Thursday, January 29, 2004

so i guess that means they didn't have a foothold before

The capture of Ghul is pretty strong proof that al-Qaeda is trying to gain a foothold here to continue their murderous campaigns

(emphasis added) statement of lt. general ricardo sanchez, (commander of u.s. forces in iraq) concerning the capture of hassan ghul, an al qaeda leader who was arrested as he crossed into iraq from iran.

so even sanchez doesn't believe that there was a saddam-al qaeda link.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

the end of the affair

check out this video

(via sooner thought)

new hampshire results

well, felber didn’t get a single vote. not even a write-in. i guess that shows just how much my endorsement is worth. (does this mean i should endorse bush in the general election?)

actually, these write-ins that are there are pretty fascinating. check out all the dems that were written in on the republican primary ballots. and while the right wing periodically claims that most democrats are secretly angling for a hillary clinton run, she only got 54 write-in votes (less than, say, carol mosely braun or president bush). will that get the winger conspiracy theorists to give up on the clinton fantasy?


get well steve!

fellow liberal coalition member steve gillard is in the hospital. i ordered him a get-well gift yesterday but now that the big shots have noticed, there probably won’t be much left soon.

anyway, get well soon steve!

Monday, January 26, 2004

official rubber hose new hampshire primary endorsement

by the power vested in me, as a lapsed member of the star wars fan club, i hereby endose adam felber.

i need some ribs

is this real? it's from the official white house page, but it looks like a joke.

(via baj)

shooting feet

the new york times has an article today about how the delays and split on iraq council imperil u.s. plan to transfer power to iraqis by june 30, 2004. the plan requires the council draft an interim constitution by february 28th which would then be followed by a process in which the u.s. military would indirectly pick the "civilian iraqi" leadership in a sham the media has obediently been referring to as a "caucus." (any relation between the "caucus " in iraq and, say, the iowa caucus–where ordinary iowans are permitted to participate–is purely coincidental). after the new government is sworn in, the u.s. occupying authorities would then pretend to hand the keys to "elected iraqi representatives" who had been "elected" by a majority of people hand-picked by the occupational authorities. the process is designed to be complex enough and involving something that looks a little like voting to allow the bush administration to call the appointees "democratically elected" and claim that they have created the first arab democracy this summer, just in time for the u.s. election.

but as the times article notes, the plan is becoming less and less likely to succeed. in part this is because the shiites have disrupted bush’s plans for drafting the interim constitution by calling for an actual democratic vote. you’d think that the administration that now (after it’s two prior justifications have failed to be supported by any evidence) claims that it invaded iraq to bring democracy to the country, would be on board with the shiites on this issue. but a direct vote would almost certainly produce a shiite leader in iraq, a fact that would make one country that bush does not like happy (iran) and others that bush really likes unhappy (saudi arabia, kuwait and the other oil-rich gulf states). plus, a real democratic election would take longer, which means that if the u.s. would allow a direct vote, there would be no transfer of power until probably after November, which interferes with mr. rove’s theme for bush’s reelection campaign.

but the times article notes a second reason that the council may not finish drafting the interim constitution by the end of february:
The drafting committee has also not formally met in the last few weeks because several members, including [Adnan] Pachachi, have been traveling abroad.

pachachi, as well as 3 other members of the committee, traveled to washington last week so that they could be pointed out by the president during his state of the union address as they sat in the audience.

so it occurs to me that bush might be shooting himself in the foot on this issue. he has set out a timetable to transfer power on june 30th, perfectly timed to help him in his reelection campaign. however, bush unofficially kicked off his reelection campaign by the SOTU speech and the victory in iraq theme needed some good props. but by bringing his IGC puppets to washington, he doesn’t have them pushing his agenda this week in baghdad. which increases the chances of making any sort of showy transfer of power by june 30th.

Sunday, January 25, 2004

one more

he's not in the coalition, but my real life friend tripp has an interesting rant about abortion from his christian perspective. it's not the one that the christian coalition wants you to see.

i'm still not posting, so go read that one too.


here's what some of my fellow coalition members are up to:

scout is in new hampshire, blogging for dean.

mustang bobby explains why he does not complain about paying taxes (a rarely discussed topic, at least by politicians).

BlogAmy writes about religious language in politics.

ntodd has escaped texas and is posting again--this time about the nature of e-campaigning.

a certain pagan goddess talks about what to do with lemons.

jesse at the gotham city 13 has done an incredible fully annotated commentary on the state of the union address in three parts.

rivka is part-way through her own multi-part series analyzing the issues surrounding euthanasia. so far she's posted the prologue, part one, and part 2a.

go read them, because i don't feel like writing anything of my own right now.

Saturday, January 24, 2004


sarah sent me the link that generated this map of the countries i have visited:

create your own visited country map
or write about it on the open travel guide

somehow by spending a day in hong kong, i get all of china, along with my day trip to tajikistan, it looks like i traveled almost across the middle of asia. also, one day in tiajuana gives me all of mexico. i've never been much of the u.s. for that matter. and my canadian visits have all been along the southern rim of the country, so it seems unfair for me to have all that red in the frozen north.

but still, when i filled out the questionaire to generate the map, the travel pangs started to hit bad once again. maybe the glow of the uzbekistan trip is finally starting for fade. i need to get out of here again.

(p.s. baj, i wanna see your map!)


i've updated my blogroll again. first, i added the latest member of the liberal coalition, archy. i think that makes me all caught up, but it's hard to tell. we're growing so fast.

i've also decided to make american amnesia (the site i voted for in last week's new blog showcase) a permanent member of my blogroll. speaking of which, kirk has somehow scored an interview with howard zinn and kirk is taking suggestions on questions he should ask. i'm drawing a blank, but if any of you can think of something good, then follow the link and leave a suggestion.

Thursday, January 22, 2004


i can’t seem to escape from this capture-of-saddam-makes-us-safer meme. it’s everywhere. i hear it on the street, see it online and it appears in letters to the editor in newspapers i read (see the second letter down). the thing that drives me truly batty about it is not that i disagree with it (although i do) but that it is asserted without any supporting argument. it’s simply asserted as if it’s an obvious truth. here’s my argument that we are not safer:

bush claimed saddam hussein was dangerous to the american public because he had weapons of mass destruction that he could provide to terrorists. without WMDs, saddam is merely a two-bit tyrant presiding over a decrepit sanction-starved economy. so, let’s assume that bush is right, if saddam had WMDs, he would be a danger to the u.s. i have no idea whether hussein actually did have WMDs before the u.s.’s invasion. but since the war no WMDs have been found, so it follows that one of the following is true:

possibility #1
1. saddam hussein posed a danger to the u.s. if he had WMDs because he could provide them to terrorists
2. saddam hussein had WMDs in iraq when the u.s. invaded
3. the u.s. now controls iraq
4. the u.s cannot find the WMDs
5. the WMDs are no longer in iraq or are so well hidden that they are not under the control of the u.s.
6. WMDs either are in the hands of terrorists now or are in the hands of some unknown entity who could provide them to terrorists

thus under possibility #1 we are at least as much, if not more danger than we were prior to the iraq war. given the looting that occurred in iraq last may, there is a strong possibility that by invading iraq, we actually facilitated the transfer of WMDs from the baathist regime to an anti-u.s. terrorist group.

possibility #2
1. saddam hussein posed a danger to the u.s. if he had WMDs.
2. saddam hussein did not have WMDs in iraq when the u.s. invaded
3. saddam hussein did not post a danger to the u.s.

thus under possibility #2 we are no safer now than we were prior to the war in iraq. after all, without WMDs, saddam really could not do much to harm the u.s. its military, secret service, etc. were all severely underfunded and far outclassed by america’s military might.(as the invasion of iraq clearly demonstrated)

in either case, the removal of saddam did not make us safer today than we were prior to the iraqi invasion. and, in fact, there is a possibility that we may be less safe as a result of the invasion. if you want to argue otherwise, be my guest. let’s see what you got.

slow news day?

is it just me or is the “international news in brief” in this morning’s new york times unusually strange. first, there’s this story:
RUSSIA: 10 TONS OF COLD ONES Ten tons of beer trapped under a frozen Siberian river were finally recovered after a weeklong operation, the Itar-Tass news agency reported. A truck carrying the beer sank as it drove over the Irtysh River in the Omsk region. The driver escaped. Divers from the Ministry of Emergency Situations and workmen armed with saws struggled to free the bottles and kegs in temperatures of minus-16 degrees Fahrenheit. A modified T-72 tank was brought in, and the beer was rescued. The truck was left in the river. Itar-Tass reported that the brewery said the beer could still be sold, since it had been kept cold. Sophia Kishkovsky (NYT)

and then, there’s this:
INDIA: DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH Dilubhai Rajput, a diamond merchant, hid a bag of more than 1,700 small diamonds worth $900 in a pile of hay at his home in Gujarat State. A cow ate them, and the merchant has since been feeding it a diet of grass, grain, fruit and laxatives. So far, he has recovered 300 diamonds in three days. (Reuters)

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

state of the union

thankfully, i have my arabic class tonight so i will not have to sit through the president's speech tonight. i hate the state of the union speech, moreso with our current president, but i really have never liked them. they are never much more than an evening of politically calculated posturing. true, virtually everything that a president ever utters is almost always politically calculated posturing, but with other utterances there is always the remote chance that he will say something real that is off the cuff or slips past his handlers. not with the SOTU. every word of that is carefully considered and vetted by panels of political advisors.

while there may be announcements of some new grandiose legislative proposal, expect as much follow-through as the increase in AIDS funding for africa bush announced in his last SOTU address. does anyone remember that now? it served its purpose last year, balancing the president's call to war in iraq with a humanitarian gesture towards the poorest continent. but while the president got his war, the funding he promised did not materialize in his subsequent budgets. remember that when you hear bush's latest proposals tonight.

as much as i can't stand all SOTU speeches, bush's two past addresses both stick out as particularly embarrassing for this country. first, there was the "axis of evil" speech, naming three countries who were not in an alliance together (that is what an "axis" normally means) and joining them together with a simplistic quasi-religious word like "evil." furthermore two of those countries (iran and iraq) not only were not allied with each other but happened to hate each other. that boneheaded pronouncement caused a major setback in the democracy movement in iran (as i have discussed here previously) and possibly caused north korea to accelerate it's nuclear program. when the worlds largest holder of nuclear weapons pronounces your regime to be "evil" and groups you in the same catagory with two countries who it has threatened to overthrow, you have a large incentive to get some nukes of your own, and quickly too. it was around the time of this axis of evil speech that bush crossed the line for me, from a leader who i just disagreed with on just about anything, to someone who was actually a national embarrassment

bush's second SOTU address is now famous for the niger uranium lie. but the speech also contains several other gems such as the claim that aluminum tubes found in iraq could only be used for it's nuclear program (1 week before the UN had concluded they had nothing to do with any nukes). plus the speech included several statements which implied an iraq-al qaeda alliance that almost certainly did not exist. last september the president himself admitted there was no evidence for such an alliance, if he said that 6 months earlier support for his invasion would have probably been in single-digits. but that's precisely why he didn't.

this year's SOTU kicks off an election year, which means it is sure to be filled with election-year goodies and back patting over our success in iraq. the capture of saddam will be touted. but the fact that the attacks on u.s. forces have not decline since the capture (as some predicted they would), will go unmentioned. i am really relieved that i have something else to do this evening so i will not have to sit through this year's portion of presidential tripe. i will read the speech tomorrow morning when the new york times reprints the full text. at least then i will miss the hollow ceremony and those manipulative shots of people in the audience designed to emphasize whatever point bush is trying to make.


so the iowa primaries happened. as a solidly anyone-but-bush person (although occasionally i waiver into an anybody-but-bush-or-lieberman person. i just hope i don't ever have to choose between those two) the whole drama of the kerry upset doesn't really bother me. i see something i like and dislike in all of them and, i think, all of the "major" candidates (except maybe lieberman--but maybe that is my anti-lieberman bias speaking. on the other hand, i'm not sure if he qualifies as "major") could beat bush if the democrats got their act together. i just have my doubts that the dems will get their act together. i could vote for any of the top three candidates in iowa last night. it is also good news the gephardt is dropping out. the field needs to narrow.

so while many of my fellow members in the liberal coalition are lamenting today, i basically see last night as a sign of progress. if nothing else, we are at least finally making the first steps towards the end of this endless primary season. deaniacs should take heart that iowa has a fairly bad record at predicted the eventual democratic nominee (clinton placed third in iowa in '92, as did dukakis in '88). the emphasis on this caucus is more a symptom of how screwed up the whole primary system is than anything else.

Monday, January 19, 2004

my nostrils and pakistan

i have this annoying mild cold. my nose is stuffed up and that's about it, i don't have any other symptoms. it's been going on for days now and i look wistfully back on the days where i could breath through my nostrils. i never realized how good i had it back then.

so yesterday i spent much of the day sitting on my ass waiting to get rid of this annoying cold. i finished my latest read: Pakistan: In the Shadow of Jihad and Afghanistan. the title is a little misleading as it sorta implies that pakistan is caught between two different things, when, in fact, jihad (in the book used almost exclusively to refer to the afghan resistance against the soviet union in afghanistan and the various militant and/or terrorist activities that came out of it) and afghanistan are inherently tied together. the basic message of the book is that the u.s., the gulf states, and the various leaders of pakistan over the past 30 years (both democratic and military leaders) all have managed to create the disaster that is afghanistan and the jihad movement it spawned. i've read versions of this story before, since 9-11 a lot has been written about how the u.s. helped to create the people who now threaten us. but the book really made it clear just how bad american policy has been towards the region for the past three decades. (the author was a reporter who covered the war in afghanistan against the soviets. it is interesting to read, for example, how the c.i.a. tried to help the mujahidin in their struggle against the u.s.s.r. by building a network of underground bomb-resistant tunnels in the mountain of tora bora. these same tunnels, still difficult to bomb, were where osama bin laden sought refuge from american forces in 2002. they were ultimately what he used to escape from the americans and their allies).

in some ways it put the present administration in perspective. as disasterous as bush's foreign policy has been, it reminded me that bad foreign policy decisions did not start with the 2001 inauguration. reagan, bush 1, clinton, as well as the current administration all made choices that contributed to the growth of the jihad movement. while the clinton administration was really the first to realize that these groups pose a serious danger to the u.s., it still managed to make things worse. meanwhile, pakistan, fixated on the kashmir struggle, only encouraged the groups that are now calling for the overthrow of pakistan's government. don't get me wrong, i still think the current administration could have done a lot better there (for example, by not going to iraq and diverting resources from afghanistan), but no one comes out of this book looking good.

Saturday, January 17, 2004

the brain from planet arous

last night we were going to see house of sand and fog but due to train delays ended up seeing the brain from planet arous instead. it's practically the same movie. "brain" is a classic tale of a nuclear scientist who gets possessed by a horny criminal brain from outer space. (the planet "arous" is pronounced like "aris" in a sneaky 1950s effort to get some sexuality into the film past the censors). it was quite entertaining. they even snuck a bit of neuro-anatomy into the plot to keep my wife happy. fun for the whole family! (and its out on dvd too!).


this is pretty depressing. it illustrates exactly why the jewish community's embrace of an authoritarian secular muslim leader is totally counter-productive. i guess they think that somehow they are improving jewish-muslim relations by meeting with karimov, but in the long run it will probably have precisely the opposite effect.

american amnesia

i just updated my new blog showcase vote to the right. this american amnesia site looks real promising. i like what he's trying to do with his blog.

Friday, January 16, 2004

hubble cut

the rumor is nasa is going to stop servicing the hubble space telescope (link via atrios), a decision to free up resources for bush's moonbase. so, i guess i was wrong to contrast the moonbase with health care below. the moon budget is apparently coming from other parts of nasa, even at the expese of successful programs like the hubble telescope, arguably the most successful of them all (if we're measuring programs based on scientific return rather than big press opportunities).


this almost goes without saying, but riverbend has two new excellent posts. read here about the imposition of sharia in the "new" iraq, and scroll down to "darkness and dust" (or click here) for an iraqi's reaction to the o'neill story.

i don't know whether this is good or bad

i mean being like lincoln is rather flattering. but a "mild mannered assassination victim"?

Thursday, January 15, 2004

random thoughts

1. snow! woo-hoo! okay, so its barely and inch here, which is pretty lame when you think about it. (why do weather reporters always exaggerate accumulation so much?) but it still puts me in a good mood.

2. last night i noticed my comments disappear after a while. i was digging around my archives looking for a link and started to notice that no one really commented on anything in the olden days (i.e. last august). then i went to my september archives and found posts where i definitely remembered having comments at one point (e.g. hats 1 and 2) but these days nothing’s there. i guess haloscan eats them when they get too old.

mmmm, comments.

3. if anyone cares, my arabic class does exist, for now. apparently the department requires there to be a minimum of 6 people to have a class. only five registered, but one of those five needs the class to continue with her program. the powers that be took pity on her and authorized the class with only five people. however, said person-who-needs-the-class did not show up on tuesday, so now we’re down to four and missing the person which allowed our class to continue below the minimum. i’m hoping she shows up tonight or that the department just gives up and lets us have our friggin class. once again, i just might squeek by and get another semester under my belt. insha’allah.

4. "squeak" really should be spelled "squeek." it just seems to capture the sense of a high pitched sound better when there is a double "e." (so the use of that word in the prior paragraph is not a misspelling, but rather a protest against unjust spelling rules. for that matter, so are all the other spelling "errors" in this post and others. trust me. i meant to do that)

5. is it just me or is our unelectable miserable failure acting like a kid in a candy store. just days after paul o’neill revealed that the administration thinks that "deficits don’t matter", the president doing all he can to confirm that allegation by proposing to spend money on a government program to encourage marriage among poor people (which, i might add, would not apply to the various rich divorcees that fill the ranks of the republican leadership) and to build a moonbase. meanwhile, there are rumors that he is planning to propose yet another tax cut in this election year.

now don’t get me wrong. i am definitely not anti-moonbase. in fact, i feel a bit ripped off that we don’t have several already. after all, i grew up with shows like the jetsons and space 1999 which made it perfectly clear to me that i would own a moon timeshare by now, or at least have a robot. even with all my nerd credentials which would predispose me to be in favor of anything space related, i must admit that, if presented with a choice between say, a moonbase and universal healthcare, the moonbase should probably fall by the wayside. but while the president is faced with the same options, he is, practically speaking, making the opposite choice. bush has made no proposal to cover the uninsured, but he is going to authorize money for this moonbase plan. so, if the president gets what he wants, a handful of people will be living on the moon, while thousands of people here on earth will die each year because they can’t afford to see a doctor at the first sign of an illness. just because he’s not presenting it to the american public as such a stark choice, that is the practical effect of his proposal.

i don’t know bush’s position on robots.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

tiny post for the day

working on a brief all day, then arabic class starts again tonight (maybe... we'll see how many people actually show up. by my count there should be two, including me. i am hoping a few new people join to keep this class afloat. no doubt i will be whining about it here later if this class falls apart)

Monday, January 12, 2004


william safire once again reveals that he cannot view foreign policy except through a pro-bush lense. in today’s column he lists all the reasons that the bush foreign policy is succeeding, or, as he puts it, spinning into control.

i don’t buy any of it. let’s start at the beginning. before the list even begins safire writes that he will “Set aside the tens of thousands of lives saved each year by ending Saddam's sustained murder of Iraqi Shia and Kurds, which is of little concern to human rights inactivists.” thus safire implies that saddam was murdering tens of thousands of people every year, right up to the present. but this is not true. while opponents of the regime would continue to disappear each year, saddam’s mass murder tended to happen in spurts. first there was the slaughter of the kurds in the 1980s and then there was the slaughter of shiites in 1991. you can also throw in all the people who died during the iran-iraq war if you want (although death in war, even a useless war is not generally considered to be “murder.” if it were, president bush would be a murderer too). so if you average the deaths over the course of his rule you may get into the “tens of thousands,” he hasn’t come close over the last decade or so. also, saddam’s various massacres do have some common characteristics, all were done with either the tacit support of the u.s, or at least with signals that the u.s. would not act to oppose him. thus, in 2003 and 2004 there was little realistic chance that saddam would have murdered thousands more people. safire’s implication to the contrary is simply wrong. (furthermore, the massacre of the kurds, shiites and the casualties of the iran-iraq war were all heavily covered by international human rights groups. safire’s slap at them is totally unfounded).

so then safire goes into his formal list of accomplishments. number 1 is qaddafi’s decision to abandon nuclear weapons and to allow international inspectors in. safire writes: “The notion that this terror-supporting dictator’s epiphany was not the direct result of our military action, but of decade-long diplomatic pleas for goodness and mercy is laughable.” when i read this paragraph i couldn’t help but think that safire stopped following libya’s political development sometime around 1989. the 1989 lockerby bombing was the last time libya made a big splash in the american news media, so in one sense i can’t really blame safire for not keeping up with stuff after that. but before he dismisses other viewpoints as “laughable” he should consider qaddafi’s almost desperate attempts at international acceptance in the past 15 years while most of the u.s. media was not looking. since safire stopped paying attention, libya has made several attempts to remake its image from what it had in the 1980s. the country has, as far as anyone can tell, not sponsored any terrorist attacks since the 1980s and it agreed to turn over its own citizens (and probably its agents) to an international tribunal concerning the lockerby incident. it has virtually dropped out of the arab league (although it is still technically a member) and instead libya has tried to rebrand itself as an african country. in fact, the “african union” (modeled after the european union and a successor to the organization of african states) is basically qaddafi’s brainchild. libya has sponsored peace talks for virtually every conflict in africa over the past decade. after 9/11 libya has been extremely cooperative with the u.s in sharing information about al qaeda.

all of the above took place before the american invasion of iraq. qaddafi’s decision to let nuclear inspectors in, must therefore be viewed as part of a long term strategy by libya to rebrand itself to the outside world. while i think that particular choice (nuclear inspectors) at this time was influenced by the whole iraq thing, i do not think that libya did it because it thought it may be next on the invasion list as safire and others have implied. rather, qaddafi chose to announce a change in its nuclear policy because he (correctly) calculated that after iraq it would get more attention that his other efforts to normalize relations. from what i have read, it seems that libya’s nuclear program was pretty rudamentary in any case, so qaddafi figured by letting inspectors in he was giving up very little for a relatively large p.r. payoff. even if we had never invaded iraq, qaddafi would have tried something to further normalize relations with the outside world. It may not have been nuclear related, but it would have been some gesture. and make no mistake, this is really merely a gesture. libya’s nuclear program was a long way off from being a threat to anyone. the only laughable part is how safire and other hawks are buying into qaddafi’s latest p.r. that he is a new man.

next safire sites the recent constitutional convention in afghanistan as something that is “spinning into control.” while it is important that the loya jurga came up with a constitution, the real test is putting the thing into effect. it’s simply too early to applaud afghan democracy when there is no such democracy except on paper. and as mustang bobby has pointed out afghanistan is still a dangerous violent place and it is unclear whether anywhere outside of kabul is getting more or less stable. the place is spinning alright, but it remains to be seen in what direction.

safire also argues that the reopening of secret peace talks between israel and syria are a direct result of the iraq adventure. he claims that the talks “would not have happened while Saddam was able to choke off illicit oil shipments to Syria.” here safire is simply wrong. this is not the first time that israel and syria have engaged in secret peace talks. previous talks took place while saddam ruled iraq even though iraq could have choked off oil shipments to syria. saddam did not because his regime was completely dependant on the revenue the shipments produced.

the fourth numbered accomplishment that safire cites is the strangest of the bunch. i really have no way of summarizing this one, so i will simply quote the whole thing:
On the West Bank, incipient Israeli negotiations with Syria — on top of the overthrow of the despot who rewarded Palestinian suicide bombers — further isolates the terror organizations behind Yasir Arafat. Under the pressure of Israel's security fence, and without the active support of Egypt and Saudi Arabia (each eager to retain protection of a strong-willed Bush administration), Palestinians now have incentives to find an antiterrorist leader who can deliver statehood.

notably, this paragraph does not explain how the arafat isolation as a palestinian leader is related to america’s adventures in iraq. that was the whole point of the column, right? the only connection i can see is his attempt to created link between arafat’s political strength and the israeli negotiations with syria. as explained above, safire has not convinced me that the syrian negotiations are related to iraq, so this point about arafat is all the more tenuous. in addition, safire’s conclusion in this paragraph doesn’t really make much sense when he writes: “Palestinians now have incentives to find an antiterrorist leader who can deliver statehood.” does that mean they didn’t have an incentive before? what about the embarrassing fact that palestinians have not actually replaced arafat. even if we assume that getting rid of arafat would be a good thing, can we really say that anything has actually been accomplished on this point? having more incentive really doesn’t say much when you think about it.

next he moves onto iran. what safire and most conservatives are blind to is that the reform movement in iran has been active for the past 7 years. in 1997 the current reformist president was elected and the reformers and hard-liners have been battling it out ever since. in 1999 there was a major series of demonstrations, just as there was last year. the wingers, of course, attributed all of last year’s political activity to the bush administration, but that ignores what happened in 1999. the democracy movement there long predates “the presence of 130,000 U.S. troops near the border.” if anything, the presence of u.s. troops strengthens the hard liners, not the democrats in iran. the mullahs only consolidated power during the iranian revolution when iraq attacked the country. for years they have clung to power by citing threats to the country from the outside, usually threats originating from the u.s. over time the younger generation has ceased to believe their religious leaders, and is slowly but surely rebelling against the mullah’s authority. but when the u.s. actually does threaten the regime, it only plays into the mullah’s hands

here’s another example of how u.s. strong arm tactics are hurting not helping the democracy movement there: for years the iranian government has been sponsoring anti-american demonstrations on the anniversary of their revolution. by the mid-1990s these demonstrations were sparsely attended and, in fact, encouraged a people who opposed the regime to adopt a more pro-u.s. stance. after 9/11 there was a large spontaneous pro-american candle-lit vigil in central tehran. then bush listed iran as part of the “axis of evil” in his 2002 state of the union address. that came as a blow to the reform movement. anti-american demonstrations suddenly reappeared in tehran and the reform movement took over a year to recover. the democracy demonstrations in 2003 in tehran probably would have occurred earlier if bush had not been so stupid with that “axis of evil”. the democracy movement there marches on despite, not because of, bush’s policies.

next safire repeats what has become a conservative mantra as violence continues in iraq: “In Iraq, where casualties in Baghdad could be compared to civilian losses to everyday violence in New York and Los Angeles, a rudimentary federal republic is forming itself with all the customary growing pains.” add safire to the list of people who do not understand the concept of a ratio. safire, like others, compates the gross number of people killed in iraq and comparing it to the gross number of people killed in new york and los angeles. but that’s not fair. there are only 130,000 troops in iraq and over 8 million people in new york. even if new york has a greater gross number of deaths, the odds of actually getting killed if you serve in iraq is much much greater in iraq as ntodd points out. using ntodd’s figures, a soldier is 53 times more likely to be killed in iraq than in new york. maybe that’s why i didn’t see anyone in body armor when i was there last weekend.

safire’s seventh and last point is the least coherent of the bunch. let’s face it, north korea is not a success story any way you try to spin it. the question here is not whether safire is right in seeing a causal connection between a development in the world and iraq, but rather whether these is anything good to see. when bush came into office, north korea was a non-nuclear power. now it probably has two nuclear weapons and is plugging away at getting an arsenal of about 20 warheads. the bush administration has done nothing to stop it and in fact, seems pretty powerless in the face of what is becoming a real WMD threat as opposed to the fantasy threat that was iraq.

safire claims that all of this adds up to a foreign policy that is spinning into control. none of his claims withstand any sort of methodical scrutiny. i can’t see how anyone could agree with safire unless they were pre-disposed to find foreign policy successes for this administration.

Sunday, January 11, 2004


i just saw the 60 minutes piece on former treasury secretary paul o'neill. actually, all the best bits (e.g. president bush's lack of attention during meetings, the allegation that the war in iraq was planned long before 9/11, etc.) have been leaked out over the past 2 days. although the allegations are big news. if true, they do not really tell us anything all that new. in my mind, at least, o'neill's claims really just confirmation of what i've always suspected but feared was the case in the bush white house. the only surprising bit on 60 minutes was the end, when o'neill was asked if he was ready for the administration's reaction to his interview. he seemed genuinely surprised that anyone would try to smear him for speaking out critically about the bush administration. "Why would I be attacked for telling the truth?" he asked. maybe he should ask valerie plame.

i'm back!

had a good weekend. we went to a few smallish galleries in chelsea, such as the photos of angkor wat at the sepia international gallery and the andres serrano portrait series america at the paula cooper gallery (my wife and i have been serrano fans ever since we saw a larger exhibit of several of his photo series at the museum of contemporary art in chicago several years ago).

on saturday night we finally saw avenue q, a musical that 1/2 the people i know have seen already. and now they can all now stop bugging me to see it. also on the train to new york i finished after jihad. overall a nice relaxing weekend.

"jihad" was an interesting book, essentially arguing that islam and democracy are not incompatable and then advocating how the u.s. could help bring about an islamic democracy. what was interesting was trying to figure out if feldman, the author, would have been for the iraq war. the book was written at some time in late 2002, clearly before the administration had openly admitted that it would definitely attack iraq but when it was pretty clear things were going in that direction. feldman classifies the various arab governments into groups and places baathist iraq in the dictators-with-oil catagory, the catagory he argues is least susceptable to pro-democracy pressure from within or without. he presents violent regime change as a legitimate option for dealing with such regimes. but he also notes that the dictator's oppression of the country's people alone cannot be enough to justify an invasion because dictators are so common worldwide and to overthrow them just for that reason would effectively slippery slope us into war with most of the world. so feldman says regime change to install democracy is justified is you have dictatorship-plus. the "plus," presumably can be the threat posed by WMDs or connections with al-qaeda. but neither of the "plus" reasons cited by bush have panned out in the iraq case. so does that mean that feldman would not think the war was sufficiently justified? the implication i got from the book is that feldman would probably consider the iraq war as unjustified. (he also cleary expected the u.n. to play a greater role than it has). i wonder whether the bush insiders who are working with him now in baghdad have drawn the same conclusion?

so now i'm reading the x president, a science fiction book for political wonks. it takes place in the year 2050 and the main character is the biographer of an 109 year old former president who is only called "bc" and who spends his days hanging around his presidential library in little rock. i'm not that far into it yet, but what i've really is pretty amusing, filled with odd references to minor incidents that happened during the clinton presidency. (as i read the book i keep saying things like "oh yeah, i remember when that guy flew the plane into the white house." its amazing how many big news stories of the day are now so obviously minor bits of history when viewed in retrospect).

Friday, January 09, 2004

i'm off!

going to nyc tonight. i won't be back or blogging until sunday.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

bloggy's got a point

why don't we hear about spontaneous human combustion anymore?

immigration again

my support of the bush administration's new guest worker proposal has caused some controversy in the below comments. hydro directs my attention to this page from the afl-cio working families site. as a union-side labor lawyer, the afl-cio's opinion holds a lot of weight with me, but i still think i disagree with them on this one.

the afl-cio site quotes its president john sweeney as saying that the guest worker plan would "create[] a permanent underclass of workers who are unable to fully participate in democracy." but that's not really true. there already is a permanent underclass of workers who are unable to fully participate in democracy--illegal aliens. while it's true that the plan does not make illegals citizens (the only way the could fully participate), its doesn't make them any worse off than they already are. in fact, if what is proposed actually happens, i think it will make things incrementally better for the former illegal alien who becomes a guest worker.

the afl-cio site also quotes seiu executive vice president eliseo medina criticizing the plan because it "tells immigrants you have no right to earn citizenship." but that is not true either. as i understand the plan, while the guest worker program itself would not be an avenue to citizenship, guest workers would be allowed to apply for permanent resident alien status (otherwise known as a "green card," usually a step along the way to citizenship) or apply directly for citizenship if they marry an american. (see the 14th "SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL" statement in this post on josh marshall's site). in other words, holding a guest worker visa is no barrier to citizenship. it just will not automatically lead to citizenship either. on the other hand, a guest worker will not have any of the usual hindrences to citizenship an illegal alien has. absent an amnesty, illegal aliens cannot apply for citizenship without lying on their application. thus, by turning an illegal alien into a guest worker, it actually will make it easier for theformer illegal to become a citizen than it is for them as an illegal alien under the status quo.

one question about this proposal is whether the guest worker will come from the pool of people who are currently illegal and people who would become illegal absent a guest worker program, or whether it will come from the pool of people who would otherwise become permanent residents. much of the criticism of the policy seems to contrast the proposed guest worker status with the rights of permanent residents. there is no question that the guest worker is worse off than a permanent resident. on the other hand, there is also no question (in my mind) that a guest worker is better off than an illegal alien. because the program seems to be designed to move people who would otherwise be illegal (and not permanent residents) into the guest worker program, it represents an incremental improvement from the status quo. and that is why i am in favor of it.

this controversy also raises the issue of incrementalism. ideally, i am for virtually open borders (by virtually, i mean i approve of a few barriers to movement that i don't want to get into here). a guest worker visa, like any visa requirement, clearly falls short of that. but i am also enough of a realist to recognize that it is politically impossible for my ideal to be enacted anytime soon, so i am willing to settle for incremental reform that moves things slightly closer to the ideal by legalizing, in at least a limited sense, the movement of more people to this country. incrementalism has its dangers. there is always the danger that the restrictions inherent in the incremental reforms will become entrenched, thus making it more difficult to move further towards the ideal. i recognize that there is a real danger of this in a guest worker program (for example, consider germany's guest worker program which has created an entrenched disenfranchised class of turkish "immigrants," many of whom actually were born in germany. reform of this system, which is currently at least four decades old, has proved extremely difficult. note, however, that the 14th amendment would prevent us from having the same problem as the germans). nevertheless, even considering the danger of entrenchment, i think this proposal would improve the lot of illegals and that promise of even slight improvement outweighs my reservations.

i welcome anyone to convince me otherwise. i also recognize that i could be getting some of the factual details of the proposal wrong. please feel free to correct me. until then, however, i remain in favor of bush's guest worker proposal.


i just wrote a long post about the immigration issue and blogger apparently ate it. if it doesn't reappear magically, i guess i will try to rewrite it

bush administration gives up on finding WMDs in iraq: tacit admission that there are none to be found

that could have been the front page new york times headline this morning.

instead this article about the decision can be found on page 14.

it absolutely blows my mind how little the american public seems to care that the primary reason for invading another country has turned out to be baseless. the most frightening thing is the precedent this could set with this and future presidents. when there is so little accountability about the decision to go to war in the long term and given the inevitable boost to popularity immediately after hostilities commence, how can any president be expected to resist the temptation? it's startling how easily bush seems to be getting away with what, if measured by the goals he set forth pre-invasion, has turned out to be a total failure.

at least so far. i admit that the jury is still out on what kind of government the future iraq will have. but the invasion clearly has had no effect on keeping WMDs out of the hands of terrorists (in fact, if the hussein government actually had them in the pre-war days (which looks pretty unlikely now, but is a possibility that has not been totally ruled out) their post-war disappearance probably means they are in the wrong hands now. so in that sense the invasion could have facilitated arming terrorists groups. there has yet to be any non-discredited al qaeda connection even though the u.s. now controls all of the hussein government records. meanwhile, the dead keep piling up without any end in sight. meanwhile, the our relationship with our closest allies is shakey, al qaeda is resurgent (we provided it with a handy recruitment video in the form of iraq) and we have a brand new reason to lose even more credibility in the mideast. and foreign policy is supposed to be this administration's strong point! i don't understand why the president has more than an 8% approval rating right now. his half-brained policies have endangered us all.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

credit where credit is due

this is actually a good thing. i thought i should point out those rare occasions when i approve of what the president is proposing. as i read the article about the immigration law changes, i kept expecting to find that the administration snuck in something really sucky in the middle of the proposal. but if that happened, there was no mention of it in the article. for once, i applaud what the president is doing.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

sharia and arbitration

several years ago i was hanging around with my arabic teacher and her husband (who is also a professor at a local college and a convert to islam). the husband got wind of what i do for a living, especially the part about all the arbitration cases i handle (disputes concerning collective bargaining agreements almost always end up in arbitration) and asked me whether it would be possible to set up a system of sharia courts in philadelphia. the plan was ask for members of the local muslim community to sign an arbitration agreement which would appoint local muslim scholars as arbitrators to decide any disputes which may arise concerning inheritance or family law. as he described the plan, it became clear that they had already done some research into the idea, but he was concerned that a sharia arbitration decision would be found to be unenforceable if challenged in court. like most times when people ambush me with legal questions, i had no idea what the answer was. as much as i dealt with the pennsylvania arbitration act, it was always in the narrow sphere of employment questions, i simply had never thought of using the arbitration act so creatively.

later i thought about it and two problems popped in my mind: (1) arbitration agreements are only binding on those who agree to them. minor children can't agree to arbitrate disputes over them and in family law the interest of children is considered separately from the interests of their parents (so the parent cannot give consent for a child). so the arbitration agreements would probably be unenforceable to the extent they involved children.
(2) there was a real possibility that a judge reviewing an arbitration decision would simply rule that sharia is against public policy even if all parties had agreed to be bound by it and were capable of giving such agreement. (this was pre-9/11/01, but it seemed like a possibility then too). i passed on my thoughts, adding the disclaimer that i had not actually researched the issue and it was not the type of law i usually deal with, then forgot about it.

today, i was catching up on my blog reading and found this entry over at echidne of the snakes that something like the arbitration idea has been up and running for some time in ontario. the article echidne cites does not directly address either of my reservations about the idea. (although it alludes to my second reservation in this sentence: "According to Ontario's Arbitration Act, an arbitrator's ruling is not enforceable by a court of law unless it supports the principles of fairness and equality."). i wonder if any of these arbitration cases have withstood a court challenge in canada? the fact that the article doesn't say probably means there have not been any court challenges yet.

okay okay

so hydro wants me to comment on the latest from david brooks. i don't want this to turn into brooks-watch, but his column was pretty egregious today. the thing is, lots of people already beat me to the punch of this one. the best analysis i saw today was josh marshall's.

see also: mustang bobby, lambert, ntodd, and peter (hey, does that count as my first LC blogaround?)

many of the above comments focused on brooks' claim that the "neo" in neo-con mean "jewish." ("con," as brooks notes, means conservative) "neo" as a prefix really means new, modern, or a revived form of something. i've always suspected that the phrase is sometimes intended to echo "neo-nazi," but this neo=jewish idea really is just an attempt to scare critics of the administration off from talking openly about the fact that a certain type of conservatism usually represented by cheyney, kristol, wolfowitz, rumsfeld, and perle is dominant in the bush white house (as opposed to the non-neo-cons in the administration like powell). it's odd because pulling the jew card like that is just the sort of p.c. non-argument that the right has been accusing the left of doing for the past decade or so.

Monday, January 05, 2004


in addition to not blogging, i've been reading a lot lately. in the last week or so i read the kite runner, a novel about a boy who flees afghanistan during the soviet invasion for america and then returns ro rescue an old friend when the taliban are in control. it was good, except the ending worked out a little too perfectly for my tastes. considering this was the author's first novel, it was really impressive how polished it seemed, at least to my amateurish eyes.

after that i read vernon god little about a teenage kid who is accused of a columbine-style massacre simply because he was the only friend of the killer. it was pretty funny to read, mostly in how it lampooned the media and public's obsession with a sensational story even when there are no hard facts to back up anything up.

now i'm reading after jihad: america and the struggle for islamic democracy by noah feldman. feldman is a pretty interesting guy. he was raised an orthodox jew. he holds both an american law degree and a doctorite in islamic law that he got at oxford. he teaches at nyu but us currently in iraq consulting on reforming the legal system there. from what i can tell, he is the most high profile democrat working in baghdad for the occupational forces. i heard an interview with him on npr several weeks ago and was intrigued enough to add his book to my list.

arriving in the mail today was selah a book of poetry by my old friend and fellow blogger josh corey. i want my autograph josh!

blog updates

okay, so i said i was back and then i didn’t post for a while. as usual all kinds of blog ideas have swum (swam? swammun?) around my brain. i was going to blog yesterday, but played civilization instead. you’ll be happy to know that my neglect was for a good cause: my arab armies managed to hold persia at bay. so my conscience is clear.

but now down to business. first i gotta catch up on my blog maintenance. i have updated my blogroll again. another real life (if you can call this real) person i know has a blog. baj is a friend from law school and a fellow world traveler. in fact, we have had an unofficial competition to see who can visit the most countries. she is kicking my ass pretty badly these days, but i will link to her anyway. if you’re currently incarcerated, make sure to send her a love letter.

i also added intl news to my blogroll. i was unaware of his site until he emailed me the other day. i am sure it will quickly become one of my daily reads.

as for the liberal coalition i’ve updated the links to keep up with membership changes. i’d like to welcome steve gillard, echidne of the snakes, and collective sigh to the coalition. You’ve probably been in there for weeks, but, well... i’ve been a little out of it. i’m catching up now.

meanwhile the tao of dowingba has been removed from the list as he has been thrown out of the coalition. i missed much of the back channel communication about the matter because i was away, so i can’t say i know the whole story. generally i am not for throwing anyone out, even if they turn out not to be that liberal. when i first got wind that he would be leaving the coaltion, i planned to keep dowingba on my blogroll anyway. then i read more of his blog. it wasn’t the conservative ideology or his extreme rhetoric (he likes to refer to anything he disapproves of as a “rape”). what got me was his attempt to extort money from the farmer in the comments to this entry. that’s what convinced me that there really is no point in ever referring anyone to this guy. and that, my friends, is probably the last time i will ever link to dowingba’s site.