Tuesday, June 29, 2004

Parliamentary procedural pandemonium! Coming soon to...Canada?

Remember during the good old days of the Florida recount, when analysts occasionally tossed around extremely weird scenarios involving two separate states of Florida electors, with Congress having to adjudicate and the Senate being in the position of Lieberman casting the 50th vote in favor of his own ticket and Gore breaking the tie?

Well, something roughly equivalent may be brewing in Canada. Last night's federal parliamentary election gave the ruling Liberal Party 135 seats and the left-wing New Democratic Party, their most natural allies, 19 seats. Taken together, that's 154 seats. The rest of the House of Commons consists of the Conservatives with 99 seats, the separatist Bloc Quebecois took 54, and one Conservative-turned-Independent, for a total of...154 seats.

Here's where it gets weirder: the Speaker of the House, by tradition, is not allowed to vote except in case of a tie. The Liberals and NDP would probably like to pick someone out of the opposing bloc as Speaker, giving themselves a 154-153 advantage. The Conservatives and the Bloc Quebecois, conversely, would probably like to have a Liberal or NDP speaker, thus ensuring that the new Liberal minority government has to reach beyond the NDP to pass legislation. Even more importantly, the same quandary would be in effect if a vote of no-confidence were proposed (which, this being a minority government, is almost certain to happen before the normal 5-year term is up). Obviously, neither side has the votes to simply force a member of the opposition into the Speaker's chair unless the Independent can be brought over to the Liberal/NDP side, so most likely some sort of deal will have to be cut. I don't know enough about Canadian politics to guess how exactly this will be worked out, but it should be an interesting scenario of the sort that usually only exists as a "what-if" hypothetical.

Incidentally, I hear that this government may end up enacting some sort of proportional representation reform. One hopes it will occur them to add another seat (thus ensuring an odd-numbered total) while they're at it.

Sunday, June 27, 2004

Theological question of the day

Why would there be bats in hell in the first place?

Friday, June 25, 2004

Please air this ad

For a guy who's supposed to be some sort of evil genius, Karl Rove has certainly signed off on a fair amount of downright weird PR strategy lately. Apparently unsatisfied with the sometimes nearly incomprehensible imagery of the ad about John Kerry and his "wacky" gas tax, Republicans have now put an ad on Bush's campaign website about "John Kerry's Democratic Party" as the "Coalition of the Wild-Eyed." It contains clips of a couple of Al Gore's more impassioned denunciations of Bush, Howard Dean declaring "I want my country back," Gephardt calling Bush a "miserable failure," and Kerry telling a joke that involves the phrase, "George Bush will...kick your ass."* Interspersed in this montage are clips from the now-infamous Hitler comparison ads submitted to -- and rejected by -- MoveOn.org's "Bush in 30 Seconds" contest. This is all capped by some sappy music and captions extolling Bush's comparative "optimism."

Now then:

(1) Of all the clips, only the bit from Gore's "He betrayed this country!" screed really comes off as inappropriately overheated. Isn't it questionable political strategy to air an entire minute of opponents criticizing your candidate?

(2) There is a "bleep" over Kerry's use of the word "ass," but it is so brief that both the "a" and the "ss" are still distinctly audible. It seems to be there only to reinforce the notion that this is somehow horribly obscene. This seems just a bit hypocritical from a party whose Vice President recently told a Senator to "f--- off" on the Senate floor.

(3) After the first Hitler clip, we see the caption "Sponsored by MoveOn.org." This is, of course, misleading: MoveOn allowed open submissions, but they did not "sponsor" the Hitler ads and made it clear that they disapproved of them.

(4) That said, the whole thing flies by so quickly that viewers who aren't already aware of the MoveOn controversy will likely either simply be confused or even think that Hitler is somehow being portrayed as part of Kerry's "Coalition of the Wild-Eyed," and that it is in fact Republicans comparing Democrats to Hitler. In other words, not only are they lying, but they're lying ineffectively.

Given that there's no "I'm George W. Bush and I approve this message," one assumes that it's only meant for the website. A pity, from my point of view: the GOP airing this kind of incoherent garbage would probably help the Democrats. This is also one area in which Kerry's relatively staid personality may actually help: the Republicans will have trouble portraying him as the spokesperson of "wild-eyed"-ness, as evidenced by the fact that the best they could come up with is that he used the word "ass."

* The joke, if you're wondering, is this: "5,000 years ago, Moses told the Israelites, 'Hitch up your camel, pick up your shovel, mount your ass. I will lead you to the promised land.' 5,000 years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt told Americans, 'Light up a camel, put down your shovel, sit on your ass. This is the promised land.' But today, George Bush will lay off your camel, tax your shovel, kick your ass, and tell you there is no promised land." He used it a number of times during the primary campaign, but it seems to have been put on the shelf along with "Bring it on."

Monday, June 21, 2004

In good company

Apparently I wasn't the only one to scratch my head at the supposed Russian intelligence. According to this transcript of Sunday's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Richard Lugar (R-IN) had never heard this story either:

BLITZER: Senator Lugar, Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, this week dropped a bombshell, suggesting that, after 9/11 but before the war in Iraq, his intelligence services provided information to the U.S. that Saddam Hussein was planning terrorist strikes against the U.S. in the U.S.

Were you surprised to hear that?

LUGAR: Well, I was surprised to hear it. On the other hand, other people gave us that evidence before the time without being specific.

That's the dilemma: no time and place in particular.

But it was important that Vladimir Putin felt it useful to make that point, and that at least he was attempting to manifest some cooperation with the United States.

BLITZER: But you haven't been briefed on that specific intelligence?

LUGAR: No, I have not.

BLITZER: You're a member of the Intelligence Committee, Senator Levin. Have you been briefed on that, what Vladimir Putin says his intelligence services provided to the U.S.?

LEVIN: No. And apparently nothing much came of that report, as well. But we have not been briefed on that. That was the first that we learned of it, when we read and heard about that last week.


I'm curious as to what Lugar means by "other people gave us that evidence before the time without being specific." Does he just mean the Bush Administration, or some other foreign intelligence agency?

Right now, this whole thing smells fishy to me. The fact that neither the media nor the Bush administration are talking about it much indicates that perhaps everyone is suspicious. (I wonder, if Putin was indeed fabricating or exaggerating to try to help Bush, whether he would have given the administration a heads-up first. If not, perhaps even they were caught off-guard by this.)

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Gee, *now* you tell us

In a story that seems to have inspired a collective "Huh?" around the blogosphere (including some conservatives), Vladimir Putin is now claiming that Russian intelligence informed the U.S., after 9/11 but before the Iraq War, that Saddam's regime was planning terrorist attacks inside the U.S. and against U.S. interests abroad:

By BAGILA BUKHARBAYEVA, Associated Press Writer

ASTANA, Kazakhstan - Russian President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites) said Friday his government warned Washington that Saddam Hussein (news - web sites)'s regime was preparing attacks in the United States and its interests abroad — an assertion that appears to bolster President Bush (news - web sites)'s contention that Iraq (news - web sites) was a threat.

Putin emphasized that the intelligence didn't cause Russia to waver from its firm opposition to the U.S.-led war last year, but his statement was the second this month in which he has offered at least some support for Bush on Iraq.

"After Sept. 11, 2001, and before the start of the military operation in Iraq, the Russian special services ... received information that officials from Saddam's regime were preparing terrorist attacks in the United States and outside it against the U.S. military and other interests," Putin said.


And yet, Putin still claims to maintain his opposition to the war:

"Despite that information ... Russia's position on Iraq remains unchanged," he said in the Kazakh capital, Astana, after regional economic and security summits. He said Russia didn't have any information that Saddam's regime had actually been behind any terrorist acts.

"It's one thing to have information that Saddam's regime is preparing terrorist attacks, (but) we didn't have information that it was involved in any known terrorist attacks," he said.


OK, so let me get this straight. The Bush administration had solid information that the Iraqi regime was actually planning terrorist attacks against the United States, but instead of actually telling anybody that, they chose to make a case for war based on nebulous claims of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, even more nebulous claims of Iraqi ties to Al-Qaida, discredited allegations of uranium precurement in Niger, and the peculiar notion that Saddam was somehow responsible for the presence of Zarqawi in the Kurdish-controlled no-fly zone. Meanwhile, not to be outdone in borderline-inexplicable behavior, Putin knowingly handed the U.S. information that would justify the war in almost everyone's eyes, yet continued to oppose it on the grounds that Iraq had not actually committed any terrorist acts recently. (One wonders if Putin's security forces have standing orders not to interfere in assassination plots against him unless the suspects have carried out assassinations before.)

On the U.S. side, the only clarification we've had so far is this:

In Washington, a U.S. official said Putin's information did not add to what the United States already knew about Saddam's intentions.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Putin's tip didn't give a time or place for a possible attack.


Frankly, I don't see how that makes any difference, especially considering the flimsiness of some of the information that the Bush team *did* use. Even then, the fact that no time or place was given seems irrelevant. After all, we've been going after Al-Qaeda for almost three years now on the grounds that we know they want to attack us again, even though we don't know when or where. As for Putin, shouldn't he have realized that he was at risk of looking like an idiot by passing along this information but continuing to oppose the war? How would it have appeared if, in the middle of the haggling at the United Nations, the U.S. had suddenly announced that one of the war's leading opponents possessed intelligence indicating that Saddam's regime was actively planning terrorist attacks? There is, after all, a world of difference between disrupting an actual plan of attack and going to war on the grounds that another country *might* attack for some unstated reason in the future, which is what the Bush administration did.

On the surface, then, this makes no sense at all. It makes no sense for the Bush administration not to have used this information, it makes no sense for Putin to have shared it if he really didn't want the U.S. to go to war in Iraq, and it does indeed add to "what we knew," at least to the extent that "what we knew" was ever revealed to the public. There would seem, then, to be several possibilities here:

(1) Both sides are telling the truth -- and are therefore both astoundingly incompetent when it comes to PR. I could, with great difficulty, accept that the Bush team are so entrenched in their certainty of being Right About Everything that they didn't even bother to make the best argument they could for their position (though it seems unlikely that Colin Powell or someone else at the State Department would not have insisted on using this information if they knew about it). I can't really believe that Putin is that clueless, however.

(2) Both sides are telling the truth, and the Russians, for some reason, asked the U.S. not to disclose the information. Unfortunately I don't know the world of spooks well enough to know how likely this is -- could the Russians have had a human asset inside the Iraqi regime that would have been exposed even if the U.S. had issued a statement as vague as, say, "Intelligence reports which we cannot discuss further indicate active planning of anti-American attacks by the Iraqi regime"? If this were the case, then perhaps the asset is no longer part of the Iraqi leadership or even alive. Putin, then, might feel free to discuss it now, while the U.S. may have been caught off guard by his choosing to do so, thus the incongruous comment from an American official that the Russians had not provided significant information on Iraq (which, of course, would simply have been the party line up until now). I'm not sure this completely accounts for Putin's vocal opposition to the war, however. Why not just get on board with the stated Bush/Blair rationale for the war? Would he really have been more afraid of breaking with France or Germany than of looking bad later if the information got out?

(3) Both sides are kinda sorta telling the truth. For example, maybe the intelligence indicated that certain people in the Iraqi regime did indeed discuss planning attacks against the U.S., but they decided (or just Saddam decided) that it was unlikely to be successful and/or too dangerous in terms of being caught and provoking retaliation. (After all, I doubt many would dispute that Saddam and others in his regime probably would have liked to attack the U.S. if they were capable of it and thought they could get away with it -- the question was whether they were in fact capable of it and likely to think they could get away with it.) Even then, it's difficult to explain why the Bush administration wouldn't have still tried to spin this as part of the case for war in the first place, rather than waiting for Putin to bring it up a year and a half after the fact.

(4) Both sides are fabricating. The Bush administration needs a retroactive justification for the war, and Putin has decided to help out because he has decided, for whatever reason, that the Bush administration's good fortunes are his. This certainly seems plausible in light of another recent comment he made which, any way you read it, seems aimed specifically at Democrats:

Putin said opponents who criticize Bush on Iraq "don't have any kind of moral right. ... They conducted exactly the same kind of policy in Yugoslavia."

Russia vehemently opposed the NATO bombing attacks on Yugoslavia in 1999, which the United States pushed for under President Clinton.


An article running in the Baltimore Sun includes comments from two Russian political scientists to this effect (though one of them says he does not question Putin's veracity):

"It appears Mr. Putin is trying to help Mr. Bush win his second election, that Moscow is becoming a player in the American political scene," said Lilia Shevtsova, a political scientist at the Moscow Carnegie Center.

[....]

Sergei Markov, director of Moscow's Institute for Political Studies, said he doesn't doubt Putin's claim. But he sees the timing of the disclosure as an effort to support the U.S. president's chances of re-election.

The Kremlin, Markov said, sees the Democrats as too critical of Russia's record on support for human rights and democracy.

[....]

Shevtsova of the Carnegie Center said Soviet and Russian leaders have a history of gradually establishing good relations with Republicans and quarreling with Democrats.

Putin, she said, feels close to Bush. And to a large extent, she said, "Russia still sees itself through the prism of its relationship with Washington."


This is assuming, of course, that Putin thinks he won't suffer any significant damage from the apparent inconsistency (which is certainly plausible at least on the domestic front -- from what I can tell, nothing short of a meteor landing on his head is likely to dislodge him from power in Russia any time soon).

(5) Some combination of the above. The Russians were protecting a source at the time and/or the information is only kinda sorta true, but now Putin thinks that helping Bush is more important.

As you can see, I am utterly befuddled myself. Anyone else have a clue what's going on here?

Anyone?

Anyone?

Bueller?

Friday, June 18, 2004

Why torture doesn't work

It is probably inevitable that, if the torture scandal becomes damaging enough, some political operators seeking to protect the administration will quietly start suggesting that, while torture may be grisly and hard to stomach, it might be a justifiable and effective means of gathering intelligence if circumstances are dire enough. Personally I find this unpersuasive -- rights and principles are meaningless if we abandon them as a matter of practicality. In any case, a ready-made rebuttal can be found in this Salon article by researcher Darius Rejali, who makes the case that the use of torture in fact tends to corrode and weaken intelligence agencies. This is the first of two parts; the second, apparently, will deal specifically with the case of France and Algeria.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Anti-torture ad campaign

This is definitely worth a couple of minutes. The group FaithfulAmerica.org has put together an ad in which Americans of various religious traditions condemn the torture of Iraqi prisoners and pledge to work for justice and, as the final speaker puts it, right these wrongs. At the website, you can watch the ad and then click to endorse it or to donate money to help them raise the funds to play it on Arab television.

Friday, June 11, 2004

New torture allegations

UPDATE 10/27/05: It now sounds as though Hersh was inaccurate in the comments quoted below and that he says so himself here.

I'm going to resist the temptation to go off on a partisan screed about this, though in all honesty it just makes me want to go crawl in a hole somewhere more than anything else. This is something I just read about today, and if it's true, then needless to say it's very serious. So, I just wanted to share with you all the letter I sent to my elected representatives, and urge everyone else to do the same. Feel free to copy part or all of what I've written if you want (not that I'm Mr. Articulate, but if you're looking to save time...). I've also sent similar messages to my local newspaper as well as ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, albeit with a slightly modified final paragraph.

---------

June 11, 2004

Dear ______:

As a constituent and registered voter, I would like to bring to your attention two recent items that do not seem to have received much coverage in the investigation of the treatment of Iraqi detainees. The first is from the online weblog of Juan Cole, a Professor of History at the University of Michigan. The entry can be found at:

http://www.juancole.com/2004_05_01_juancole_archive.html#108557724965023992

"Iraqi women were also abused at Abu Ghuraib (link: http://www.paknews.com/articles.php?id=1&date1=2004-05-26), according to the Taguba report and reports of photographs seen by the US Congress. As this Islamist PakNews story notes, most of the reporting on torture and abuse of detainees at Abu Ghuraib has focused on men. It is clear, however, that Iraqi women were also made to strip naked, were photographed in that compromising position, and it is alleged that some were raped by US military personnel. Although, of course, the soldiers who behaved this way and the officers who authorized or allowed it were not "crusaders," as the article alleges, the abuse of women was designed to take advantage of Muslim and Arab ideas concerning female honor.

A scandal that has not yet broken in the press is the story of how many women ended up in US prisons. The fact is, few were suspected of having themselves committed a crime or an act of insurgency. Rather, they were taken as hostages or potential informants because their husbands or sons were wanted by the US military. This kind of arrest, however, is a form of collective punishment and not permitted under the Fouth Geneva Convention governing military occupations of civilian populations. The sexual abuse of these women is therefore a double crime."

The second is from an e-mail sent from author Rick Pearlstein to Brad DeLong concerning a recent lecture by Seymour Hersh at the University of Chicago. The relevant link is:
http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/2004_archives/000987.html

"Seymour Hersh spoke... at the University of Chicago.... I took some scattered notes. The remaks will be disjoined--as will be the notes--but chilling. He asserted several things that he says he didn't have nailed down enough to write, but that he was confident of....

[....]

He said that after he broke Abu Ghraib people are coming out of the woodwork to tell him this stuff. He said he had seen all the Abu Ghraib pictures. He said, 'You haven't begun to see evil...' then trailed off. He said, 'horrible things done to children of women prisoners, as the cameras run.' [Emphasis mine.]

He looked frightened."

While I appreciate that the story of the Iraqi detainees is still unfolding, I believe that an issue so grave as the possible torture of women and children is obviously of deep and immediate concern to Americans of all political ideologies and affiliations, and that at the very least, we all need to know the whole truth about what really happened. If true, these stories are almost certain to become public and could well destroy our claim to the moral high ground in the war on terrorism. I believe it is therefore imperative that Congress act quickly and decisively to ascertain what exactly occurred and see to it that any persons who are guilty of such deplorable violations of American law and principles are held responsible.

Thank you for your consideration of my opinions.

Sincerely,
______________


---------

I really don't mean to sound preachy or pretentious with this (and I pondered whether it was even appropriate on a blog that mostly deals with opinion poll speculations, making fun of Ashcroft, reports on people throwing condoms at Tony Blair, and the like), but I didn't want to just ignore it either.

AFTERTHOUGHT: It is, of course, possible that the Hersh quote is bogus, given that, so far, it has only surfaced in this second-hand account. That's partly why I chose to write to the media as well -- presumably someone should be able to verify whether he actually said this or not.

UPDATE (6/12): DeLong adds that the e-mail came from Rick Pearlstein, author of a book about Goldwater. I'm not familiar with Pearlstein myself, but it's at least some indication that this account of Hersh's lecture is probably reliable.

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Orange alert

As a liberal from Missouri, I have a soft spot for Ashcroft-bashing, and so I'd urge you all to have a look at this video, courtesy of filmmaker Jason Woliner and the Music For America site. (Be sure to keep an eye out for Mr. Stay Puft.)

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Breaking News: Tenet Resigns

Just saw it on Yahoo news. Reportedly it's for "personal reasons," but there will undoubtedly be speculation that this is related to the various intelligence controversies of the past couple years. I'm sure there'll be more about this as the day goes by.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

John Kerry: The Pro-Food Candidate

Just to prove that even I can enjoy an occasional laugh at Kerry's expense, here's an entry from the Daily Kos:

I met John Kerry today.
by whitedawn
Wed Jun 2nd, 2004 at 16:36:54 EDT

In a cafe in the Spanish part of town.

John Kerry and his entourage came into the little Spanish cafe my friends and I frequent in the south part of Tampa this morning.

He took time to talk to everyone that was sitting at the counter. I shook his hand, and told him that I was a Dean supporter, and that he should give Dean a cabinet post in his administration.

Kerry: "He has been quite a help. We will see what we can do."

Then I told him that the food in La Teresita was the best Spanish/Cuban food in America, and he said:

"I like food."


Good to know. (Though the Republicans will undoubtedly find some way to make this into another "flip-flop.")