Public Nuisance

Random commentary and senseless acts of blogging.

The first Republican president once said, "While the people retain their virtue and their vigilance, no administration by any extreme of wickedness or folly can seriously injure the government in the short space of four years." If Mr. Lincoln could see what's happened in these last three-and-a-half years, he might hedge a little on that statement.
-Ronald Reagan

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Friday, May 31, 2002
Eric Alterman and Charles Kuffner, both of whom seem to know baseball better than I do, have been discussing the lack of respect given to Barry Bonds, and agree that it is at least in part due to his unpopularity with professional sports journalists.

That brings to mind a story I read years ago about another player who was famous for surliness to reporters. I believe the man in question was Alex Johnson , a quality player from 1964 - 1976, but well short of Cooperstown numbers.

A reporter asked, "Alex, last year you had 12 homers at the All Star break; this year you only have two. What's the difference?"

Johnson stared at the reporter, thought for a moment, and replied, "Ten, asshole."

More Speech Issues

Google is allegedly censoring ads by noted businesswoman and now blogger Anita Roddick.

Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop chain, took exception to the recent statement by John Malkovich that he would like to shoot Robert Fisk. Specifically, she said, "His threat to shoot Robert Fisk for his honest reportage on Israel is but further evidence that Malkovich is a vomitous worm."

Now on my personal search engine, the name Fisk is much more likely to come up under 'vomitous worm' than 'honest reportage'. But that's no reason why Ms Roddick shouldn't be able to express her contrary view.

After Roddick made the Malkovich statement, google decided that her site violated their policy against "sites that advocate against groups or individuals." That's a pretty broad category. If taken at face meaning, it would ban every political blog I know of that is worth reading, along with quite a few that aren't. (Deciding which category the Nuisance fits into is an exercise left for the reader.)

On Jihad at Harvard

Harvard commencement speaker Zayed Yasin has now announced that he is removing the word 'jihad' from the title of his speech, although he is not changing the text, which very few people have seen. If you need to be brought up to speed on this controversy, the place to go is blogger Matthew Yglesias.

Yasin seems to feel that negative reaction to the word 'jihad' is over-sensitive:

“It’s a speech about the privileged opportunities and responsibilities we have as graduates...and about how these are enunciated in both the Islamic concept of jihad and in American ideals,” Yasin said.

“The idea is that we live in difficult and trying times and we will have to struggle both within ourselves to do the right thing and with very difficult problems that affect our communities,” he said.

Yasin said he is not surprised by the outcry that followed the announcement of his speech title.

“That is part of why I wrote this speech,” Yasin said. “Jihad is not something that should make someone feel uncomfortable. It’s a matter of other people deciding what they think jihad is and attributing to the word the product of their own imagination.”

While not surprised by the reaction, Yasin did say that he was surprised at the vehemence of the response.

“More disturbing is ad hominim attacks upon the work that I’ve done and on my personal life,” he said. “They’re very disappointing. I expected more from the Harvard community. I’m referring to people who have called me anti-Semite, to people who have said I support terrorism...All of these are untrue.”

Now, some of us may remember that last year, shortly after 9/11, George Bush referred to a 'crusade' against terrorism. This was widely condemned and resulted in a mini-controversy that stayed mini mostly because Bush himself immediately withdrew the statement and apologized for using the word.

In the course of this controversy, it was generally allowed that Muslims had the right to be offended by the use of the word crusade. I didn't particularly hear people saying, "Look, those wars ended around 800 years ago. And besides, news flash: your side won. Get over it, for pity's sake."

Nor did people say: "OK, Christians got together and launched a war of aggression against Moslems. So what? The main thing that was unusual about the Crusades is that they were a counter-offensive in a period when Moslems were generally stronger and launched wars of aggression against Christian states in the West, and other non-Moslem states in the East, routinely."

Historically, the Crusades weren't even all that anti-Moslem. The First Crusade took time out on its jouney East to burn and pillage Jewish communities in numerous European cities. Perhaps the most successful Crusade, certainly the one which won the richest booty, was the Fourth, which in 1205 sacked the Greek and Christian city of Constantinople. Crusades were subsequently preached against Cathars and other heretical movements well after any serious attempt at recovering Jerusalem or other strongholds in Moslem lands (other than the remaining Moslem areas of Spain) were forgotten.

In fact, persons of Jewish or Eastern Orthodox faith have easily as much cause to jump at the word 'Crusade' as Moslems. They have, however, managed to live with events of almost a millenium ago.

While it seems to be entirely acceptable that Moslems leap into indignation at a mere mention of medieval atrocities, it is judged in some circles to be less acceptable that Americans are offended by the word 'jihad'. This in spite of the fact that less than one year ago, 3,000 of us were murdered in the name of jihad. In spite of the fact that millions of us personally knew one or more people who were murdered on 9/11 or in the terrorist acts of the present intifada. In spite of the fact that we know without doubt that others as I write are nurturing plots that they hope will result in equal or greater slaughter, in the name of jihad.

Having said this, I am not opposed to Mr Yasin giving his speech. To block the speech based on its subject would be unacceptable and contrary to our values.

However, I do note that the audience at the commencement has their own free speech rights, just as much as the speaker. I do not suggest any attempt to shout down or interrupt his speech, which would be consorship just as bad as barring it.

Speech can, however, take various forms.

Mr Yasin asserts that his concept of jihad is based on the idea "that we live in difficult and trying times and we will have to struggle both within ourselves to do the right thing and with very difficult problems that affect our communities ." These problems are universal, so we should see true jihad as being an opportunity for each of us, not linked to only one culture or religion.

In this broad interpretation of jihad, there are many jihads occurring at any time. A conspicuous current jihad is the struggle of the peoples of the United States and of Israel to maintain our nations against an evil and cowardly enemy that, being unable to strike at us directly, seeks to fight by killing unarmed people, in 'martyrdom' attacks that have no other purpose than to kill and maim the largest possible number of civilians, many of them infants, children, or elderly.

Part of this struggle, in fact much more challenging than mere military victory which is easily attainable for both Israel and the US, is the struggle to remain democratic societies which protect the rights of their Moslem citizens even when some of those citizens seek to undermine their societies, and which respect the rules of law and the laws of warfare while fighting against an enemy that has no respect for either and openly proclaims that their greatest strength is their 'love of death'.

By bringing American and Israeli flags to the event, and displaying them prominently when Mr Yasin is introduced and throughout his speech, Harvard students can demonstrate that they understand that the struggle for a better world is important for all of us, showing that they take Mr Yasin at his word in making their own commitments to jihad as 'struggle for personal growth and for wider peace and justice'.

Res Ipse Loquitur

"I get good advice, if you will, from their people based upon how we're doing business and how we're operating—over and above just the sort of normal by-the-books auditing arrangement."

- Dick Cheney, in a promotional video for Arthur Andersen, explaining how Andersen helped him to cook his company's books while he was CEO of Halliburton. Stolen from a typically excellent piece by Michael Kinsley.
Wednesday, May 29, 2002
SF State University Blogburst

The following column by John Podhoretz appeared originally in the
New York Post.

May 14, 2002 -- The San Francisco Bay area is the new France - and that's not a compliment.

There's been a great deal of attention paid in recent weeks to the horrifying outbreak of anti-Semitism in France. Far less attention has been paid to an outbreak of anti-Semitism in Northern California that seems to be spreading like the awful spiritual disease it is.

Since the start of the year, there have been 50 documented cases of anti-Semitic acts in and around the Bay Area. That is more than three times as many as in all of 2001, according to Jonathan Bernstein of the Anti-Defamation League. He also reports that his office is the only one of the ADL's 30 regional bureaus to note an increase in anti-Jewish incidents.

There have been serious arson attempts on two synagogues. One temple, in Berkeley, would have been destroyed had a neighbor not spotted the fire on the roof. Another, in San Francisco, was pelted with Molotov cocktails.

It's worse at the universities. A man wearing a Jewish ritual skullcap was severely beaten on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley. Students and faculty attending religious services at the Berkeley Hillel, the Jewish meeting house, were pelted with rotten eggs.

The Hillel house itself has been defaced with graffiti.

The comparison with France, where leading politicians have made public statements that stop just short of anti-Semitism and private statments that don't stop, feels to me, as a lifelong Bay Area resident, like a cheap shot.

It doesn't reflect what life through most of the area is like, and it doesn't seem to be based on close study of the facts - the arson incident that Podhoretz places in Berkeley actually took place in Oakland, and press reports I have seen don't mention Molotov cocktails in acounts of either incident.

In fact, the level of tension seems to me and nearly all the Jews I know to be lower than Podhoretz suggests. Even in the notorious People's Republic of Berkeley, the newly-elected president of the ASUC, the highest position in student government, is Jesse Gabriel, a Jew and an active Zionist.

I do not wish to trivialize the incidents that have occured, or imply that there is some 'acceptable' level of anti-Semitic violence that hasn't yet been exceeded. I just mean that the article, which almost sounds as if Jews in the Bay Area can no longer walk down the street without looking over their shoulders, is somewhat overheated.

The worst incident happened last week at San Francisco State University, where there is clearly no division between anti-Israel political sentiment and naked anti-Semitism. Demonstrations against Israel have been a daily occurrence there for months, and the rhetoric on campus has taken a literally medieval anti-Semitic turn.

Laurie Zoloth, a professor at San Francisco State University, put it bluntly and powerfully in a widely circulated e-mail: "I cannot fully express what it feels like to have to walk across campus daily, past posters of cans of soup with labels on them of drops of blood and dead babies, labeled 'canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites.' "

That's the explicit return of the "blood libel," the foul accusation leveled against the Jews of England in the 12th century that they were killing Gentile babies and using their blood in religious rituals.

The poster in question can be found here. It is assuredly true that such blatant racism directed at another ethnic minority (and financed in part through University funds) would never be tolerated.

It is worth noting that none of the groups which issued this repulsive poster have since apologized, with the exception of a pseudo-apology from the Muslim Students Association which essentially states:"We previously announced that Jews are inhuman monsters who murder Arab babies and drink their blood as a religious rite. We have since discovered that they do this for strictly secular reasons. We regret any error, however trivial."

When such expressions of infamy are not challenged, fought and defeated, those who voice them will only get more virulent. And that's what happened on May 8.

In an account confirmed by other witnesses, Laurie Zoloth described the disgusting denouement following a "Peace in the Middle East" rally sponsored by the SFSU Hillel.

A group of students, numbering around 50, had remained to chant afternoon prayers. At that moment, "Counter demonstrators poured into the plaza, screaming at the Jews to 'Get out or we will kill you' and 'Hitler did not finish the job.' I turned to the police and to every administrator I could find and asked them to remove the counter demonstrators from the plaza, to maintain the separation of 100 feet that we had been promised. The police told me that they had been told not to arrest anyone . . .

"The police could do nothing more than surround the Jewish students and community members who were now trapped in a corner of the plaza, grouped under the flags of Israel, while an angry, out of control mob, literally chanting for our deaths, surrounded us. . . . There was no safe way out of the Plaza. We had to be marched back to the Hillel House under armed S.F. police guard, and we had to have a police guard remain outside Hillel."

I can't really comment directly on the demonstration, which I wasn't at. Along with Podhoretz's version of Laurie Zoloth's account, at least one other first person account is included in the blogburst.

It seeks clear from the accounts both of the demonstration and the aftermatn that the SFSU administration has tried to maintain a scrupulously even approach throughout. The moral vacuity of attempting to be 'even-handed' when faced with a conflict between a peaceful demonstration supporting legitimately controversial positions and a counter-demonstration/riot screaming for genocide has been superbly dissected by the Armed Liberal.

Yesterday, following almost a week of silence, SFSU President Robert Corrigan issued a statement about the incident. "A small but terribly destructive number of pro-Palestinian demonstrators, many of whom were not SFSU students, abandoned themselves to intimidating behavior and statements too hate-filled to repeat," Corrigan wrote. "That encounter puts at risk all that we value and represent as a university community."

That's true, but it's insufficient. Had Corrigan more directly addressed the rise of anti-Semitism on his campus in the months preceding the riot, it might have been forestalled altogether. "Despite the claims of some," wrote Corrigan in an obvious effort to criticize Laurie Zoloth, "this is not an anti-Semitic campus."

Jews and especially Zionists facing a degree of hostility on left-leaning campuses is hardly new. There has been much discussion recently of a course taught at UC Berkeley which openly discouraged any students who were insufficiently committed to the cause from enrolling. The same thing happened almost 25 years ago when I was a student at Santa Cruz. A course in beginning Arabic was advertised in flyers with the statement "Anti-Arab racists need not apply." The obvious reference was to the UN resolution that "Zionism is a form of racism."

For some time now, such attacks at SF State have been considerably harsher.

In fairness to University President Robert Corrigan, who has not been looked on favorably in the blogosphere, it should be noted that the major local Jewish publication recently published an editorial asserting that he has been unfairly blamed for the situation. But I found myself unconvinced by the editorial; it mainly persuaded me
that anti-Semitism has been a strong force on his campus for many years and, with I'm sure the best intentions, he has been unable or unwilling to do anything meaningful about it.

That's cold comfort to those Jewish students who have to endure being told on a daily basis that Hitler didn't finish the job. "The students are so brave," Laurie Zoloth told me, sighing. "But they shouldn't have to be brave."

This blog can only comment on one or two facets of the travesty at SFSU. Other dimensions of this incident and the alarming trends it represents are detailed in the full SFSU Blog Burst Index at Winds of Change.

The HappyFunPundit has a clever piece mocking the MPAA for blaming internet file trading for the 'mediocre' (only $100 mil a week) box office returns for Episode II:

I submit that about 99% of the downloads of that movie were by dedicated fans who simply couldn't wait for the movie to open. Do you think such people would then avoid going to see it in the theater? Of course not. The people who downloaded that movie on the internet were the same ones standing in line at theaters for three days and being mocked by Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

In short, the downloaders of that movie are your best customers, Rich. You didn't lose a penny to them. You won't even lose the DVD sales. Those people will buy the DVD, the T-shirts, the toys, the 'Special Edition' DVD, the 'Collector's Edition' DVD, the 'Ultimate' DVD, the "Director's Cut" DVD, the "Foley Artist Commentary" DVD, and a DVD showing the grips working on the droid costumes if you want to sell it to them. They'll buy any Star Wars tie-in product you can come up with. Except, of course, for Star Wars condoms. That idea should die in the planning room for obvious reasons.

Now, Dan is certainly right here on the central issue. But what's wrong with Collector's Edition Star Wars Episode II condoms, made in Yoda, Anakin, and Mace sizes? We all know that authentic fans never open the original packaging on their collectables. This is a perfect match!

Tuesday, May 28, 2002
The already-famous memo by FBI agent Coleen Rowley is now available on the web and makes grim and fascinating reading. The memo certainly strengthens the case that an independent investigation of the intelligence failures leading up to 9/11 is vital.

Nothing here implicates Bush or senior administration officials, except in the very broad sense that as the man in charge Bush is finally responsible for the successes and failures of his watch. And although Mueller certainly doesn't shine in Rowley's picture, it should be remembered that he had been in office only for a few days on 9/11. What Rowley does implicate is the overly centralized and bureaucratic culture of the FBI, which comes across in her account as almost comically unwilling to take any risks. In describing the FBI bureaucrats as risk-averse, I am of course referring to their unwillingness to risk their career prospects, not the lives of Americans which they seemed quite willing to take chances with.

The problems in the FBI are clearly deeply rooted, going back probably to J. Edgar Hoover, the consummate bureaucrat and ultimate control freak. To obtain a simple search warrant for the belongings of a man already in custody, Rowley and her colleagues had to go through several layers of bureaucracy. Incredibly, they still faced bureaucratic roadblocks after 9/11. They had no knowledge of or access to the memo by Phoenix agent WIlliams, who the Post says "marked his memo 'routine,' knowing that it typically takes 60 days for such documents to go through the chain of command at FBI headquarters."

To meet its obligations in the current situation, the Bureau needs major reforms. It has to move into the 21st century, and allow agents who have similar concerns in Phoenix and Minnesota to communicate directly, instead of sending memos to Washington and praying that somebody there will take notice in a month or two. It has to empower its agents to act, instead of waiting for multiple levels of bureaucracy in Washington to review their plans.

A related point has been well made by Charles Dodgson: before we empower the FBI to take extensive new bites out of the Fourth Amendment in order to gather every piece of information it might possibly want, let's first try having it analyze and act on the information it already has.

Are there similar problems with the CIA? Very likely there are. Certainly the CIA, like the FBI, has a history of operating with little external review or accountability. Much more than the FBI, which is fairly continuously tested by the judiciary, it has had the power to mark its failures as 'top secret' and avoid responsibility for them. And before 9/11, it had problems forecasting other minor events, like the complete collapse of the entire Warsaw Pact.

An independent inquiry is the best means to start fixing the problems so that our security agencies can actually make us more secure.

Saturday, May 25, 2002
It's hard to say something original about the Star Wars franchise. It's hard for me; but not just me. Matt Honan has assembled the largest collection of links to blogger reviews and discussions of Episode II in the known galaxy (the Nuisance's review is linked to the Roman Numeral II in the second para), and if you look at several at random, you won't see a lot of startling insights.

If you're Bruce Sterling, however, it's no problem at all.

Thursday, May 23, 2002
From the Trenches of the Drug War - The Straight Facts

"Staff members directed me to physically batter and verbally assault other clients. They gave me this directions when I was a client and when I was a Staff Trainee. I carried them out. So did hundreds if not tens of thousands of other kids. . . As hard as it has been to live with the reality of being clinically abused for nearly two years, it cannot compare with the complete nightmare of living with the fact that I abused other people repeatedly in the name of a thought control cult. It cannot compare with the nightmare of knowing that some of the people I abused have ended up in jail, or dead, and that I contributed to the destruction of their lives."

James, Straight-Atlanta

"Several children attempted suicide while staying with host families, but the attempts were not reported and the children were not treated. . . Some teen-age clients were forced to reveal their sexual fantasies during group sessions. Others were subjected to "spit therapy," where children would spit on each other to reduce their egos."

Jacqueline M. Ennis, formerly head of licensing for Virginia's Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation and Substance Abuse Services, speaking about Straight. [Saint Petersburg Times, 7-31-91]

"So we were very concerned about a program which we looked at as being something of a private jail, utilizing techniques of torture and punishment which even a convicted criminal wouldn't be subject to. . . and I use their terminology--restraint techniques, it would be our terminology that it was child abuse and torture--was directed by Miller Newton."

David Levin, formerly assistant state attorney for Sarasota, Florida commenting on Straight's former national clinical director Reverend Doctor Miller Newton on CBS' West 57th Street (1-21-89)

Samantha Monroe was 12 years old in 1981 when her parents enrolled her in the Sarasota, Fla., branch of Straight Inc., an aggressive drub rehab center for teens.

Barely a teen, Samantha also had no history of drug abuse. But she spent the next two years of her life surviving Straight.

She was beaten, starved and denied toilet privileges for days on end. She describes her "humble pants," a punishment that forced her to wear the same pants for six weeks at a time. Because she was allowed just one shower a week, the pants often filled with feces, urine and menstrual blood. Often she was confined to her closet for days. She gnawed through her jaw during those "timeout" sessions, hoping she'd bleed to death.

She says that after she was raped by a male counselor, "the wonderful state of Florida paid for and forced me to have an abortion."

"Drug War Casualties" by Radley Balko, Fox News

"Straight represents one of the worst excesses created by the drug war environment, where 'anything goes' kind of intolerance toward drug users prevails. It is a cult. plain and simple, of people who seize on parent's frustrations with their youngsters and then subject the kids to torture and brainwashing to make them obedient and drug-free."

Dr. Arnold Trebach, attorney, author and professor emeritus of criminal justice at American University and founder of The Drug Policy Foundation

"According to sworn testimony, Straight often left restrained group members sitting in their own urine, feces or vomit until suitable concessions were extracted."

Dr. Barry Beyerstein

"Straight is not a health care organization. It is a business posing as a health care organization and as a result hundreds of kids have been hurt. All of the business operations consist of fraud, double and triple billing of health insurance companies at the same time and they bill government grants while telling parents they are not the recipients of any kinds of government money."

Janet Kennedy, Ph.D. Pharmacy, MS, Hospital Administration, of Austin, Texas after a private, three year investigation of Straight. [Channel 12, Eye on Tampa Bay Show, 1992]

The above quotes refer to Straight, an abusive drug treatment program primarily for teens. Most come from this web page.

What happens to the person who creates a program like this that, under the guise of therapy, abuses adolescents and destroys their lives? Some of the actions taken against the founders of Straight are listed here:

  • the straight program continues to receive government money - over $400,000 in subsidies in 2000.
  • Governor Jeb Bush declared August 8, 2000 Betty Sembler Day, in honor of one of the co-founders.
  • Her husbard and fellow Straight founder, Mel Sembler, is presently US Ambassador to Italy, after having been Ambassador to Australia for Poppy Bush.

The author of the above article has posted several responses to it on his blog. Thanks to Eve Tushnet for the original reference.

Andrew Sullivan has an interesting post under the title of "THE ABUSE OF MINORS - GIRLS" in today's crop. Of course, applying to Andrew the same standards he applies to the new Alterman blog, it doesn't actually matter that this posting tells a story, important in itself, that also makes legitimate points about the smearing of gay men in the Catholic church's current sex abuse scandal. What really matters is that in three paragraphs actually written by Andrew, two of them quite brief, there are 9 uses of I, me, my, we and our. And furthermore, in the second one, he uses a '(' without a matching ')'. Clearly, this proves that his argument shouldn't be taken seriously and his opinions are simply wrong.

The Nuisance, incidentally, can find only two uses of first person pronouns in his own voice in the last several days' postings, leaving him far behind Messrs. Sullivan and Alterman both. Proving once again that professional pundits are more full of themselves, and often more full of other effluvia, than amateurs.

Unqualified Offerings carries the following report from the International Herald Tribune:

Sometime in the summer of 2001 GID headquarters in Amman, Jordan, made a communications intercept deemed so important that King Abdullah's men relayed its contents to Washington, probably through the CIA station at the U.S. Embassy in Amman....

The text stated clearly that a major attack was planned inside the continental United States. It said aircraft would be used. But neither hijacking, nor, apparently, precise timing nor targets were named. The code name of the operation was mentioned: in Arabic, Al Ourush al Kabir, "The Big Wedding."

Now that code name, "The Big Wedding" is highly significant. For Islamic radicals, it would indicate a suicide operation, since they believe that terrorists are married to 72 virgins in heaven. The invaluable Memri site discusses this in this report:

The death announcements of martyrs in the Palestinian press often take the form of wedding, not funeral, announcements. "Blessings will be accepted immediately after the burial and until 10 p.m. …at the home of the martyr's uncle," read one suicide bomber's death notice.[12] "With great pride, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad marries the member of its military wing… the martyr and hero Yasser Al-Adhami, to 'the black-eyed,'" read another.

Al Risala, the Hamas mouthpiece, published the will of Sa'id Al-Hutari, who carried out the June 1, 2001 suicide bombing outside the disco near the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv that killed 23, mostly teenage girls. "I will turn my body into bombs that will hunt the sons of Zion, blast them, and burn their remains," Al-Hutari wrote. "Call out in joy, oh my mother; distribute sweets, oh my father and brothers; a wedding with 'the black-eyed' awaits your son in Paradise."

The same view is also evident in news reports in the Palestinian press. Thus, for example, the reporter Nufuz Al-Bakri reported the death of Wail 'Awad as follows: "The mother of Wail 'Awad, from Deir El-Balah, did not plan on holding a second wedding for her eldest son, after his marriage on August 10, 2001 to his fiancée in a simple ceremony attended only by the family. But yesterday was Wail's real wedding day, and the angels of the Merciful married him, together with the [other] martyrs, to 'the black-eyed,' as all around [them] rose the cries of joy that his mother dreamed of on the day of his wedding [to his fiancée]."

The phrase "The Big Wedding" would seem to indicate that a large operation with multiple suicide terrorists was planned.

The Tribune indicates that a Moroccan agent inside al Qaeda provided even more specific information, although they include a caveat that this report could not be fully confirmed:

The reports said that a Moroccan secret agent named Hassan Dabou succeeded in infiltrating Al Qaeda. Several weeks before Sept. 11, the story ran, he informed his chiefs in King Mohammed VI's royal intelligence service that Osama bin Laden's men were preparing "large-scale operations in New York in the summer or autumn of 2001." The warning was said to have been passed on to Washington.

Dabou was said to have told his bosses in Rabat that bin Laden was "very disappointed" by the failure of the first bombing of the World Trade Center in February 1993 to topple the towers.

It was also known in 2001 that Algerian terrorists had already been foiled in a plot to fly a hijacked plane into the Eiffel Tower, and terrorists associated with al Qaeda had planned to crash a plane into CIA headquarters.

A suspicious pattern had been observed of Arabs with suspected terror connections taking flight training. A recommendation that other flight schools be checked for similar individuals had been made, but already rejected.

One person with terrorist sympathies who had sought out training in piloting 747s had been arrested. It would seem that his arrest was due much less to FBI competence than an alert flight instructor who had to prod a reluctant FBI to act:

Privy to a briefing by the flight school, [Congressman James] Oberstar said Zacarias insisted on learning to fly a 747 -- even though he couldn't even fly a single-engine Cessna.

An alert instructor called the FBI but Oberstar said he faced a bureaucratic runaround. "At that point, the instructor said, 'do you realize that a 747 loaded with fuel can be a bomb?' It got the FBI agents' attention."

The instructor reportedly told the FBI on Aug. 15 Zacarias Moussaoui might be plotting a hijacking. The next day, he was arrested.

Now, certainly it is easier to piece these bits of data together now than it was in July of 2001. But consider the above facts and the recent statement of Condi Rice:

I don't think anybody could have predicted that these people would take an airplane and slam it into the World Trade Center, take another one and slam it into the Pentagon, that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile. All of this reporting about hijacking was about traditional hijacking. You take a plane. People were worried they might blow one up, but they were mostly worried that they might try to take a plane and use it for release of the Blind Sheikh or some of their own people.

Clearly, nobody at senior levels in the government was thinking about the use of hijacked planes as missiles. But with the intelligence that was available, the failure to at least consider the risk suggests incompetence. The Jordanian report all alone contained the key element, multiple suicides using airplanes. The information from the Philippines shows that al Qaeda had considered this method. And the alleged Moroccan report gives the location and even the exact target.

If the facts weren't being connected, it seems likely that it was because nobody in the new administration was paying much attention. TAP showed evidence, long before the current controversy began, that counter-terrorism was a higher priority for Clinton than for Bush, and probably would have been a higher priority for Gore.

More recently, it has been shown that terrorism was a particularly low priority for Justice under Ashcroft:

In the late 90s the threat of a terrorist attack on US soil became a near obsession in the Clinton administration, particularly in the justice department under Janet Reno. But her successor had other ideas.

On September 10 last year, the last day of what is now seen as a bygone age of innocence, Mr Ashcroft sent a request for budget increases to the White House. It covered 68 programmes, none of them related to counter-terrorism.

He also sent a memorandum to his heads of departments, stating his seven priorities. Counter-terrorism was not on the list. He turned down an FBI request for hundreds more agents to be assigned to tracking terrorist threats.

Given the statement that "A Phoenix FBI agent’s request for a canvass of U.S. flight schools for al Qaeda terrorists was formally rejected within several weeks of his July 10 memo, after mid-level officials at FBI headquarters determined they did not have the manpower to carry out the task", the refusal to hire more agents for counter-terrorism looks particularly damning.

Even assuming that Ashcroft was unaware at the time of much of the above evidence, he certainly knew that Bin Laden had carried out past deadly strikes against US targets abroad and would obviously love to strike at the US itself. He took the threats to commercial airliners so seriously that he stopped using them. So by what logic did he decide that hiring agents for counter-terrorism investigations was a bad idea? What were those seven priorities that all took precedence over terrorism?

One more piece of the puzzle: John O'Neill, who led the FBI's anti-Bin Laden efforts, resigned in August 2001. It should be noted that O'Neill had felt frustrated under Clinton as well as Bush, especially by lack of co-operation in tracking leads in Saudi Arabia. And personal factors, including debts and his ability to gain a large pay increase in the private sector, also probably affected his decision. In spite of those factors, it speaks loudly that the one man in the US government who knew how important stopping Bin Laden was, and had the inside position to know what was being done, was so unimpressed by the Bush administration's pre 9/11 commitment that he just gave up and walked away.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002
As the Kashmir conflict heats up yet again (or maybe it's cooling off today) this article gives an interesting insider account on how President Clinton worked to defuse an earlier crisis.

The Kolkata Libertarian blog, which discussed the same article, has a pretty grim take on the prospect of the current crisis leading to nuclear war.

Monday, May 20, 2002
An anti-terror suggestion by N. Z. Bear has been jumped on by Instapundit and others. Bear noted in response to e-mail that the idea has already been tried in fiction, in the Niven/Pournelle alien invasion saga "Footfall". But there is a far more apropos precedent: it has also been tried against suicide attackers in real life. (Bear mentions this story, and knows that a group of writers including Heinlein worked for the Navy in WW II, but seems to have no knowledge of what the group was up to.) From Miller's outstanding biography of L. Ron Hubbard, "Bare-Faced Messiah", pp 109 - 110:

While he was at Princeton, Ron [Hubbard] was invited to join a group of science-fiction writers who met every weekend at Robert Heinlein's apartment in Philadelphia to discuss possible ways of countering the kamikaze menace in the Pacific. They were semi-official, brainstorming sessions that Heinlein had been asked to organize by the Navy, in the faint hope of coming up with a defence against young Japanese pilots on suicide missions. 'I had been ordered to round up science fiction writers for this crash project,' Heinlein recalled, 'the wildest brains I could find.'...

Heinlein's group never came up with any ideas about how to prevent US Navy losses from Kamikaze pilots.

Pain. Death. Apocalyse. Much of it fun.

The latest installment of Star Wars has impressive effects and fits snugly into the developing story arc of the franchise. The good news is that there is very little Jar Jar. Unfortunately, there is far too much Hayden Christensen, who as Anakin is generally far less lifelike and expressive than Yoda.

But blaming Christensen is not really fair. No actor can fail to look and presumably feel embarassed when delivering lines like (quoted from memory and probably inaccurately):

"I cannot forget the kiss you should not have given me."

"I am not afraid to die. I have died a little bit every day since you came back into my life."

And those really aren't low points, most of the lines and all the romantic parts are like that. All you need is a few misspellings and this dialogue could fit right into The Eye of Argon. Both of the love scenes are downright embarassing. If Lucas can't write dialogue, and he pretty plainly can't, he should take a few thou out of his hundred million budget and hire someone who can. Or hire actors with the wit to improvise, as Harrison Ford did - Ford reportedly changed the pedestrian and boring "I love you too" after Leia admitted she loved him to the rakish, more fitting, and unexpected "I know".

Natalie Portman survives the dreadful lines better than Christensen, although I'm not sure if my favoritism for her is due to actual acting chops, her amazing looks, or her epistolary talents.

As quite a few bloggers have pointed out before me, Yoda is the strongest character in the film, and his light saber duel - far too brief - is the highlight.

Overall, this installment is certainly better than Phantom Menace, reasonably enjoyable but short of memorable. Spiderman was considerably better.

Sunday, May 19, 2002
While nobody was looking, the Bush boys handed out several billion more in tax breaks - and not (surprise) breaks that the average taxpayer will ever see. It was done without going through Congress at all, using obscure regulatory rulings to reduce mostly corporate tax bills.
Saturday, May 18, 2002
Much discussion around blogland recently over just how much intelligence Bush received prior to 9/11 and what was done with it. Certainly there should be a full investigation of the performance of the intelligence agencies. Indeed, it's outrageous that this even has to be discussed; a blue ribbon panel and/or Congressional investigation should have opened up somewhere around 9/12. In what has been released so far, I see nothing likely to do any real damage to Bush's reputation. I would like to see a full look at the suggestions that Bush's close ties to the Saudis, including ties of both Bush pere and fils to the Bin Laden clan, discouraged investigations of that angle. Frankly, I don't expect to; that is enough of a hot potato that it is likely to be dismissed in any official report, leaving us wondering if it really was tin-foil hat speculation or the story got whitewashed.

One question that really isn't partisan has been asked far too little: If John Walker Lindh can infiltrate al Qaeda, why can't the CIA?

Friday, May 17, 2002
Good News for Libertarians

In at least one major agricultural area, the Feds are seemingly way behind the private sector in product quality.
Matt Welch has a post on fear of speaking your mind. Whatever you think of his opinions, you certainly have to admire Matt's courage - if I did actually like Barry Manilow, there's just no way I would fess up in public.
A new column by Joe Conason (I saw it following a link from atrios) has some fun quoting the 'experts' and pundits who were mocking all suggestions last year that California energy prices were being deliberately manipulated.

As good as Conason's column is, it only tells half the story. Those who made fun of 'conspiracy theories' to explain the shortage did have an alternate explanation: blame it on environmentalists. While we're finding out what really happened, let's look back at their wisdom:

Blame for this can be laid at the feet of the environmental community first and, second, government regulators who adopted the negawatt vision of people like Amory Lovins and the Natural Resources Defense Council's Ralph Cavanagh.

For years, environmentalists have said we use too much electricity and don't pay enough for it. For years, they have blocked construction of new power plants in California and tried to eliminate coal-fired electricity from the generating mix in adjacent states and the country at large.

- Frederick Palmer, Environment and Climate News

Environmental groups were taken aback when Bush blamed them for California's crisis. In addition to citing a flawed energy deregulation law, Republicans pinned California's problems on air-quality regulations and environmentalists blocking new power plant construction.

"If there's any environmental regulations ... preventing California from having a 100% max output at their plants, as I understand there may be, then we need to relax those standards," Bush said.

- USA Today

Perhaps it's not surprising to see that Krugman completely ignores a much more obvious cause of California's energy woes — namely, this country's backward energy policies. One of the reasons why California is in such trouble electricity-wise is that power plants across the state have been shut down for violating increasingly stringent clean air laws (though some of them are being reopened as a result of the current crisis), thus causing a power shortfall. Compound this with a Clinton administration that has not only done everything possible to stymie domestic oil exploration (roping off millions of acres from any sort of development via executive order) but has encouraged natural gas usage while discouraging new sources of the stuff from being developed, and you have a recipe for exactly what is going on in California now. More worrisome, California's troubles could also be a harbinger of things to come across the country.

But instead of looking to the true perversions of the market, caused by an EPA and administration who refuse to acknowledge that a limited amount of pollution is the acceptable consequence of industrial activity, Krugman sees evil only in those outfits that are trying to make the best of a bad situation, and warns readers against being seduced by "enthusiasts for market solutions for everything from prescription drug coverage to education."

- James Morrow, National Review

As the California electricity crisis worsened, aides to President Bush repeatedly cited the state's woes as evidence proving environmental restrictions should be relaxed -- specifically recommending that the nation move quickly to open an Alaskan wildlife refuge to oil and gas drilling. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, told the Los Angeles Times that California's crisis is essentially a lesson on the consequences of "environmental extremism."

- Salon

The misbegotten government of California does a miserable job of deregulating by keeping one set of prices high and another set of prices regulated. They have -- but their environmental restrictions, they do not permit the sufficient building of powerplants as they have elsewhere. And now you want the federal government to put price controls on wholesale electricity. Did I did summarize it correctly?

- Bob Novak, Crossfire

In truth, this idea never did make any real sense. California has had tight enviromental restrictions for a long time - most were passed in the 1970s, almost all were in place by the time Jerry Brown left office in 1983. California got along quite well through decades of booming economic and population growth with those environmental restrictions, then deregulation was passed in 1996. Within a few years of its taking effect, the state ran into a catastrophe - at which point it was suddenly discovered that the 'real problem' was those decades-old environmental rules.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002
I followed a link from PejmanPundit to discover this excellent rant by Scott Ganz on the peculiar belief so popular in many leftist circles that every people or tribe on the face of the earth is entitled to their own state - with the unique exception of Jews, whose nationalist apirations are entirely comprised of racism and colonialism. It was the first time I ever encountered Scott's blog - naturally, I added him to my blogroll at once.
The USS Clueless suggests that the "isolation and then release of Arafat was deliberate."

This does seem plausible. Israel got what it needed out of the Ramallah compound, and those who claim that the invasion would only inspire more terrorist attacks have to answer the simple fact that attacks have been far fewer and less deadly since the offensive began. Once that had been accomplished, Sharon was in an excellent position to negotiate with Arafat.

Arafat was nore than happy to trade his followers for protection of his own sorry ass, a development that surprised nobody who has followed his career. For decades now, Arafat has been dedicated to proving that Montaigne's theory that the most violent and cruel men are generally physical cowards.

Having launched three major wars and a host of smaller conflicts, Arafat has walked away from each of them, leaving behind a trail of dead followers and enemies wherever he goes; always loudly proclaiming his eagerness to die for Palestine, but mysteriously failing to do so while he helped so many others to succeed.

His latest deal, combined with his complete inability to answer the Israeli offensive or to govern areas under PA jursidiction effectively, has left him exposed as so blatantly useless that even many Palestinians seem to be catching on. In the short term, they will probably turn to Hamas, leading to further violence and defeat. But in the longer term, the increased power of Hamas may be an improvement.

Remember, nothing we can do discredits the Islamofascists so thoroughly as they discredit themselves when they gain power. Every country where they have gained power they have been dismal, corrupt failures. Iran, the first country to fall under their spell, will soon become the first true Islamic democracy in the region.

Saturday, May 11, 2002
Mark Steyn explains the distinction between hard right, far right, and extreme right, while Rob Walker shows that the media doesn't have to be biased to be bad.
Once More Into the Breach

Edward Boyd has answered my post below discussing his response to Nunberg's response to Goldberg. Ain't blogging great?

I think there is some validity, but also some weakness, to both his criticisms. For his first, the essence of my response certaintly stands even if the Journal is a poor choice of a counter example. Probably the best then would be the Washington Times, which does have at least the aspiration to be a major national daily, and often is. Similar tests could be run on regional papers which are strongly liberal or conservative in slant.

Incidentally, I don't have Lexis access myself, so I can't do any of the possible searches I'm discussing.

On the 2nd point, I agree that the Republicans he has selected are more prominent than the Democrats, and this accounts for most of the large gap in total listings. I'm not convinced that the difference is large enough to account for all of it; again, this would be quite hard to test. Incidentally, I don't think Janet Reno would be appropriate to test against Ashcroft, even if, as two Attorneys General, there is a natural parallel. Most of her career was as a prosecutor, and there really is little basis on which to describe her as a liberal, however much the anti-Clinton forces targeted her. Hillary Clinton might be a better choice here - she is more clearly liberal, although until recently she had no voting record to show it. In her first year as a Senator, her ADA score was a solid 95.

I also played around some more with Edward Boyd's numbers and came up with the following table:

LiberalsRatingCountLabel Pct
Harkin92 3/212 1.42%
Kennedy88 58/1010 5.74%
Boxer 96 22/370 5.95%
Frank 99 13/177 7.34%
Wellstone 99 36/203 17.73%
ConservativesRatingCountLabel Pct
Lott5 38/1291 2.94%
Armey1 13/436 2.98%
DeLay1 52/589 8.83%
Ashcroft3 269/2166 12.42%
Helms3 79/581 13.60%

Incidentally, the total number of conservative labellings is 451, not 441 as given by Zonitics. The media is actually 2% more biased than Edward thought!

This table suggests several points. One is that the conservatives listed really are at least a bit more ideological than the liberals. The 'deviation' - the distance between perfect scores of 0 or 100 and the actual scores totals 13 for the conservatives and exactly twice that, 26, for the liberals.

More striking is that for each party there is a huge gap between individual figures on labelling. This gap is far larger than the gap between the parties - 363% between the most and least labelled pachyderms, and over 1000% on the donkey side. So which names you choose for your list has a huge outcome on the result, and the same test on different politicians might well produce a radically different answer.

Ideology doesn't seem sufficient to explain these results. Maybe Helms really is more conservative than Armey or Lott, but not by this kind of margin. And Wellstone, the most labelled figure of all, is really no more liberal than Frank. I suspect that Frank is labelled as liberal less frequently simply beause he was the first openly gay Congressman, so gets to wear that label instead of the liberal one.

I believe that laziness is a more characteristic sin of the media than bias, liberal or conservative, and this list seems to confirm it. Kennedy and Helms are seen in Washington as Mr Liberal and Mr Conservative, so they are labeled as such 4 times more often than Harkin and Armey, who have marginally more ideological voting records. It's so much easier to write a story about a person or an issue that just says the same thing that everyone else has said a thousand times before. And since you're just repeating the conventional wisdom, nobody is likely to accuse you of bias. I would wager that Feingold is more often described as a 'maverick' than a liberal, although his 98 ADA career score makes him a very solid lib. I never see McCain labeled as a conservative, although his lifetime quotient (9) puts him in with solid cons like Largent (8), Quayle (10), and Graham (9), significantly right of Shelby (23), Stevens (21) and D'amato (23). (These numbers are through 2000, and McCain's votes last year tilted sharply to the center.)

Several bloggers have recently noticed lying in ponds, a web site that analyzes partisanship of different pundits. Some seem to particularly like the fact that Paul Krugman is rated as the most partisan pundit, and Krugman bashing seems to be a popular activity in the blogosphere lately. I have no problem with the site, but I can see two problems with their methodology.

Consider the following statements:

Although President Bush promised when campaigning to use the entire Social Security surplus for deficit reduction, he has not done so in office.

Senator Wellstone regularly consumes crack and ecstasy while partying with hookers, and is usually high on one or both when he staggers to the Senate floor to vote for another tax raise.

The first is stated in moderate language and is demonstrably true. The second is slanderous, filled with loaded language, and a complete fabrication made up for the occasion. By the lying in ponds analysis, each statement would count as one negative reference, and a column containing both would be considered balanced. The site doesn't really attempt to distinguish between facts, opinions, and outright lies, just between praise and criticism.

Also, the method considers a negative comment about a Republican as being effectively pro-Democratic. So a conservative criticising a Republican from the right would make his total score less partisan, even if he was entirely negative about Democrats. The same applies, of course, for a columnist criticising Democrats from the left.

Thursday, May 09, 2002
I don't really care if you call them suicide bombers, homicide bombers, genocide bombers, or suicide terrorists. I do draw the line at 'policide bombers', an ugly neologism proposed on the otherwise sensible Kesher blog. But can we please retire the the use of the phrase 'peace activists' to refer to terrorism supporters? I just think that peace activists ought to be people working for, uh, peace.
The meme of liberal media bias continues to march on, unimpeded by lack of evidence. Andrew Sullivan in a post Wednesday (links to specific postings don't seem to be available for his site) pretends to find it in coverage of the murder of Pim Fortuyn by the New York Times. The Times story as Sullivan quotes read: "Dutch political leaders decided today to go ahead with the general elections next week, even after the killing of Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing politician who had stood a chance to become the country's next prime minister. The police confirmed today that they were holding the assassination suspect, a 32-year-old Dutch environmental activist."

Sully's exegesis: "Notice how a socially libertarian maverick is `right-wing` but an ideological assassin is just an `environmental activist.` Even the Dutch police have described the murderer as an enviro-radical. But extremes, in the Time's p.c. world, only exist on the right." Of course the actual problem with the Times' description of the assassin as an 'environmental activist' is precisely the opposite: it smears millions of law-abiding green activists by lumping them in with a murderous psychopath and precisely because it doesn't label the murderer as an extremist or terrorist leaves the implication that assassination is a normal method of environmental activism.

If the times were to describe Mohammed Atta as 'a religious conservative supportive of traditional family values' it would be blasted, quite properly, for smearing religious conservatives in the comparison. When it does the same thing to liberals, it gets blasted for smearing - conservatives!

On another front, Zonitics tries to actually round up some evidence for the existence of liberal bias. The pseudonymous Mr Boyd has done extensive Lexis searches to demonstrate that the word 'conservative' is attached to the names of conservative politicians more frequently than the word 'liberal' is attached to their opposites. He may well be right, at least for the 5 major papers he looks at, although the numbers he gives aren't totally convincing - if you simply pull out Tom Harkin, who is indeed quite liberal, but is labelled as such only 3 time in 212 mentions, 1/3 of the statistical gap disappears.

The more basic problem is the lack of any evidence for the underlying assumption that a count of labels actually tells you anything about bias. Conservatives often label themselves as conservatives, while most liberals don't actually apply the term to themselves. The reason liberals shy away from the L word is, of course, that the very media which is supposedly so biased in their favor has made it untouchable. Journalists generally use the same descriptive language that their subjects use, such as describing the sides of the abortion controversy as 'pro-life' or 'pro-choice', the terms that the activists generally apply to themselves. Since all the right-wing politicians listed by Nunberg (who started all this) frequently use conservative to describe themselves - and in fact some of the mentions listed are by the politicians themselves or their allies, making them rather poor evidence for liberal bias - and some of the leftists prefer terms like 'progressive' , this is reflected in the count.

Back in March, Patrick Ruffini, yet another conservative blogger, sought to prove the existence of liberal bias by counting the relative frequency of terms like 'right-wing extremist' versus 'left-wing extremist' in, once again, the New York Times. Having found the former far more common he triumphantly announced, like a Sasquatch searcher holding up a plaster footprint, that the existence of the famous liberal bias was now proven. Sullivan enthusiastically endorsed Ruffini's position. Unfortunately, this nonsense attracted the notice of Bob Somersby, probably the best media analyst on the Net. Somersby ran the same test on the Moonie propaganda sheet the Washington Times and found that by the Ruffini test the 'Times' had more liberal bias in Washington than in New York!

If the Zonitics test was run again on undisputed conservative papers such as the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times, and Scaife-owned Pittsburgh Tribune showing the opposite results, it would at least have some evidentiary value. As it is, I find it odd that the 2nd most 'biased' paper in Boyd's analysis is the Chicago Tribune. I could well be out of date on this one, but the Tribune for decades has been famous as the voice of Midwestern conservatism. Absent a drastic change, calling it liberal is rather a stretch.

Another point Boyd neglects to mention: the conservatives are simply mentioned more often in his sample - a striking 150% more. This could be explained by the fact that Republicans were in the majority for most of his sample period, and therefore held committee chairs and other perks of leadership. But the sample does include several months after Jeffords switched the Senate back to Democratic control. It would be interesting to know if since then that ratio has changed. I think there are very few politicians who would consider being labeled in newspapers more offensive than not being named at all.

Also, this story, like all other discussions of the famed 'liberal bias' gets around the very large portion of the media - talk radio, Fox, etc - that is unabashedly conservative agit-prop with little more than the barest glance at balance by simply ignoring it. But the idea that the semiotic imbalances the critics claim to find in newspapers - a shrinking portion of the media universe - outweighs the opinion-making influnce of the 24 Hour Hate heard in so much talk radio is questionable at best.

In the last election, undoubtedly the most celebrated sound bite, repeated thousands of times and plaguing Gore through the entire campaign, was that Gore claimed to have 'invented the internet'. Possibly the next most famous was the story that Gore said that 'Love Story' was about himself and Tipper. Gore never made either statement, yet both were routinely repeated throughout the campaign, producing an image of him as an habitual liar. And we're still talking about liberal bias? Give me a break.

Tuesday, May 07, 2002
The Washington Monthly explains why the best urban renewal program may be a few good gay bars.
Monday, May 06, 2002
Ralph Nader responds at length today in Slate to a devastating critique by a poster in the Fray (the Slate comments area) of Nader's claim to be responsible for the current Democraitic majority in the Senate, citing the close victory of Maria Cantwell of Washington.

The most interesting thing about Nader's response is that it exists at all. This is, after all, Ralph Nader, one of the most prominent leftist voices in US politics for a generation, answering at length a critic who is not even identified by his full name. The fact that Nader even felt called upon to write it is remarkable. Although Slate itself is obviously run by one of the most powerful corporations on Earth, this exchange indicates the power of independent voices on the Net, and says something also about the rising popularity of blogging.

As a self-declared advocate of all things good and decent, one would expect Nader to welcome the Brave New World where an unknown with nothing behind him but a strong argument can force a legendary figure like Nader to an answer. In principle, I suppose he does, but as the victim of this particular Fisking, Nader shows plainly that his affection for real-life empowerment is highly limited. Especially when that real-life empowerment is exposing his own dishonesty and shabby arguments.


The anonymous RonK's extravagant exaggerations in the Fray deserve a reply only because they are communicated to the unwary. As far as anyone knows, RonK was not in the room with my associates, Sen. Harry Reid and his staffer, unless he has access to some secret technology. So, RonK, my response to your prefatory "unless I am very much mistaken" is that you are.

After starting with a gratuitous insult to RonK and his 'unwary' readers (how dare we doubt the truth of Saint Ralph), Nader attacks RonK and again cites Senator Reid as allegedly agreeing with Nader's statements about the Cantwell election. But Nader cites only a private conversation to this effect, not any public statement.

RonK is also a pop psychologist. He aspires to reading minds, Jim—a trait that should provide him with a lucrative avocation. He probes the question of "what is the meaning of us?" "Us" I meant to mean "us"—me and my two associates who responded to Sen. Reid's invitation to meet. I was not claiming responsibility for Cantwell's win; I was merely referring to the numbers and the conditional "If the Democrats want to play the selective what-if game, then. ..." RonK then becomes the political statistician slipping on his premises and sprawling to his conclusions. According to exit polls, about one of three of our votes said that they would not have voted at all if the Green Party slate was not on the ballot. Cantwell wins by about 2,300 votes, loses none to the Greens because there is no Green candidate, and the Nader/LaDuke ticket received about 103,000 votes. Go figure.

Another ad hominem shot at RonK, folllowed by laying out the statistical basis for his claim that the Green vote was responsible for Cantwell's victory. In laying out that argument Nader simply assumes that Green presidential voters, with no Green senatorial candidate on the ballot, must have voted for Cantwell. Neither here nor elsewhere does he address a single one of RonK's 5 specific arguments showing that the spillover from Nader to Cantwell was probably less, perhaps much less, than these numbers suggest.

Instead, RonK confronts his audience with an even shakier tier of hypotheticals, which presumably serve as his premises. Maybe he is a comedian. He overthinks! His next sally encroaches on the land of absurdum. A third-party competitor should be held responsible, he thinks, if he thinks that candidacy cost the least-worst major candidate his victory.

Whatever happened to political competition, diverse agendas, a focus on the concentration of power and wealth in a few hands undermining our modest democracy, and voter choice? Does America belong to just two parties? He should read the history of 19th-century third parties, only one of which won the presidency (the Republican Party in 1860) and view their many contributions that alerted and aroused both citizenry and politicians and pressed for needed reforms and changes (abolition of slavery, women's right to vote, the right to form trade unions, the populist-progressive farmers' revolt, and more).

After some more ad hominem, Nader responds to RonK's argument that "In most accepted systems of ethics, equity and liability, an actor is responsible for the reasonably knowable consequences of his discretionary acts. Nader refuses the weight of this responsibility. He insists instead that his self-aggrandizing performance be judged according to the what-if's of an alternate universe, one with different choices." Or he at least indicates some interest in responding. But hey, why demonstrate that an argument is false if you can instead just label it as "absurdum". That's a lot easier. Did you notice that Nader never actually gives a coherent answer to this argument either? Silly you, stop overthinking!

Nader cites historical examples of reforms championed by minor parties, ands suggests, improbably and without the slightest show of evidence, that his critic is unaware of this history. (Nader's Olympian presumption that if RonK or anyone else really does believe in truth, justice, and the American Way without supporting Nader, ignorance must be the explanation for that contradiction is repeated several times.) But look at the changes Nader himself cites. The only one actually accomplished through a third party was the abolition of slavery. In that instance, the Republicans had little choice but to field their own candidates - both major parties were firmly opposed to abolition. The other reforms listed were all accomplished through the established parties; although they were advocated by outsider parties, they weren't carried out until major parties adopted them.

Nader supposedly ran to build a strong progressive movement. Where exactly is the recent evidence that the effective way to do this is a media ham rushing around the country running a third party campaign? Only 3 such campaigns since WW II have drawn really substantial votes. The most successful one in terms of votes was the Perot campaign of 1992, and a decade later the Reform Party is pretty much dead. The only ones that actually won states and electoral votes were the campaigns of George Wallace (1968) and Strom Thurmond (1948), both run to support a cause which has since deservedly landed in the garbage dump of history.

The progressive movements of the past 40 years which were real successes (civil rights, anti-war, feminism, gay rights, environmentalism) were all built from the ground up without running their own parties. None of them except the civil rights movement even had one dominant national leader; none had a dominant national organization. All owe their policy successes primarily to building up sufficient popular support that the Democratic Party adopted their cause. (The key civil rights bills were supported crucially by liberal Republicans back when that phrase wasn't an oxymoron.)

RonK next accuses by asserting broad factual error. He asserts without being at all factual—thereby inviting readers into his bottomless pit of deception. He moves to a presumed list of recent Republican-Bush moves as if the Democrats would have done just the opposite with action, not rhetoric. (For a list of performances by Clinton-Gore under the heading "Wouldn't President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney Have Done the Same?" see Appendix D from my book Crashing the Party).

In the next paragraph, we find out just how unreliable RonK is. He engages in "broad factual error" and makes statements "without being at all factual". But it isn't specified just what all these falsehoods are - Saint Ralph tells us they exist and that is enough. Heck, RonK is so bad he even has his very own "bottomless pit of deception". Where can I get one of those? I know, buy Nader's latest book.

The crux of this confusingly-worded argument is whether the "election" of Bush over Gore makes a difference. But of course, it is Nader and not RonK who is being dishonest here. Obviously Gore is cautious and the need to raise huge campaign chests means that almost any serious candidate will avoid a direct attack on corporate power, but there is still a large difference between the parties. In fact, the differences are larger than was shown by the campaigns. Both parties promised a tax cut and new Medicare improvements. There was enough money available in 2000 to do both, and Gore probably would have. Bush focussed on passing a tax cut, actually larger than the one he campaigned on, which has eaten up the entire surplus, leaving no money for the Medicare package he campaigned on, which hasn't been heard from since the campaign. At the same time, the intensely regressive Bush scheme delivered no real tax relief to the vast majority of Americans. On the positive side, at least Bush's tax cut did leave no money for his harebrained Social Security proposals.

RonK tells us that he suspects that Sen. Cantwell would have "in a heartbeat" sacrificed her Senate seat for a Gore presidency. He forgets she worked at Real Networks. [Discussion of single payer health care snipped.]

At last a paragraph that doesn't open with an ad hominem attack. Showing he has command of multiple fallacies, Nader instead opts for the non sequitir. Of course, the real point here isn't Senator Cantwell's opinions, since Nader never claimed to be devoted to her, even if he does now claim to have elected her. The real question is the impact of Nader's campaign on the larger goal of progressive action and a better society. This isn't even a remotely close call. Since nothing can actually be done in the Senate without 60 votes, or even more if you need to override a veto, the Democratic majority there is nothing but a brake, a weak one at that, on the right wing initiatives of the Bush government. Gaining the White House is so much more valuable than a narrow Senate majority that no reasonable comparison can even be made. You can bet that not one of the right wingers who are running the White House today, thanks to Nader's efforts, would be stupid enough to trade that for a razor-thin Senate majority.

RonK unmasks his empty rhetoric with his conclusions: "and you know what's good for us, better than we do ... right, Ralph?" That's just what you spent e-mail time doing. What I do is urge others to advance justice as citizens in the arena of deliberative democracy. Always looking for better ways to make cars safer, air cleaner, water purer, corporations more accountable, government more accountable, and have the future a little more foreseeable—all within democratic processes. Someday a book may be written showing a correlation between the quality of communications and their ease of transmission. Letters written years ago between politicians, for example, were much more thoughtful than in recent years because they were rarer events and took longer to get there. E-mail is at the other extreme, quick, cheap, and too often thoughtless. RonK can be advised to think a little more before his fingers fly on the keyboard. For this, he should read a sobering new book, titled Silent Theft, by David Bollier, about our society's commons or commonwealth and how corporations are appropriating it installment by installment. He will receive valuable information about commonwealth that will give thoughtfulness a chance to ponder how a society protects its common assets (public airwaves, public research and development, public lands, public works, and public space).

In his closing paragraph, Nader unmasks his own empty rhetoric with incoherence and condescension. Obviously, he should think a little more before his fingers fly on the keyboard.

Nader feels that the current Democratic Party is too timid and has too little interest in the needs of the poor. This is, of course, substantially true. He claims to believe that the huge number of Americans who don't vote would rush to the polls to elect any candidate who put forward a traditional liberal agenda, which is clearly false, and I suspect he knows it. To justify his desire to run, he put forward the claim that there is no real difference between the parties, another obviously false claim. And knowing that this claim draws the widespread skepticism it deserves, he put out after the election the story that he didn't actually throw it to Bush, which is even more obviously false. And he does all this while loudly announcing that what separates him from other politicains is his fearless truthfulness, even bragging about it in the subtitle of his new book.

Nader's hypocrisy and dishonesty were well covered in a recent book review by Matt Welch

Saturday, May 04, 2002
Finally, a UN investigation that's worth something.
Thursday, May 02, 2002
Max Power, whose interesting blog I just recently noticed, carries an item concerning the current Earth First! trial. Max describes it as "attempting to pin the blame on the FBI when two activists blew themselves up with a pipe bomb. "

That no-doubt-about-it, we-know-exactly-what-went-on-here description keeps the story nice and simple. Pity it doesn't match the facts. Although the activists injured in the bombing, Judi Bari and Darrell Cherney, were both arrested and charged with building the bomb, the evidence was weak and the case never went to trial. The very article that Max links to shows that the FBI is now backing away from some of its own alleged evidence for their guilt, and the FBI's co-defendant in the case, the Oakland Police Department, is trying to distance itself from the FBI investigation.

Max also criticizes an expert witness who testified that the bomb was placed under the driver's seat, suggesting an attack against Bari, whose car it was. The FBI has claimed the bomb was in the back seat, where Bari would have had to know it was there. I admit to having no expertise in explosives, but the FBI claim appears to be preposterous. Don't take my word for it - look at the evidence.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002