not surprisingly, numerous readers have compared The Rule of Four to The DaVinci Code. Yet they quickly add that The Rule of Four is different because it is so well-written. Although I haven't read The DaVinci Code, I wouldn't hesitate to describe countless passages in The Rule of Four as beautiful.

Often, it is just a few words or a metaphor that strike the reader as poetic. For example, while driving after a snowstorm, the narrator observes that "The roads we travel are thin black stitches on a great white gown." A descriptive gem of this kind appears on perhaps every other page of the book. In other words, there are hundreds of them in The Rule of Four.

All of which forces one to ask an unusual question: Does this book transcend the genre of the thriller and achieve the status of literature? There are many reasons to say yes, in addition to those mentioned above. The book's protagonists and other characters are far more than paper cut-outs whose existence serves to advance the plot. They are flesh and blood whose development as inviduals drives the plot almost as much as the mystery of the Hypnerotomachia.

In the final analysis, I don't think I am particularly qualified to judge whether a certain book counts as literature. That is a judgment others can better make for themselves. What I can do is share my feeling that The Rule of Four often seems divided between the author's love of its mystery and their affection for its characters. In fact, an important theme of the book is the need to achieve balance in life between intellectual pursuits and human relationships. Even so, it sometimes feels that this book is actually two books in one, each one struggling to suppress the other.

Since this is Caldwell and Thomason's first book and both are just 30 years old, they undoubtedly have long authorial careers ahead of them. If The Rule of Four is any indication, they have the potential to write serious fiction just as impressive as their suspenseful debut. In the meantime, they deserve tremendous credit for demonstrating that the life of the mind can be the subject of compelling popular entertainment.
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Thursday, May 25, 2006

# Posted 11:31 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CLINTON PRAISES LINCOLN: Commencement addresses in lower Manhattan are all the rage these days. On Tuesday, Bill Clinton gave one at Cooper Union (Hat tip: TMV), in which he spoke about Abraham Lincoln's historic address at Cooper Union in 1860:
By today's standards, Lincoln's address was highly unusual. It was long, about 3,200 words. He did an exhaustive amount of research into the questions of what the 39 signers of the constitution believed about the power of the federal government to limit slavery. He wrote every word himself. And he made a highly reasoned argument for his position based on the facts he found. The speech offered a minimum of rhetorical flourish and political potshots.
So did follow the example set by the Great Empancipator? Judge for yourself:
I came here in 1993, to make my case for my new economic plan, a dramatic reversal of the "trickle down" theory of the previous 12 years which had quadrupled the national debt, increased poverty, concentrated extreme wealth in few hands, and left middle class wages stagnant.
Which is a pretty fair summary of the US economy in the 1980s, at least as remembered by The Nation.
I made the case for a controversial "invest and grow plan" that was fiscally conservative but socially progressive, raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, reducing them for lower income working families, cutting less essential government spending and investing more in education and new technologies to fuel economic growth.

My Cooper Union debut must not have been too persuasive - the plan passed by only one vote in the House and in the Senate, with vice President Gore breaking the tie: Still, the Cooper Union forum gave me a chance to voice a plan that ultimately produced [emphasis added] the largest economic expansion and largest job growth in peace time history, with three consecutive budget surpluses for the first time in 70 years, and one hundred times more people moving out of poverty than in the previous twelve years.
So what "ultimately produced" the boom of the 1990s? The free market? Innovative entrepreneurs? New technology? Low inflation inherited from the Federal Reserve's bold policy in the 1980s? No. It was the Clinton plan!

Actually, all things considered, Clinton's speech was pretty moderate. He even said something nice about John McCain. Of course, a cynic might say that praising McCain is a tactic designed to hurt McCain in the GOP primaries and improve Hillary's chances of becoming President...

UPDATE: The text of Lincoln's address is here. Would you say that Clinton's characterization of it was accurate?
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# Posted 11:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SOMETHING EVIL IRAN DIDN'T DO: Make Jews wear yellow badges on their clothing.
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# Posted 10:38 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BLOGGING FROM AMISH COUNTRY: David here, coming at you from Carlisle, PA home of the US Army War College. I'm here for a conference on homeland security. The highlight so far has been my $50 per diem, which has allowed me to eat very well, especially since breakfast and lunch are free.

Since I happen to be so close to Lancaster, PA, I couldn't help but wonder whether there is much of an Amish presence in the blogosphere. It turns out, the whole Amish-on-the-internet shtick is pretty cliche, but there are still many good laughs to be had. For example, there is the following e-mail, announcing the spread of the Amish Virus:
You have just received the Amish Virus.

Since we do not have electricity or computers, you are on the honor system.

Please delete all of your files.

Thank thee.
Rumor has it that Jimmy Carter lost all of his files to the Virus. Perhaps ol' Jimmy should call Amish Tech Support for help.

According to one expert quoted by the NYT, there actually was an Amish blog at one point, but apparently no more. I'm guessing it all went downhill when the author switched from cable to wireless, only to discover that there aren't many hotspots in his village.

But what I really want to know is, do the Amish make fun our obsession with technology? What kind of jokes do they tell about us? Here are some examples I came up with:
Q. Did you hear about all the people on the airplane?
A. The plane crashed and they all died! Hahaha!

Q. Did you hear about the graduate student with an old PC?
A. His hard drive crashed and he lost his entire dissertation!

Q. Did you hear about the birth control pill?
A. [Stampede to local pharmacy.]
At least technology isn't all bad.
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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

# Posted 1:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

INVADING THE CLINTONS' PRIVACY: Lots of liberals are unhappy about this NYT article. In fact, even its author, Patrick Healy, recognizes that he's crossing other people's red lines:
Many of those interviewed were granted anonymity to discuss a relationship for which the Clintons have long sought a zone of privacy. The Clintons and, for the most part, their aides declined to cooperate for this article and urged others not to cooperate as well.
The contents, however, turn out to be less than titillating. The nastiest parts are actually the interpretive flourishes which reinforce the (not inaccurate) caricature of Hillary as a hyper-calculating pol.

But notice what isn't in this article: Any criticism of any ideas the Clintons have.
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# Posted 12:59 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

YGLESIAS IN CHARGE: Matt is filling in for Josh Marshall this week at TPM. Today, Matt says we'd have to be crazy not to take up Iran's offer of direct talks. Kevin makes a similar point on his blog. I think the Iranian proposal is worth some serious consideration, but it's interesting that neither Kevin nor Matt points out a very liberal counterargument to the idea of direct talks -- they undermine the multilateral negotiating process that has been going on for quite a few years.

The situation here bears some rough similarity to the one on the Korean peninsula. There, Kim Jong Il wants direct talks with the US in order to raise his standing on the international stage and avoid the pressure that comes with talking to China, Russia, Japan, the US and South Korea all at once.

By the same token, Iran may want to get away from facing the British-French-German negotiating team that has been on the job up until now. The Euro-3 didn't get Iran to compromise, but they did demonstrate Iran's intransigence to the point where the UN had to take up the issue.

Does this mean we shouldn't talk to Iran one on one? Not necessarily. If pre-negotiations suggest potential for a major breakthrough, fine. But first we have to make sure that direct talks will strengthen the hand of both the Euro-3 and the UN/IAEA, so that such talks don't become the pretext for Iran renouncing any negotiation whatsoever.

And given liberal skepticism of the Bush administration's ability to do anything right, especially anything complicated, do Kevin and Matt really want the White House to take the reins away from our enlightened European allies and their colleagues at the UN?
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# Posted 12:40 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DUELING INTERPRETATIONS: Kevin Drum and Dan McKivergan both read the same NYT story about failed US efforts to train the Iraqi police. Both Kevin and Dan, with no apparent coordination, picked up on the same strange detail that has only a tangential relationship to the story's main point:
Douglas J. Feith, then the Defense Department's under secretary for policy, said in an interview that the C.I.A.'s prewar assessment deemed Iraq's police professional, an appraisal that events proved "fundamentally wrong."

But Paul Gimigliano, a spokesman for the C.I.A., said the agency's assessment warned otherwise. "We had no reliable information on individual officers or police units," he said. The "C.I.A.'s written assessment did not judge that the Iraqi police could keep order after the war. In fact, the assessment talked in terms of creating a new force."

A copy of the document, which is classified, could not be obtained.
Both Kevin and Dan want to know why the heck this document isn't in the public domain at a time when so many other classified reports wind up on the front pages of the NYT or the WaPo. Dan writes:
Given the CIA's track record of selectively leaking material to bolster its image and tarnish that of the White House, I wonder why someone over there hasn't leaked this police document if the agency's assessment was so spot on.
Kevin writes:
If Doug Feith says it, it's a pretty good bet that exactly the opposite is the case. Still, why is this report classified? Surely this would be one of those cases that Scott McClellan told us about in which declassification would be in the public interest? Right?
I guess what we have here is trench warfare. CIA analysts figure that they have to leak because the administration will only declassify documents that make it look good. The administration only declassifies documents that make it look good because it figures that dissenters at the CIA are already determined to leak enough of the bad stuff.

Not really a system that's working, eh?
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Monday, May 22, 2006

# Posted 10:10 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

WHY DO CONSERVATIVE THINKERS FAVOR IMMIGRATION REFORM? I don't have to tell you. Will and Krauthammer can explain it for themselves. (Hat tip: DM)
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# Posted 9:28 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

TOO MUCH IRONY EVEN FOR NEW YORK INTELLECTUALS: Just in case you've been living under a rock for the past few months, you should know that the Weekly Standard now has a first-rate blog written by Dan McKivergan. I met Dan a couple of weeks ago and had a great time talking to him.

Ten days before John McCain spoke at the New School graduation, Dan pointed to this quote from an organizer of student opposition to McCain's presence:
"This ceremony is supposed to represent the culmination of these students' experience at a school that is known for being progressive, liberal, and open-minded," she said. "For the speaker not to represent these values at all is appalling."
Dan commented:
So we're "progressive, liberal, and open-minded" but we only want to hear from those we agree with. Wonder if they offer an introductory course in logic at the New School?
I'm not sure I could come up with such an absurdly ironic quotation if I tried. And to add to the irony of it all, the emphasis of McCain's commencement addresses at Liberty College, the New School and Columbia has been on tolerating dissent and promoting civil dialogue.

On top of that, throw in the pathetic and disrespectful heckling of McCain while he delivered his speech. Now, I don't mind at all that Jean Rohe, the student speaker at the New School commencement chose to attack McCain rather than talking about her music. K.Lo describes it as "rude", but that's exactly the rough-and-tumble-dialogue McCain welcomed in his remarks.

In fact, if you look at Rohe's remarks, they are a testament to just how successful McCain was at forcing civility on those who might be otherwise inclined. Rohe said that:
Senator Mc Cain will tell us today that dissent and disagreement are our "civic and moral obligation" in times of crisis. I consider this a time of crisis and I feel obligated to speak...

Finally, Senator Mc Cain will tell us that we, those of us who are Americans, "have nothing to fear from each other." I agree strongly with this, but I take it one step further. We have nothing to fear from anyone on this living planet. Fear is the greatest impediment to the achievement of peace.
Well, I sort of fear Osama bin Laden and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and various folks in Darfur, but I think you get the point. Somehow, a Republican senator wound up as the poster child for tolerance while self-professed liberal dissenters sought to shout him down.

And at the same time, McCain plays to the GOP base by showing just how much lefty wing-nuts resent him. Ya think McCain's staff payed those students to heckle him?
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# Posted 8:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: Even though Condi was the headliner on Meet the Press, Alberto Gonzales one-upped the SecState by headlining both This Week and Face the Nation.

On all NBC and CBS, the headliners were followed by a pair of legislators, one for and one against, debating immigration. On NBC, Lindsey Graham faced off against Rep. Charlie Norwood (R-GA). On CBS, Dianne Feinstein faced off against Jim Sensenbrenner. On ABC, John Edwards got the spotlight all to himself.

And before we get to the grades, remember that more details are always available from Mark Kilmer at Red State.
Condi: B+. Let's just say it would be a good idea if the White House cancelled all of Dick Cheney's interviews and sent Condi instead. The Pentagon might also consider hiring her. So why no 'A' or 'A-'? Because the SecState only parried Russert's blows, instead of striking her own.

Lindsey Graham: B+. Altough Russert wanted to see a fight, Graham sought common ground with Norwood while refusing to compromise his principles.

Charlie Norwood: B. I disagree strongly, but he makes strong arguments and seems like a very reasonable man. Still, I think it's time to stop calling every last citizenship program "amnesty".

Gonzales on CBS: B. Softballs from Schieffer.

Feinstein: B. She's on the right side of the issue, but arguments aren't exactly coherent. Especially her strange insistence that we can't punish employers who hire illegal immigrants since that would be unpopular.

Sensenbrenner: C. He made some very solid arguments, but he went too far when he accused the pro-reform camp of wanting to sell US citizenship for $2000. And then he went way, way too far when he called insisted that those who employ illegal workers are "slavemasters" no different from the "slavemasters" of the 19th century.

Gonzales on ABC: B-. Always on the defensive, always evasive.

Edwards: B-. Says Bush is worse than Nixon. Suddenly the pro-war centrist of 2004 wants to be Howard Dean in 2008.
Instead of individual grades for the hosts, I'm going to give them a collective 'B-'. Their questions on immigration are completely one-sided. They aggressively challenge the opponents of reform, going after the fundamental premises of their arguments. In contrast, they occasionally question the tactics of those who support reform, or instead go after them from the left.

The question for opponents of reform is always "What are you going to do with the 12 million immigrants who are already here?" A good quesiton. But the question for those who support reform is always "How will you get the House to support a reform bill in conference?" not "Why should illegal immigrants be allowed to earn their citizenship while those who chose to play by the rules and stay at home get nothing?"

As an advocate of reform, perhaps I shouldn't bite the hand the feeds. But I care more about balanced journalism, so I won't endorse a double standard even when it favors my side.
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# Posted 12:51 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIVING THE GOOD LIFE IN THE VIRGINIA COUNTRYSIDE: To mark the occasion of my first annual 29th birthday, I spent this past weekend enjoying the Virginia countryside in the company of a very special young lady. Since we were fortunate enough to encounter a number of remarkable places, I thought I would mention them below, so any readers living or visiting in the area can do the same.

First, we spent two nights at the Inn at Meander Plantation, a bed & breakfast about half-way between Orange and Culpeper. The main house, built in the 18th century, was once the home of Col. Joshua Fry, commander of the Virginia militia. Fry's second-in-command was a young major by the name of George Washington.

It is hard to match the Inn for either comfort or aesthetics. In addition, there are extensive grounds and even a few hiking trails. We also enjoyed a five-course dinner at the Inn's restaurant, not to mention a gourmet breakfast both mornings.

Also in a culinary vein, we enjoyed lunch at It's About Thyme in Culpeper, which has a Cordon Bleu-certified chef even though is in semi-rural Virginia. Further south, we also enjoyed lunch at Orange's Elmwood at Sparks. There are no French cooking certificates on the wall, but the food is superb. I had the Hawaiian barbecue over focaccia with homemade cole slaw.

Switching over to wine, I highly recommend a visit to Pearmund Cellars outside of Warrenton. I bought bottles of both their Viognier and Cabernet Franc, although every one of the seven wines I tasted was excellent, and the staff was both friendly and informative.

Finally, our tour of the countryside did involve at least one activity that had nothing to do with food. On Saturday afternoon, we visited the moderately famous Luray Caverns near the town of (you guessed it) Luray. The caverns are filled with a jagged array of stalactites and stalagmites, including pillars that stretch more than forty feet from floor to ceiling.

The only downside is that in order to protect the caverns, all visitors must take a guided tour that is expensive ($19 for one hour) and a little bit cheesy. One can only imagine what it was like for the original discovers of the caves to wander through them on their own, discovering these natural works of art.

Now, you may think I sound like an advertisment sponsored by the Virginia tourism boad. But I can't help it. Virginia's a great place.
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# Posted 12:21 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

OH, PATRICK, YOU ARE TOO MODEST: You say you can "barely think of a single worthwhile or even frivolous thing to say." Yet in the five years since I have known you, you have never been at a loss for frivolous things to say. Or if not frivolous, then certainly trivial, esoteric, or inconsequential. Don't underestimate yourself!

And with regard to Hillary's foreign policy, since you asked, I will add my two cents to the subject. First, let me reframe the question. The challenge with Hillary (as with so many politicians) is to separate the tactical opinions from the heartfelt principles. Thus, Nitin's summary of Hillary's positions on recent issues of interest is accurate, but doesn't provide enough information to help sift out the tactical from the heartfelt.

To that end, I think Aron is correct to identify an interest in women's issues in the developing world, especially micro-lending programs, as a subject in which Hillary has had a long-standing and unwavering interest. In the first half of her autobiography (which was way too boring to finish), Hillary extensively describes her efforts on behalf of women in the developing world. Even so, I think it's fair to say that being for micro-lending tells us almost nothing about the broader principles that may or may not shape Hillary's ideas about foreign policy. I support micro-lending and so do many folks further to my right.

Going back the autobiography (or at least it's first half), I feel pretty comfortable saying that Hillary has nothing much to say about foreign policy or national security at all. In my review, I pointed out some of the vague comments she made about Vietnam, as well as other foreign policy issues, in order to illustrate just how unformed Hillary's approach to foreign affairs seems to be.

On domestic issues, the story is the same. The autobiography mentions a number of policy issues its author favored or opposed, but makes no effort to describe any broader principles fundamental to her outlook. What is clear from the book, however, is that Hillary will go to almost any length to avoid describing herself as "liberal.". Not surprisingly, Kos & Co. are infuriated.

By the same token, Hillary's refusal to renounce her initial support for the war in Iraq has antagonized much of the Democratic base. I find it very interesting to watch Hillary on this issue, since my working hypothesis is that she saw exactly how John Kerry was raked over the coals for being inconsistent, and believes that it is more important now to play to independent voters by being consistent than to play to her base by breathing fire.

In other words, I think that tactical considerations are the decisive factor for Hillary, but her timeline has always extended out to 2008, so she doesn't rush about taking all sorts of inconsistent positions like your average legislator.

But that is all speculation about Hillary's mindset, so the presentation of evidence is liable to chane my mind. In the comments below, I would be especially glad to hear from anyone who can point to other foreign policy issues on which Hillary took a consistent position before 9/11.
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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

# Posted 8:24 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVIL ALBINOS! The National Organization for Albinism and Hypopigmentation is not happy with the Da Vinci Code's pigmentally-challenged villain. (Hat tip: KD) And in India, one Catholic leader has begun a hunger strike to protest the film. I just hope that the movie is as entertaining as the circus it has provoked.
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# Posted 7:17 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IMMIGRATION, POLITICS AND SUBSTANCE: I can't keep up with the avalanche of new material, but here are some interesting, albeit random links:

In an NRO symposium entitled "Meet El Presidente", a broad array of conservatives step up to bash the President, although Bush allies such as Sen. John Cornyn tread very carefully.

Kevin Drum observes that Bush's immigration speech has "provoked full scale nuclear war among conservatives." Reinforcing that notion is John Podhoretz's post at The Corner, which denounces an outbreak of extraordinary intolerance on the Right for anyone who supports Bush's reform plan.

But are things that bad if the Senate was able to pass an immigration reform plan this afternoon by a vote of 83-16? That is progress, but the real question is what will happen in the House.

Michael Stickings is, uncharacteristically, rooting for Bush. But agrees with Kevin Drum, who writes that "Bush's xenophobe base" will prevent any reform plan from getting by the House, thus disappointing the moderate majority that supports the President on this issue.

When it comes to the economics of immigration, take a look at dueling op-eds by Tyler Cowen and Robert Samuelson. I found the first of the two to be much more persuasive. Although Matt Yglesias' criticism of Samuelson's facts and figures is spot, Matt's insinuation that Samuelson is a racist is pretty much uncalled for.

Personally, my mind seems to be staying made up on this issue. Creating a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants makes economic sense and, more importantly, moral sense. The various reform plans on the table have assorted flaws (such as stratifying immigrants by how long they've been here), but nonetheless represent an important step in the right direction.
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# Posted 7:09 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

IF YOU'RE A BLOGGER BE CAREFUL: Gary Farber exposes what seems to be very unfair syndication deal being offered to certain bloggers.
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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

# Posted 8:18 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A VERY LATE SUNDAY ROUND-UP: Still relevant 48 hours later! Newt Gingrich was on NBC. Stephen Hadley was on CBS, followed by Arlen Specter and Jane Harman. Joe Biden and Chuck Hagel were on ABC, followed by Laura Bush.
Gingrich: B. It's a lot easier to criticize your party when your political career is over. Even so, it's good to have a major figure like Gingrich tell the GOP to acknowledge its mistakes and get its act together.

Hadley: B-. NSA collecting phone records? Evade, evade, evade. I'm guessing he's following orders and that he really is limited by classification concerns. Even so, he could've done a lot better.

Specter: B+. Reasonable as always. Demanded more information about the NSA phone records program.

Harman: No grade. Harman blasts a "lawless White House out of control." And it wasn't just that one phrase. Harman was angry. I'm inclined to take her concerns seriously, since she was so even-tempered during the first NSA eavesdropping debate. But why is Harman the only one already convinced that the phone records progam is unconscionable? I want more information.

Biden: B+. Won't condemn the NSA program until he has more information.

Hagel: B+. Won't condemn the NSA program until he has more information.

Laura Bush: B. Was this a real interview or a friendly chat? Stephanopoulos couldn't decide. Sometimes he pushed, but he never followed up the First Lady's talking points with a real challenge. Laura has charm, but clearly isn't ready for cross-examination.
And the hosts:
Russert: B. If you attack your own party, Russert will take it easy on you. In other words, Gingrich was filling in for John McCain.

Schieffer: B. Who knew he was a poet?

Stephanopoulos: B.
Hasta la vista, baby.
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# Posted 1:27 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE O'REILLY FACTOR: SPECIAL EDITION. Not long ago, I admitted that I'd never watched the O'Reilly Factor (ORF) but still felt confident enough to dismiss a profile of O'Reilly in the New Yorker as a hatchet job. Well, now I can say that I've watched the ORF. Thanks to JetBlue and the seatback televisions it provides to every passenger, I was able to listen to O'Reilly as I flew over the American heartland, headed back to DC after a long weekend in California.

Moroever, although it's hard to generalize on the basis of just one hour, I feel confident enough now to stand up to certain liberal friends of mine who insisted that if I watched the ORF just once, I'd see what an idiot O'Reilly truly was.

Now, I'm not saying I like the guy. If you wanted, you could easily pick out five dumb things he said tonight and hold them up to ridicule. (OxBlog typically requires at least 72 hours to say five dumb things.)

But the bottom line is that O'Reilly came off tonight as anything but the pseudo-populist rabble-rouser his critics make him out to be. The topic of tonight's show was the President's televised address on immigration. As it turns out, O'Reilly favors comprehensive reform, meaning both more border security and a road to citizenship for illegal immigrants. Not really what'd you expect from a Red State rabble-rouser, eh?

The unexpected moderation of O'Reilly's stance set up an interesting conflict with most of his guests, who reject every kind of reform except better enforcement. Among those guests were anti-amnesty crusader Tom Tancredo (R-CO) and super-blogger Michelle Malkin. The specific arguments they made aren't all that important. What matters is that both of them attacked Bush aggressively. Instead of a White House propaganda organ, Fox News was serving instead as the medium for a full-frontal assault on the President.

Much as I disagree with Malkin and Tancredo, I have to say that O'Reilly's cross-examination of the two was not very impressive. On the one hand, O'Reilly does have to go on the air five nights a week, so you can't expect him and his staff to be as well-prepared as their counterparts on Meet the Press. On the other hand, I think O'Reilly's performance was lackluster enough to say that his command of the issue was pretty deficient for a major pundit.

But one thing I really like about O'Reilly is that his opinions are never a secret. In contrast, Russert & Co. never dare to expose their actual positions on an issue, an evasive tactic that puts much of what they say beyond the reach of public criticism. Although there is a decent argument to be made for straight-up news correspondents not injecting their personal opinions into their coverage, I see no reason why talk-show hosts should be granted that privilege.

Finally, after dedicating most of his show to immigration, O'Reilly did a segment on three recent deaths that resulted from alligator attacks. Even though O'Reilly spoke to an official from the Florida state government responsible for fish and wildlife, there was something surreal and sensationalistic about the whole segment. But Washington is a swamp, so I guess the 'gators deserve their fifteen minutes.
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Friday, May 12, 2006

# Posted 1:11 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

EVEN MORE PELOSI! In a few hours, I'm going to fly out to Sunset Beach, California for a long weekend with some good friends from college who I don't see nearly often enough. In the meantime, I leave you with the charming photo above and the essay in Slate to which it was appended.

Author John Dickerson argues that only Republicans will benefit from Pelosi's talk about investigating the Bush White House if and when the Democrats retake the House. How better to vindicate their accusation that the Democrats are only interested in settling scores, rather than advancing an actual policy agenda?

Actually, I disagree. Hardball often wins at the polls. What I don't get is why Pelosi talks about investigations one day, then tries to backtrack when confronted about the idea by Tim Russert. (Yes, during the same interview I've been writing about all week.) Either you play hardball or you take the high road. If you throw mud but then insist that you didn't, you look both weak and hypocritical.
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# Posted 12:55 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

ANOTHER PREACHY, POLITICALLY CORRECT FILM: Except this one, I really, really liked. It was The People vs. Larry Flynt. Of course, it was easier to like Flynt than it was to like Crash, because I agree with its message: Free speech should always be protected, now matter how bad its taste.

Even so, there is a pretty good case to be made for Flynt's merits as a film. Above all, there is the acting. Ed Norton turns in a great peformance as Flynt's timid, eager and brilliant lawyer. Both Woody Harrelson, as Flynt, and Courtney Love, as his wife, make you believe that they care passionately about one another, even in the midst of great suffering (although admittedly, both are prone to a bit of overacting).

Flynt's life story is also compelling. He's a poor kid from rural Kentucky turned smut magnate turned filthy speech crusader. And he took his case against Jerry Falwell to the Supreme Court and won it, 9-0.

Is the film fair to Falwell? Not exactly. In the climactic scene before the High Court, Norton gets to make an extended argument on Flynt's behalf, but we never hear from the lawyers on the other side. But the film tries pretty hard not to take cheap shots at Falwell. He comes off as a stuffed shirt, but one who was deeply offended by Flynt's cruel satire.

Although this isn't a good movie to rent for a first date, I strongly recommend seeing it.
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Thursday, May 11, 2006

# Posted 1:08 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

CRASH: Earlier this evening, I finished watching the film that won the Oscar for Best Picture this past January. If I had known nothing about the film before watching it, I would've liked a lot more. But since I had great expectations, I found it hard to look past the film's holier-than-thou political correctness and manufactured melodrama.

If there is one great redeeming aspect of the film, it is Don Cheadle's performance. I can't exactly explain it, but you can't not like the guy.
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# Posted 12:22 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PELOSI, THE RE-FISKING: The defenders of the Future Speaker of the House say that I wronged her by selectively quoting from her interview with Tim Russert, specifically with regard to her position on Iraq. You can read their criticism in greater detail below.

In this post, I attempt to clear my good name and once again besmirch that of the Future Speaker. So let's begin by completing the quotation from which I am alleged to have selectively quoted. Here's the excerpt from my original post:
MR. RUSSERT: I saw in the USA Today in December of ‘05 this story, and I’ll read it to you and our viewers. “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi switched gears and embraced a call to begin an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq,” which is quite striking, because in May of 2004 you were on this program, and I asked you specifically, “Should there be withdrawal of U.S. troops by a date certain,” and this is exactly what you said. Let’s watch.

(Videotape, May 30, 2004): REP. PELOSI: No. I do not. I believe that because of the mess that has been made in Iraq we have to stay to stabilize Iraq. We have to secure the situation, because now, although it wasn’t the case before the war, now it has become a hotbed of terrorist activity.(End videotape)...

MR. RUSSERT: But you said that, in ‘04, that you were concerned about stabilizing Iraq, securing Iraq, that it has become a hotbed of terrorism activity. Has anything changed?


MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it’s secure? Do you think it’s stable?


MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it’s a hotbed for—of...


MR. RUSSERT: Then why would you withdraw troops?
So, how did the Future Speaker answer that question? Well, before letting you know, we actually have to backtrack for a moment. You may have noticed above that there is an ellipsis after the words "(End videotape)". Here's what I cut out:
MR. RUSSERT: Why have you changed your view [about withrdrawing US troops from Iraq]?

REP. PELOSI: Well, that was a year and a half later by the time I said what I said, and it was on the basis of some very expert advice. As you know, Congressman Jack Murtha has 35 years of experience in protecting our men and women in uniform and being a champion for our national security. I believe that we need a better plan. Our troops—let’s—I was just in the Persian Gulf. Every chance I get I want to praise them for their valor, their patriotism and the sacrifice they’re willing to make. They’ve done their job. But the plan—they deserve a better plan getting out of Iraq than the president, than the president gave them going in.

MR. RUSSERT: But Congress...

REP. PELOSI: But my—but what I called for there was not an immediate withdrawal. That’s how they characterized it. What I did was to support what Mr. Murtha was saying, which was a responsible redeployment of troops over the horizon to protect our interests in case we were threatened by terrorism or our interests were threatened in the region. The characterization of it was more of an immediate withdrawal than the actual proposal was.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, are you for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq with—by the end of the year?

REP. PELOSI: I—what our Democratic position is, and our real security agenda is, that 2006 must be a year of significant transition in Iraq. It’s time for the Iraqi people to take responsibility for their government and for their security. And again, that we must have a plan that is worthy of these troops and their sacrifice and the sacrifice of the American people.
Pelosi's defense of her changing positions rests on two pillars. First of all, eighteen months had passed, so presumably, the situation on the ground had changed. Second, she received expert advice.

Let's tackle the second point first. As Mark Kilmer tartly observed, the only expert Pelosi cited was Jack Murtha. Murtha certainly cares a lot about the troops, but logic and facts aren't his strong point. And if politicians count as experts, maybe Pelosi should've cited Joe Biden and Barack Obama, who still insist we have both an obligation and an interest in stabilizing Iraq.

Now what about those eighteen months? Pelosi never explained why they changed her mind. Was it three elections held in Iraq, each with greater participation and less violence? Was it the beginning of an effective program to build an Iraqi military? Or was it the suicide bombings and slaughter of civilians, which were fully on display before May 2004, when Pelosi said she was against a withdrawal.

Anyhow, Russert understood the logic of Pelosi's answer and stayed on point. He wanted to know what changed between May 2004 and December 2005. His cross-examination hit the nail precisely on the head:
MR. RUSSERT: But you said that, in ‘04, that you were concerned about stabilizing Iraq, securing Iraq, that it has become a hotbed of terrorism activity. Has anything changed?


MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it’s secure? Do you think it’s stable?


MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it’s a hotbed for—of...


MR. RUSSERT: Then why would you withdraw troops?
Now, finally, we get to the point where I cut off the quotation in a manner supposedly unfair to Pelosi. Here's what she said:
REP. PELOSI: Because it’s not a—yes, I would withdraw them because, on the strength of expert advice, and now you see the generals speaking out on this, that—so much time went by, there was a year and a half between those two statements, and what we had—still had not seen was a plan on the part of the president. The president continued to dig a hole in Iraq, he refuses to come out of there and see the daylight and know there, there’s change. There are only two courses of action in Iraq: the president’s to stay the course and let some other president sweep up after him, or what the Democrats are saying, 2006 must be a year of significant transition in Iraq with the Iraqis taking responsibility.
Once again we hear about expert advice, sans Murtha. And we hear about the retired generals who have criticized Rumsfeld rather harshly. Here's what one of them, Gen. John Batiste, had to say about withdrawal from Iraq:
We must complete what we started in Iraq, and there is no doubt in my mind that we have the military capacity to do that, provided the political will is there. Our success in Iraq is due to the incredible performance of our servicemen and women.
I'm glad to see Pelosi was listening so closely. Not all the generals share Batiste's position on this one, but they are mostly a whole lot closer to George W. Bush than they are to Nancy Pelosi.

Moving on, Pelosi says the President has continued to dig a hole. Not an untenable argument, even if it would be nice to hear Pelosi acknowledge the elections, etc. But really, Pelosi is somewhat off point. She has already admitted that Iraq is still an unstable hotbed of terrorism. Even if Bush and Rumsfeld aren't handling the situation well, should America let the terrorists have their way? Shouldn't the Future Speaker advance a plan for victory instead of a plan for retreat?

Hence Pelosi's insistence that 2006 must be a "year of significant transition". What an empty and disingenuous phrase. Its basic purpose is to hide from the public the total disunity of the Democratic party on Iraq. But Russert saw right through that one. Here's his response to Pelosi:
MR. RUSSERT: Well, some Democrats, the number two Democrat in the House, in the House, Steny Hoyer, says this, “I believe that a precipitous withdrawal of American forces in Iraq could lead to disaster, spawning a civil war, fostering a haven for terrorists and damaging our nation’s security and credibility.” That sounds like Nancy Pelosi in May of ‘04.

REP. PELOSI: Well, you’re—you know, it’s about time, it’s about time. Steny said that six, eight months ago. Now all Democrats are united, House and Senate, around the principle of significant transition in 2006.
Well, Steny Hoyer must be more than twice as smart as Nancy Pelosi if he needs only eight months to change his mind as opposed to eighteen. And eight months ago? That was a little bit before Iraq's most inclusive and peaceful election, which has now resulted in the formation of a government, albeit of questionable competence and stability. Heck, why not pull out before that government has a chance to tackle the insurgency?

Oh, and as for the supposed unity of the Democrats, it would be hard for Pelosi to sound more hackish and pathetic. Even if Hoyer has come around, others like Biden and Obama (mentioned above) have not. I guess none of the pols from either party really admit this kind of thing in public, but Pelosi did an especially poor job of pretending to believe herself.

I'll leave at that for the moment, even though there was a bit more to the exchange about Iraq. In fact, Pelosi even made a few more gaffes. But I'm going to save them for later, for after the defenders of the Future Speaker have their chance to explain in the comment section why Pelosi did better than I give her credit for.
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# Posted 12:02 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

PELOSI PART 2: THE WARMUP. As I mentioned yesterday, there was a lot of negative feedback to my attempted takedown of Future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Before defending myself, I just want to compile some of the more trenchant criticisms that were made, so interested parties don't have to go digging through the comment section to find them:
Game set match?! Are you kidding?You quote over 180 words from Russert's set-up, and 3 words from Pelosi's reply. She went on to point out that 18 months separated those two remarks, and that circumstances had changed enough to merit a shift in her viewpoint...

If you are going to criticize [Pelosi] (and praise Russert, for that matter), at least quote segments of the interview that accurately represent what transpired. What you've selectively included here certainly does not. (Author: Anonymous)

Hey, where's Pelosi's response to the Iraq question? I don't know what she said but the correct answer is simple. We haven't made any progress since 2004. So, even if in theory we should bring stability back to Iraq, if it is found that we are not capable of doing it, why should we stay? (Author: kj)

I don't watch TV, but I heard the interview on the podcast. (Same here. --ed.) I was astonished at how nasty & obnoxious Russert was, cutting Pelosi off repeatedly and trying to twist her words into something she didn't say. I guess he's still trying to get a position at Fox...

[With regard to Iraq] Pelosi's explanation was that 18 more months of Presidential incompetence have changed the facts behind the Iraq debate. If the point where you cut off the quote amounts to "match point", the end of that topic (to mix metaphors) is "checkmate" in Pelosi's favor. (Author: jose in California)

Lord. Russert was trying to put words in her mouth ala Sean Hannity. Russert does a rachet job for Karl Rove and you fellows call this great reporting?! My wife - a moderate Republican - was impressed at how Pelosi fired back at Russert and then asked me to turn him off as she hates Hannity's garbage and was appalled that it was on Meet the Press. (Author: PGL)
A second issue for criticism was Russert's treatment of the Abramoff-Harry Reid connection. No one seems to have thought much of Pelosi's response, but they think the facts may not be on Russert's side:
Abramoff took money from damned near everyone. But he only gave money to Republicans. Only Republicans. Russert's figure of $20M vs. $17.8M was labelled as "lobbyist" giving, not Abramoff giving. It appears that Russert was being deceptive here, and Pelosi, being a bit of a hack herself, fell for it. (Author: Anonymous)

The whole Indian tribe this is fairly simple: the tribes had traditionally been affiliated with the Democratic party, but under Abramoff's direction, they were slowly being diverted to the GOP. It is quite deceptive to describe them as an "Abramoff client" under these circumstances. Furthermore, just what is the allegation here? Are Democrats not supposed to do business with any Indian tribes once somebody who is corrupt starts soliciting bribes from them? I'm confused. (Author: whispers)
I'll comment on the Abramoff issue here, since I haven't followed the scandal closely and don't have much to add. Russert stated that Abramoff's firm hired one of Reid's top legislative aides to lobby for its clients, including Native American tribes. That aide then organized a fund-raiser for Reid at Abramoff's offices.

As whispers points out, one has to be careful here to avoid guilt by association (even if the Democratic strategy for dealing with the Abramoff scandal is to use it to tar the entire GOP via guilt by association). However, it seems interesting that Reid was so close to Abramoff that one of his aides would change sides and then hold a fundraiser at Abramoff's offices. For Pelosi to blithely insist right after Russert points out those connections that her party "is standing for honest leadership and open government" sounds somewhat absurd.
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Wednesday, May 10, 2006

# Posted 12:52 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

DEFENDING PELOSI: There was a ton of negative feedback in response to my post about Nancy Pelosi yesterday. In part, I owe credit for that to Andrew Sullivan, who provided a positive link to my comments. Of course, Andrew has a bipartisan readership, so that meant that lots of critical readers with a center-left bent headed my way, ready to protest against unfair criticism of the Future Speaker.

Since I just got home from my twice-a-month poker game (with $76 in winnings in hand) and have to get up in a few hours, I won't say anything in my defense at the moment. But rest assured I have read through the criticism with a careful eye and will respond in full.

A lot of the criticism centered on how I cut off my quotations at the point that seemed to make Russert look best and Pelosi worst. But I think I can make a pretty good case that quoting Pelosi in full just means providing a more detailed commentary on her untenable answers. So that's what you can expect tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you are interested, I recommend reading the full transcript of the Pelosi interview and getting ready for some brouhaha. If you think I was unfair to the Future Speaker, use the space below to highlight specific quotations from her you'd like me to address.
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Monday, May 08, 2006

# Posted 10:45 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

UNITED 93: Reviewed by MercatorNet and the Weekly Standard. I don't think I will watch it, although it sounds like an impressive film. Even now, it's too painful.
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# Posted 10:41 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

BELOVED IN INDIA: Swaraaj Chauhan remembers John Kenneth Galbraith.
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# Posted 10:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

Afraid to offend, [Clinton] has limited her policy proposals to minor, symbolic issues -- such as co-sponsoring legislation to ban flag burning. She doesn't have a single memorable policy or legislative accomplishment to her name. Meanwhile, she remains behind the curve or downright incoherent on pressing issues such as the war in Iraq.

On the war, Clinton's recent "I disagree with those who believe we should pull out, and I disagree with those who believe we should stay without end" seems little different from Kerry's famous "I actually did vote for the $87 billion before I voted against it" line.
That is the opening graf of an article by Markos "Kos" Moulitsas. I expect to see it quoted many times in Hillary's future.

Kos continues:
[Bill] Clinton's third way failed miserably. It killed off the Jesse Jackson wing of the Democratic Party and, despite its undivided control of the party apparatus, delivered nothing. Nothing, that is, except the loss of Congress, the perpetuation of the muddled Democratic "message," a demoralized and moribund party base, and electoral defeats in 2000, 2002 and 2004.
Nothing? No balanced budget (the first in decades)? No economic boom? No victory in Kosovo? No 60% approval rating? And killing off the Jesse Jackson wing justifies the Clinton presidency all by itself.

Gee, I guess Kos' article was pretty effective if it has me singing the praises of Bill Clinton. Anyhow, I still think Hillary is in trouble because so many loyal, mainstream Democrats I know consider her unelectable. If she doesn't have the mainstream and doesn't have the "netroots" what does she have?
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# Posted 9:56 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

FUN WITH NANCY PELOSI: I don't give out many 'A's, so I thought I should provide some highlights from Tim Russert's interview with the Future Speaker to justify giving Timbo an ace:
REP. PELOSI: ...I think that [CIA Director Porter Goss'] dismissal was triggered by what has been happening on the scandal front for the Republicans with the third in command, who was hired by Mr. Goss to, to be involved in these card games and whatever else it was.

MR. RUSSERT: Do you have any evidence to base that judgment?

REP. PELOSI: Just a strong political instinct and the timing of it all.

MR. RUSSERT: That Porter Goss is caught up in...

REP. PELOSI: No, no, not—he isn’t. But the CIA and person that he appointed, who was a questionable appointee to begin with, is caught up in that, and it’s a reflection on his leadership and his management.

MR. RUSSERT: But you have no evidence of that?

REP. PELOSI: I have no thought that Mr. Goss is caught up in any of this, no.
If this were the BBC, Russert would've made Pelosi repeat her admission that she has no evidence to back up her silly remarks at least three more times. But on Meet the Press, subtlety is fully respectable.
MR. RUSSERT: I saw in the USA Today in December of ‘05 this story, and I’ll read it to you and our viewers. “House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi switched gears and embraced a call to begin an immediate withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq,” which is quite striking, because in May of 2004 you were on this program, and I asked you specifically, “Should there be withdrawal of U.S. troops by a date certain,” and this is exactly what you said. Let’s watch.

(Videotape, May 30, 2004): REP. PELOSI: No. I do not. I believe that because of the mess that has been made in Iraq we have to stay to stabilize Iraq. We have to secure the situation, because now, although it wasn’t the case before the war, now it has become a hotbed of terrorist activity.(End videotape)...

MR. RUSSERT: But you said that, in ‘04, that you were concerned about stabilizing Iraq, securing Iraq, that it has become a hotbed of terrorism activity. Has anything changed?


MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it’s secure? Do you think it’s stable?


MR. RUSSERT: Do you think it’s a hotbed for—of...


MR. RUSSERT: Then why would you withdraw troops?
Game, set, match.
MR. RUSSERT: ...you told The Washington Post that there will be investigations if the Democrats regain control of the House. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee would be someone named John Conyers. I went up to his Web site and this is what’s on his Web site: “Stand with Congressman Conyers. Demand an investigation of administration abuses of power and make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.”

REP. PELOSI: Democrats are not about impeachment. Democrats are about bringing the country together. This is what we have to do.

MR. RUSSERT: But that’s the man who would be chairman of the Judiciary Committee.
REP. PELOSI: Yeah, but that is not where the decision would be made...

MR. RUSSERT: Well, should John Conyers take his Web site down, talking about impeachment?

REP. PELOSI: John Conyers does what he does on his Web site. John Conyers is an enthusiastic advocate. I am the leader.
Well, at least she didn't say "I am the decider." But if she can't control Conyers now, what chance will she have once he's the committee chairman?
MR. RUSSERT: But wait, wait a minute. But what about the leader of the Democrats in the Senate, Harry Reid, in terms of money from Jack Abramoff?

REP. PELOSI: What about him?

MR. RUSSERT: Well, let me show you. This is the Associated Press: “Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid portrays convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff’s activities as involving only Republicans. But Abramoff’s billing records and congressional correspondence tell a different story. They show Abramoff’s lobbying team billed for nearly two dozen contacts with Reid’s office in a single year. ... Reid also wrote at least four letters to the Bush administration helpful to Indian tribes Abramoff represented, often collecting donations from Abramoff-related sources around the same time. And in the midst of the contacts, Abramoff’s firm hired one of Reid’s top legislative aides to lobby for the tribal and Marianas clients. The aide then helped throw a fund-raiser for Reid at Abramoff’s office.”

Here’s the numbers in terms of lobbyist contributions: from 2004 to 2006, lobbyists gave Republicans $20 million dollars, Democrats 17.8.


MR. RUSSERT: You get your money—both parties get their money from lobbyists.

REP. PELOSI: Well, let me say this: Our party is standing for honest leadership and open government.
Not exactly a ringing defense of Harry Reid, eh? And then right back to an assertion that her party is for honesty and openness. Not exactly credible, methinks.

By the way, I wasn't aware of this latest twist in the Reid-Abramoff story, but Pelosi really seemed to be caught off guard. If you happen to know whether the AP story about Reid and Abramoff is accurate, please post your thoughts below.

Anyhow, if you still haven't had enough of Nancy Pelosi, there's plenty more in the transcript. I sorta wish she would run for president in 2008.
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# Posted 9:34 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

SUNDAY MORNING ROUND-UP: Future Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi spoke with Tim Russert. John McCain spoke with Bob Schieffer. George Stephanopoulos spoke with everyone: Dianne Feinstein, Saxby Chambliss, Tom DeLay and Howard Dean.
Pelosi: C. Russert kept her on the defensive. When she sought to dodge, evade and spin, it came off as a transparent effort to dodge, evade and spin. Interestingly, she didn't say anything very liberal.

John McCain: B+. Mostly solid, still needs to do better on the Jerry Falwell questions. The real question is what McCain will say next week at Liberty University.

Dianne Feinstein: B+. Very reasonable.

Saxby Chambliss: B. Quite reasonable as well, but his defense of Porter Goss was less than persuasive.

Tom DeLay: C-. In spite of being thrown mostly softballs, he managed to sound like a dishonest hack.

Howard Dean: B-. Nothing over the top. Just the usual partisan fire with a hint of nuttiness.
And now for the hosts:
Russert: A. He just landed one shot after another with no effective response from Pelosi.

Schieffer: B.

Stephanopoulos: B-. How can you have Tom DeLay on your show and not grill him about his apparently criminal and corrupt behavior? One vague question was all we got.
And don't forget to check out Mark Kilmer's round-up over at Red State!
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Friday, May 05, 2006

# Posted 8:16 AM by Ariel David Adesnik  

A COUNTERINTUITIVE APPROACH TO IMMIGRATION: Picking up on Patrick's post below, I thought I'd post some quotations from a recent article on immigration in TNR [subscription required]:
The universally held--but virtually unquestioned--assumption is that illegal immigrants make up a discrete and problematic group, whereas legal immigrants are a benign or even beneficial presence. But this sharp dichotomy is fundamentally misleading...That's because the problems facing us do not stem exclusively from illegal immigration, but from immigration itself...

Tmmigration restrictionists learned to reduce their array of objections to immigration generally to the problem of illegals specifically--a tactic that also enabled them to avoid the charge of racism. The legal-illegal dichotomy thus became a relatively safe framework within which to debate a complicated and volatile issue--and it has stayed that way until today.

When Americans denounce illegal immigrants, they complain about lost jobs, overcrowded schools and emergency rooms, and noisy, dirty neighborhoods where nobody speaks English...Yet, whatever their specific merits, not one of these complaints pertains uniquely to illegal immigrants. If Congress were to grant a general amnesty or augment legal immigration tomorrow, the same concerns would be voiced by Americans. This suggests that something else is bothering the public: the transience and disorder that inevitably accompany mass migration...

Americans want to believe that immigrants come here to stay. It is part of the national mythology that the United States is a beacon, attracting foreigners who long to become part of our noble experiment. That's what President Bush is getting at when he says, "It says something about our country that people around the world are willing to leave their homes and leave their families and risk everything to come to America."

But this is, at best, a half-truth that ignores the fact that immigrants do not typically arrive here intending to settle down..."Left to their own devices, most Mexican immigrants would work in the United States only sporadically and for limited periods of time." [Princeton sociologist Douglas] Massey emphasizes that even those with legal documents don't necessarily intend to stay.

What is bothering Americans most about immigration, legal or illegal, is that it frays--and threatens to rip--the social fabric; it makes them feel that things are out of control...As with old debates over crime, liberal elites condescendingly dismiss such concerns as racist or foolishly reduce them to economic fears. Even sympathetic conservatives are not very responsive, in great part because they, too, have bought into the prevailing legal-illegal dichotomy. Without such elite support, mass discontent remains submerged until it erupts in an angry and inarticulate populist outburst, which of course sends the politicians scurrying for the safety of the entrenched legal-illegal framework.
The editors at TNR love nothing more than an argument that's both counterinuitive and that makes a hash of the usual left-right partisan politics. This article delivers on all front.

Although I don't know much about immigration beyond what I read in the papers, I still wonder whether the article's authors are too quick to erase the distinction between legal and illegal immigrants. For example, a police officer in my neighboorhood told me a few months ago that illegal immigrants are often the targets of street crime, since muggers assume that they tend to carry a lot of cash.

That sort of evidence is entirely anecdotal, but it's the kind of thing I'd like to hear more about before accepting that legal-illegal distinction isn't as useful as we think.
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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

# Posted 9:22 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

LIBERAL BLOGGERS SILENT ABOUT GAS PRICES. (DO THEY ALL DRIVE HYBRIDS?) The price of oil is dominating the airwaves, but none of the liberal bloggers whose sites I read have been paying much attention.

All we get from Matt Yglesias is the observation that gas prices will most likely fall before election day, thus limiting the damage done to the GOP. Josh Marshall, as always, writes that Democrats have to hit back hard at the GOP, but doesn't have a single kind word for all the Democratic senators denouncing Big Oil and its predatory ways.

At least Kevin Drum has something. He points out that both Democrats and Republicans should get down from their high horses, because both have a terrible record of supporting fuel efficiency in automobiles. Kevin also says that the GOP has taken pandering to new heights with its plan to give Americans an $100 rebate to soften the impact of rising gas prices.

Sure, it's pandering. But I sort of prefer a straight-up pander to dark and absurd rhetoric about a Big Oil conspiracy to impoverish the American consumer. Besides, I can use that $100 to buy some new gear for my bicycle, which is even more fuel efficient than Dick Durbin's hybrid SUV.

Also, since Kevin has nothing to say in defense of any of the Democratic rhetoric about oil, I'm going to assume either that it is indefensible or that all the hoopla about the Spanish Star-Spangled Banner has kept Kevin from paying attention to his representatives in Congress.

Finally, we come to Kos. georgia10 points to a NYT article about how the GOP is backing off its effort to strike down some provisions of the tax code that Big Oil really likes. But that's it for the past few days. Even Stephen Colbert got more attention. And Kos himself found time to mock liberal hawk Peter Beinart as "pathetic":
It's easy for chickenhawks like him to talk tough when they don't personally have to suffer the consequences of the policies he promotes.
With standards of debate that low, you'd think Kos would at least find something kind to say about all of the Democrats' mindless oil bashing rhetoric. Or maybe I should just be glad this particularly idiocy hasn't spread to the blogosphere.
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