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»  November 27, 2006


Newsweek, Pelosi, and the Loony Left: A letter to Newsweek:

I was reading your article about how Nancy Pelosi's position of power as Speaker of the House made her a target of satire and I was trying to find the articles of a similar nature about outgoing Speaker Dennis Hastert. I mean, everyone knows how crooked Illinois politics are. His district reaches across the state but it starts in the suburbs of Chicago! Chicago's one of the crookedest cities in the country! That must have generated some material.

But I can't find anything. There's not even a mention about the grand tradition of skewering Speakers. Remember all of the jokes about Newt Gingrich and his affairs? Or the laughs we had about Tom Foley? Jim Wright? And boy, the Tip O'Neill gags still leave me in stitches.



The Will of the People: I was watching an interview by [shudder] Glenn Beck in a post at Belgravia Dispatch, and the interviewee -- Michael Rubin of the American Enterprise Institute -- spouts a line similar to a lot of the happy-talk that led up to the Iraq war. Speaking about Iran, he cites an incident where a dormitory was attacked by the government and a week of rioting ensued. Despite the Iranian government being able to control that outbreak of violence, his take on it was "Eventually it's going to spin out of control."

According to Rubin, Iranian people aren't "in tune" with the government, they listen to stuff the government doesn't like, there's grafitti for 50 Cent on the walls, etc. The people are like a fresh date, ready to be plucked from the hands of the mullahs.

I'd like to direct Mr. Rubin to some histories of the US in the 1960s. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, there were riots in scores of cities across the country: Chicago, Denver, Baltimore. There were days of riots in Chicago outside the Democratic convention. For nearly a decade after the Watts riots of 1965, there were riots, massive demonstrations, and other forms of civil disobedience related to racial relations and the Vietnam War. But the US government didn't fall. The hippies and the African-Americans didn't take over.

Forty years later, they still haven't. Which is maybe something people like Rubin should keep in mind the next time he gets all gooey about the people rising up. Because sometimes it doesn't work.


»  November 20, 2006



The latest issue of The New Republic (Iraq: What Next?) is a perfect example of how the war hawks have managed to paint themselves into several different corners on Iraq. There are seventeen different options/opinions listed on the cover, in a manner that seems more like a bunch of looneys running around with their hands in the air than a coherent debate. That may not have been the intention of the editor who approved the cover or the cover's designer, but it's like they were writing their own version of the semi-regular feature at Sadly, No!, the "Two-Minute Townhall", so with apologies to Travis G., I give you simply the text from the cover:

Two-Minute TNR

Give Politics a Chance
Threaten to Leave
Save Whomever We Can
Admit It's Over
Bring the Troops Home
Send More Troops
Divide Iraq
Keep It Whole
Force Everyone to the Table
Deal With the Sunnis
Crush the Sunnis
Ally with the Sunnis
Bribe the Insurgents
Talk, Talk, Talk
Ignore James Baker
Try Anything
The Troops and Us


»  November 17, 2006


The Free Market of Wikipedia: This is a little late in the posting, but when I heard economist Milton Friedman had died yesterday I popped his name into Wikipedia. Knowing the volatility of the editing there, I took a quick snapshot when I saw this. This is how the entry appeared at about 10:30am Pacific time. According to the edit history, this version only lasted about 4 minutes and the entry is now restricted for editing.

Friedman's death was caused by his not having enough heart.

I didn't do it.


»  November 13, 2006


Conspiracy: An unsourced quote from Gary Wills about the 1972 Presidential election -- possibly from The New York Review of Books back in the day -- quoted in Sen. George McGovern's autobiography: Grassroots (p. 245):

Vietnam is the shared crime that has turned our country into...a pact of blood. Now patriotism means the complicity of fellows in a crime; if we are all in it, no one is worse than the rest; we excuse each other; we keep the secret. That is why the members of the pact had to re-elect a war criminal as their ruler. Senator George S. McGovern was hysterically feared because he was an accuser.

Members of the pact most fear the man who has not joined in their mystery of communal criminality. When ten men commit a crime, and the eleventh refuses, the ten will turn on him, fear and suspect him. They resent him because he is free, his mouth not gagged by the knowledge of his own guilt.


»  November 12, 2006


Swiss Cheese Democrat: From Sen. Russ Feingold's announcement that he won't be seeking the 2008 Presidential nomination:

I often felt that if a piece of Wisconsin swiss cheese had taken the same positions I've taken, it would have elicited the same standing ovations.
I'd vote for a piece of Wisconsin swiss cheese if it had taken the same positions as Feingold, which makes me, I guess, a Swiss Cheese Democrat.


»  November 10, 2006


One-Sided Debate At NPR, Take 25844: In his "Morning Edition" report on Defense Secretary nominee Robert Gates and his options on Iraq, NPR's Guy Raz interviews four people for their opinions:

  • Gen. Jack Keane (ret.), a former Army vice chief of staff who was involved in the planning of the Iraq war;
  • Richard Perle, the former Pentagon advisor who was one of the chief proponents of the Iraq war;
  • Danielle Pletka, a fellow at the "center-right" American Enterprise Institute who argued in January 2003 that an invasion of Iraq was needed to show al Qaeda that the "U.S. is a power to be reckoned with"; and
  • Gen. Joseph Hoar (ret.), a former CENTCOM chief who -- while a critic of the war currently -- says "getting out is not the answer".
Two former military officers, one of whom was involved in planning the war. Two hard-core civilian advocates of the war. That's some wide-ranging perspective.


»  November 9, 2006


Robert Gates Is to DoD What Harriet Miers Is to Supreme Court: Remember Harriet Miers? George Bush's White House counsel who was nominated last fall to an Associate Supreme Court Justice position, was laughed at by Democrats and forced out by Republicans, and replaced in less than a month as a nominee by Samuel Alito?

The conventional wisdom is that Bush picked Miers as a result of her personal loyalty to him. She was criticized as a political crony without judicial experience or a written record. Conservative commentators came out swinging against her. Despite statements that Democratic Sen. Harry Reid had approved of her nomination, the clamor from the right is credited with forcing her to withdraw her name from consideration. Bush then selected Alito, who seemed to conservatives and moderates a much more sensible choice.

How much of it was real and how much was a game? Was Miers a real choice or was she a sacrificial pawn, meant to make someone like Alito look good?

My question has to be, is the Robert Gates nomination as Secretary of Defense another pawnish move? And who's the real nominee waiting in the wings until Gates gets shoved out for his 1980s support of people like Osama bin Laden and falsification of intelligence on the Soviet Union?



Two Weeks: Two weeks from today -- aka Thansgiving Day -- the US will have been in Iraq for a length of time equal to the time between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into World War II and V-J Day, when the Japanese surrendered, ending the war.

As one of the many conservative losers said the other day, we haven't lost nearly as many people in Iraq as in previous wars, but on the other hand those wars tended to end in three or four years. It's still not over.


»  November 8, 2006


Robert Gates and Orrin Hatch are bin Laden's Buddies: Letter to NPR's "All Things Considered":

In John Hernden's report on the choice of Robert Gates as the new Secretary of Defense, he says that Gates is "theoretically" above politics.

That's a big theoretical. Anyone who'd done a couple of minutes research about Gates would have known that he admitted during testimony at his CIA confirmation hearing in 1992 that the Agency had exaggerated claims of Soviet military strength to President Reagan and his advisors while he was the deputy chief. He was also involved with some of the key figures in the Iran-contra scandal.

He already has a self-admitted background in -- as the British say -- "sexing up" intelligence as well as subverting public oversight, which has been one of the problems of the Dept. of Defense throughout the current administration.

Seriously, doesn't anyone there have "the Google"? Did the Monica Lewinsky thing erase everyone's memories of previous history?

The article linked above with the paragraph about Gates is from 1998, when al Qaeda bombed US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. It also contained this interesting observation:
Indeed, to this day, those involved in the decision to give the Afghan rebels access to a fortune in covert funding and top-level combat weaponry continue to defend that move in the context of the Cold War. Sen. Orrin Hatch, a senior Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee making those decisions, told my colleague Robert Windrem that he would make the same call again today even knowing what bin Laden would do subsequently. "It was worth it," he said.


»  November 7, 2006


Distortion Effects:

Alex Uhlmann of Adobe Consulting has a blog post about his MAX 2006 presentation (including PDF notes and source code) on a Flex-based 3D distortion engine.

The sample application shows a dummy multiple-screen user data system mapped onto a virtual cube. The distortion engine parameters can be modified by settings above the entry area (type of distortion, speed, etc.) and the buttons on each side control how many sides side rotations are performed in each transition. (You can enter any information into the system that you want, the buttons on the interface don't actually do anything.)

It's a proof of concept and somewhat crude -- if you hit a button twice in succession you get overlapping images -- but as the person who wrote the original versions of the Sprite Transition behaviors in Director's Behavior Library, it's interesting to see the types of effects the newer versions of Flash allows users to build. Certainly, it looks as if the Sandy open source 3D engine Alex mentions deserves a look.


»  November 6, 2006


Awfully Tough to Get Out: The Prescience of George McGovern: People who bought into the Bush administration's rationale for war in Iraq (or thought it was a good idea for reasons of their own) just loooove to bash fuzzy-headed liberal thinking. It's so McGovernite. And you know McGovern and his ilk don't know anything about foreign policy!

From CNN's "Inside Politics", 13 February 2003, a little over a week after Colin Powell's presentation at the UN Security Council:

MCGOVERN: You know, I think most people would agree that had it not been for that 9/11 attack, we wouldn't even be here talking about Saddam Hussein. The irony of that is that he had nothing to do that with that attack. Iraq had nothing to do with it. This was Osama bin Laden's. He was the mastermind. He planned it, and his al Qaeda network, that little band of desert radical young men that he's assembled. So I don't see the connect between that and this march to war in Iraq. And I disagree with the president. I don't think Iraq is a threat to the most mighty military power in the history of the world.


MCGOVERN: Well, I agree with former President Carter, who said the other day that it's ridiculous to think that Iraq would attack the United States, knowing that they'd be incinerated in a matter of hours. Any country that attacks the world's most powerful nuclear state is going to go down.

There are nine countries that have nuclear weapons. No one of them would attack us, knowing that we have overwhelming preponderance of power there.


MCGOVERN: If we're going to go after every irrational person around the world, we're not going to have enough soldiers left to feed the wars that will erupt.

I want to make one thing clear. I don't enjoy criticizing the policies of my government. I love this country more than life itself. And that's why I came here today, as I have other places, to try to plead with our leaders, do not drop an American army into that Middle East tinderbox. The consequences of that are almost beyond imagination.

I remember, after Winston Churchill tried to talk our leaders out of going into Vietnam, we said, well, we have information that the communists are doing this and doing that. He said, the only thing certain about a war is that nothing is certain about a war. I tremble at the consequences of putting an American army into that area. I think it's going to inflame the whole Arab world and doubtless many other countries. And that's what we don't need right now.


MCGOVERN: But you know there are nuclear weapons for sale. I'm not going to go in to all the countries that are capable of selling them. But certainly Iraq is low on the list. There are countries that have had these weapons for many years who are in economic trouble who could use the proceeds from the sale of those weapons.

Also, we don't have any monopoly on science. Other groups are capable of copying, at least on a primitive scale, what we have done. And even as you and I sit here today, we have some of the world's best arms experts combing Iraq from stem to stern, looking for evidence of weapons.

WOODRUFF: The U.N. inspectors?

MCGOVERN: The U.N. inspectors.

Now, they say they need more time. Well, what's the big hurry? Lyndon Johnson once said, somewhat ruefully, during the Vietnam War, it's awfully easy to get into war. It's awfully tough to get out. What is the rush? Why don't we give these arms inspectors -- there are several hundred of them, I guess, that are in Iraq. And they did a great job right after the Gulf War 10 years ago of destroying large numbers of weapons. Let's give them a chance to operate here, before we decide to go to war.

WOODRUFF: All right, former Senator George McGovern making a case that we know that the administration and others are going to be arguing and debating in the days to come -- Senator, good to see you.

MCGOVERN: Thanks a lot. It's nice to be with you.


»  November 5, 2006


Holidays With the In-Laws: The holidays are upon us, and you know that means rubbing shoulders with the relatives. No matter what the result of the elections Tuesday, or what weirdness transpires in the two months between Election Day and New Year's while the current Congress races to implement the administration's crazy plans before any potential change of control, it's going to be one of those seasons.

Even in families where sentiment about the Iraq war is overwhelmingly one-sided, there's a lot of room for disagreement. And when people get cornered, it can get ugly.

Say you've got a group of people who agree that the Bush administration should never have invaded Iraq. The conversation expands to Afghanistan and Iran, and one of the parties mentions something about how it might have been better for the US if the Carter and Reagan administrations hadn't supported a bunch of religious extremists in the former country, something that could reasonably be considered to have led to the ascendence of the Taliban: US supports religious mujahideen against Soviet Union, country collapses into chaos after drawn-out war and Soviet withdrawal, former mujahideen band together into Taliban and establish theocratic state.

On Iran, when Jimmy Carter is blamed for not agreeing to some purported plan by the Iranian military to seize power from the Shah (as if the Shah had any greater power other than the military), it gets pointed out that the Shah only came back to power in the 1950s because of a CIA covert operation. Never mind the fact that the revolution against the Shah had long roots; Ayatollah Khomeini had been a major figure on the political scene in Iran as far back as the early 1960s.

This, of course, is where someone might just throw in the "Blame America First" shibboleth; really just another way of calling someone un-American or unpatriotic. Which -- in my experience -- tends to be countered with a lot of eight-letter expletives, as well as the charge that their arguments are "stupid", because, really, when people start whining that if you don't like what they view as American realpolitik that's provided our comfortable standard of living maybe you should just move to Pakistan, that's the point to step outside, wait for your folks and your wife, and go home.

But I predict that when Iraq has gone through another decade or two of the hell we unleashed there by tipping over the Saddam statues and America gets the blow-back, that the same in-laws are going to be telling me I "Blame America First" when I bring up the invasion.



Hanging Together: Like most of the people likely to read this, I sincerely hope that as many Democrats as possible win seats in Congress on Tuesday, putting one or both sides of the legislative branch under Democratic control come January.

However, I would like to remind everyone that a simple majority of Democrats in the House and/or Senate doesn't necessarily mean a major change in course, unless our Representatives and Senators -- in particular the leadership of both houses -- actually perform their jobs better than they have since President Bush took office.

Specifically, the Iraq war would never have gotten under way if Democrats in both chambers had done their homework, and been less gullible about the administration's claims that Iraq had WMDs. If they had been more concerned with actually being strong than looking strong, it would have been far more difficult for the administration to begin a war on false pretenses.

The Senate vote on the resolution to use force in Iraq took place on 11 October 2002. The vote was 77 to 23 in favor. The "nay" votes included 21 Democrats, Sen. Chaffee (R-RI), and Sen. Jeffords (I-VT). 29 Democrats voted for the resolution (names with strikeouts indicate a defeat at the polls, italics show retirements:

Baucus, Max (D-MT)
Bayh, Evan (D-IN)
Biden, Joe (D-DE)
Breaux, John (D-LA)
Cantwell, Maria (D-WA)
Carnahan, Jean (D-MO)
Carper, Tom (D-DE)
Cleland, Max (D-GA)
Clinton, Hillary (D-NY)
Daschle, Tom (D-SD)

Dodd, Chris (D-CT)
Dorgan, Byron (D-ND)
Edwards, John (D-NC)
Feinstein, Diane (D-CA)
Harkin, Tom (D-IA)
Hollings, Fritz (D-SC)
Johnson, Tim (D-SD)
Kerry, John (D-MA)
Kohl, Herb (D-WI)
Landrieu, Mary (D-LA)
Lieberman, Joe (D-CT)
Lincoln, Blanche (D-AR)
Miller, Zell (D-GA)
Nelson, Bill (D-FL)
Nelson, Ben (D-NE)
Reid, Harry (D-NV)
Rockefeller, Jay (D-WV)
Schumer, Chuck (D-NY)
Torricelli, Robert (D-NJ)

Now, if you'll get out your calculator, you'll notice that the 21 Dem nays + 29 Dem yeas = 50 total Democratic votes. Yes, folks, for a little bit of a reality check, it's always good to remember that at the time the nation was deciding to go to war, the Democrats held half the seats in the Senate.

This is where it's important to point out that two of the Senators on the list above were Zell "Spitball" Miller and Joe "Benedict Arnold" Lieberman, but even without those two votes, if the rest of the Democratic Senators had been a bit more skeptical of claims that Iraq -- a country under a variety of embargos for a dozen years which didn't control its own airspace -- had drone aircraft capable of delivering WMDs halfway across the globe as well as the other claims that the administration put forth, it's possible that another Republican might have joined Chaffee in the "nay" column. At the very least, it might have forced Dick Cheney to break a tie vote.

"What about the political considerations?" you might ask. Prior to the current election cycle, of the 29 Democratic Senators who willingly gave George W. Bush -- suspected prior to the 2000 election by many to be one of the stupidest Presidental candidates in recent history -- carte blanche to invade Iraq, three have been voted out of office and five have retired.

Of those who voted "nay", two have retired, and one -- Paul Wellstone (D-MN) -- died less than two weeks after the vote. None of them have lost an election.

The House races provide a bit more data. There are more Representatives, for one, and they come up for election every two years, for another.

The vote in the House was almost as heartbreaking as that in the Senate, with a twist. Democrats here voted against the resolution 81-126, with 1 abstention. 6 Republicans voted against the resolution, as did Bernie Sanders (I-VT). 215 Republicans voted to approve the resolution.

If all of the House Democrats voting yea had switched their votes, the total number of "nay" votes wouldn't have carried the day, but 81 + 126 + 6 + 1 = 214, so the vote could have been 215-214. If Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) of the House Armed Services Committee (Ranking Member of the Readiness Subcommittee) had been ready to vote on a resolution to authorize the use of the armed services in a foreign war, or one of the two abstaining Republicans had voted "nay" or another Republican had decided to abstain....

Six of the 81 Democratic "yea" votes in the House were already out of the running for the November 2002 election. Rod Blagojevich (D-IL) was running for governor. James Barcia (D-MI) went down to the state legislature. Frank Mascara (D-PA) had lost the 2002 primary prior to the vote. Three others had already announced plans to leave office for other reasons. Less than a month after the vote, five members lost their seats in the general election. In 2004, two more decided not to run, five ran (and lost) races for the Senate, Dick Gephardt lost the presidential primary, and four more lost their seats in the general election.

Of the 81 who voted for the Iraq war resolution, 14 left office voluntarily or had been voted out before casting the vote. Out of the remaining 67, nine lost their seats in subsequent elections, for a retention rate of 87%.

On the other side of the issue were 126 Democratic Representatives. Five had lost primary races in early 2002 (including Gary Condit [D-CA] and Cynthia McKinney [D-GA]). David Bonior (D-MI) had run for governor but lost the primary and was not up for re-election to Congress. Four had announced that they were leaving the House. In the years since the vote, John Baldacci (D-ME) left to become governor, Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX) lost a primary, and Gerald Kleczka (D-WI) left office. McKinney retook and relost her seat. None of the Representatives who voted against the resolution have lost their seat in a general election yet.

I've been doing this research because I'm concerned that Democratic party leadership is going to consider any gain made in the election Tuesday as a justification of their strategy of caving in to political pressure whenever Republicans snap them with a locker-room towel. In the case of the authorization to use force in Iraq, the Senators and Representatives who correctly gauged the administration's claims about the threat Saddam Hussein posed and their ability to prosecute military operations successfully, and who were willing to take a stand against have been significantly more successful than those who bought into the idea that the Bush team was competent enough to wage war.

Tuesday is not the end of this fight. As Benjamin Franklin said at the signing of the Declaration of Independence: "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately." It's time for the Democrats to hang together, but they've got to hang with the right crowd this time.


»  November 4, 2006


'On the Media' Runs My Correction on House Vote Against War: One of my favorite public radio shows, "On the Media", occasionally makes mistakes, and last week I noticed one. As usual, I sent off a note, but since I listened to the show's podcast late in the week, and didn't send my email until late Thursday afternoon, I definitely wasn't expecting to hear my own name when I listened to the Letters segment in this week's podcast on Saturday.

This was my letter:

Just a correction, but when you were talking with Bob Hennelly about the Menendez race in New Jersey last week, he said that Menendez "had the distinction of being one of the few House members" to vote against the resolution used by President Bush as a justification for war.

In actuality, 126 Democratic members of the House voted against H.J. 114, "To Authorize the Use of United States Armed Forces Against Iraq", along with 6 Republicans and 1 Independent. That was a solid majority of the Democrats in the House, 81 voted for the resolution and one abstained.

For the record, 21 of the 50 Democratic Senators voted against the Senate version of the resolution. With the "nay" votes of either Jim Jeffords (I-VT) or Lincoln Chaffee (R-RI), a change in the votes of 29 Democrats -- including most of the potential Senate contenders for the 2008 presidential race -- could have put the brakes on the Iraq war in the Senate by a vote of 48-52, but they were too spineless to stand up and demand actual proof of the claims that Saddam Hussein had WMDs.

For that matter, even in the House where they were in a minority, if all of the Democrats who voted "yea" had voted the other way, the vote would have been 215-214.

Their actions of four years ago don't exactly fill me with trust that they're going to perform any better after election day.