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June, 2007

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"It has long been apparent that Cheney's genius is that he lets George W. Bush get out of bed every morning actually believing he is the President."

-- John W. Dean, on Cheney's use of process to usurp presidential powers.

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Calling London

London police have just discovered a second car loaded with similar materials to the one found earlier today. This one had been towed away from a nearby street. For the time being, London has really dodged a bullet. Which means that all of us have dodged a bullet.

I remember in the days following 9/11, how everyone here who knew I was American -- and anyone who didn't but who heard my accent -- made a point to tell me they were with us, and asked me to pass on to everyone at home that we weren't alone. So if there's anyone in London reading this, pass the word: You're not alone. We're with you.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   

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Friday, June 29, 2007

The Vanishing Presidency

When the dust ultimately settles on George W. Bush's presidency, will there be anything left, other than his bullhorn moment on the rubble of the Twin Towers, that we'll be able to point to as an accomplishment? Jimmy Carter largely failed through inaction -- that is harmlessly -- and he did manage to secure a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt. Even Nixon, for all his abuses of power both at home and abroad, made historic diplomatic advances with both the Soviet Union and China.

President Bush has managed to combine the worst aspects of both: Carter's lack of any positive accomplishments coupled with Nixon's assault on the rule of law. Throw in the dissipation of America's moral standing in the world and the erosion of our military capacity, and consider that -- unlike Carter, who never managed to rally his Congressional majority around his presidency -- Bush has managed this spotless record while enjoying sustained support from his party for his first six years in office, and it's truly a feat of Herculean proportions. 

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Friday, June 29, 2007

The Ballad Of The Green Berets

I got to this article kind of late last night, so I linked to it without posting, but it really warrants some closer attention. It ostensibly focuses on how the military leadership of the Special Operations command will soon be rotated out, resulting in the appointment of senior officers who are committed to returning to traditional 'indirect' special operations tactics. But it's actually a pretty severe indictment of the ways in which the Bush administration has misused Special Forces in particular, and the military in general, in response to the attacks of 9/11.

Despite their image, Special Forces have always placed a heavy emphasis on non-combat oriented interventions, especially with regard to counterinsurgency and counterterrorism:

Through the indirect route, support can be overt or covert. But it always is aimed at eliminating safe havens for terrorists. This is done by training foreign militaries, supporting surrogate forces or providing humanitarian, financial and civic backing to areas viewed as possible breeding grounds for terrorists.

But after 9/11, the Rumsfeld Dept. of Defense began to increasingly use Special Forces in combat operations, first in Afghanistan and then even more so in Iraq. In direct contradiction of the command's strategic doctrine, Bush and Rumsfeld have tried to "kill our way to victory".

There's a trend right now to trace our failure in Iraq to an Army culture that never learned the counterinsurgency lessons of Vietnam. But some blame must also go to a civilian leadership that ignored the tools we did have in the toolkit, or tried to apply them to tasks they aren't appropriate for.

The Bush administration's riposte to the attacks on 9/11 was driven more by political considerations than by strategic calculation. But while "Bring 'em on" and "Mission Accomplished" might have made for more virile, macho soundbites, the meticulous counterterrorism operations Bush and Rumsfeld mocked would have made for better policy. The proof lies in the comparison between the Philippines, where they were applied, and Iraq, where they weren't.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Designer Genes

It's always surprised me that both critics and proponents of Intelligent Design overlook the fact that we ourselves are intelligently designing new forms of life. Which means that: a) it's certainly possible that life as we know it evolved from an intelligently designed antecedent; and b) that in no way proves that the intelligent designer was an omnipotent, morally flawless being.

More likely, he (or she) was just a poor schlep in a lab coat on a distant planet, who forgot to wash his hands one day after work, thereby contaminating a soon-to-be-launched space probe with a new strain of bacteria he'd just come up with.

Posted by Judah in:  The Natural World   

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Measuring Success

Gen. David Petraeus' new strategy of going after "al-Qaeda in Iraq" in anticipation of an inevitable drawdown of American forces somehow manages to make perfect sense despite the fact that the justification he offers is at odds with everything we know about the situation on the ground.

On the one hand, getting rid of as many non-Iraqi bad actors before we ourselves pull up stakes seems like a solid first step towards re-Iraqifying the civil war. It would also be madness to allow the jihadists -- who have undoubtedly taken advantage of the chaos and violence in Iraq to recruit and train new operatives -- to consolidate their strategic gains after we've left.

But Petraeus seems to be suggesting that the violence taking place in Iraq is all the result of foreign agitators, and that eliminating them will eliminate sectarian violence as well:

The emphasis on Al Qaeda, described by commanders in interviews here this week, marks a shift in focus from Shiite Muslim militias and death squads in Baghdad. It reflects the belief of some senior officers in Iraq that the militias probably will reduce attacks once it becomes clear that a U.S. pullout is on the horizon...

Al Qaeda's attacks against Shiite religious sites and civilians brought the Shiite militias into the conflict last year, Petraeus said. Reducing the threat of Al Qaeda will reduce the militia threat, he added.

Of course, the "Golden Mosque narrative" has already been debunked, so while the campaign against foreign agitators is strategically sound, it's just not for the reasons given.

This little nugget, on the other hand, better explains some of the urgency behind the shift:

The fight involves the kind of high-intensity operations that play to U.S. strengths. It pits American forces against an opponent that the U.S. public already considers an enemy, and provides clear "metrics" for measuring success.

After largely steering away from body counts of insurgents for most of the Iraq war, U.S. officials recently have been reporting the number of militants killed in operations against Al Qaeda.

Now, we already know what happens to the logic of these kinds of "metrics" because we've seen them before. If the US military is targeting Viet Cong al-Qaeda, then anyone it engages becomes, by definition, Viet Cong al-Qaeda. Meanwhile, body counts get inflated by any innocent bystanders who happen to get caught in the crossfire.

For the time being, Petraeus' team is avoiding overly optimistic appraisals. It will be interesting to see how much that changes as we approach September.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bandar's Cut

Following the spate of stories this month about Tony Blair shutting down an investigation into BAE's greasing Prince Bandar's palm to the tune of $2 billion, the Justice Department has opened an investigation of its own. Ostensibly, they'll be trying to determine whether the funds that BAE pumped into a Stateside Saudi governmental account were for Bandar's personal use or for his official functions, as he claims.

But the real question is, Why all the attention now? A friend of mine here, a Dutch ex-pat who worked on the original Yamamah contract in the 1980's auditing the construction component, told me that the kickbacks in general, and for Prince Bandar in particular, were common knowledge from the very beginning, to the point of being a running joke in the accounting department. It's also not the first time that investigations into the project were opened and closed. So, again, why an investigation into a business deal between two close allies, and why now?

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   Media Coverage   The Middle East   

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Fool's Errand

This is what I was talking about when I said it would be stupid for Tony Blair to accept the Quartet Middle East Envoy position, but even stupider to offer it to him.

Update: This, too. 

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sarko The Generous

As promised, Nicolas Sarkozy just named a Socialist, Didier Migaud, to preside over the Parliament's Finance Commission (the French rough equivalent of the House Oversight Committee). Its president can demand audits and investigations of the government ministries, as well as refuse any legislative amendments that effect spending (ie. pork-barrel spending). As such, the position provides ample opportunity to interfere with the government's agenda, and this is the first time it has been offered to a member of the opposition. Needless to say, the PS has minimized the significance of the appointment, while Sarkozy's UMP has expressed its concern that it not be abused.

The move needs to be understood on two levels. Previously, the only way the opposition could block the government's agenda was to call for a vote of censure, or no-confidence. Obviously, that's only effective if a sizable portion of the majority is in open revolt against the government as well. Individual laws can also be referred to the Constitutional Council, but their decision is not guaranteed. So in offering the position to the Socialists, Sarkozy has, as he claims, expanded the institutional status of the opposition.

But it also reflects a classic Sarkozyian negotiating strategy. Namely, to make a concession that was not asked for as a conciliatory gesture, in order to strengthen his ability to demand the concessions he himself wants from his adversary later on. That way, in the event he ends up forcing his position through, he can always lay the blame on the other side's intransigence.

It's also meant to directly challenge the image of Sarkozy as a dangerous authoritarian who can't be trusted. By putting the ball in the Socialists' court, he's reframed the debate. He still holds all the levers of power, but the question becomes whether the Socialists will adopt an obstructionist position, or a cooperative one.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

These Go To Eleven

I just got back from Nîmes, where I saw a friend's band play in the city's 2000-year old Roman amphitheatre. The juxtaposition of ancient and modern was intentional. But it was still kind of weird to consider that men once fought to the death in the same arena to keep the masses entertained.

Anyway, between hanging out the night before, the show itself, and the party afterwards, I didn't get much sleep the last few days. Also, it's admittedly been a while since I've been to a major concert, but it seems like the decibel level has gotten off the hook. All that by way of saying I'm wiped, so serious posting will have to wait till tomorrow.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Open Thread

Posting will be light for the next few days. If you've run across anything interesting, pop it in the comments. I'll be back on Wednesday.

Posted by Judah in:  Open Thread   

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Not So Fast

I dashed off an analysis of the Socialists' surprise comeback in second-round parliamentary voting last Sunday. But it was a bit short notice to get it placed anywhere. So in the interests of keeping you all well-informed about the ins and outs of French politics, I offer it to you here as a freebie:


Not So Fast

It’s not quite “Dewey beats Truman”, given that they didn’t actually win the election. But in turning back the UMP’s forecasted “blue tsunami”, the Socialists did manage to take some of the polish off of Nicolas Sarkozy’s victory. Given up for dead just last week, the PS not only avoided a humiliating defeat that had seemed all but certain, they gained (along with their PRG allies) more than fifty seats over their 2002 results. Combined with the small Communist and Green delegations, they limited Sarkosy’s UMP and its allies on the right and center to a 60 percent parliamentary majority, instead of the predicted 70-75 percent.

It’s a testament to how low expectations were that the results reinvigorated the Socialists’ flagging spirits. But while the second-round surge served as a political reprieve for the beleaguered party, it was unclear how lasting the impact would be on its longterm stability. It certainly did nothing to resolve the structural problems that make a clarification of ideology and leadership increasingly necessary. Split between a left-wing determined to preserve the party’s traditional progressive posture, and a social-democrat faction veering increasingly towards the electorally promising center, it seems the PS can only set aside its internal differences when faced with potential disaster.

And even that for only short periods at a time, as demonstrated Sunday evening by a headline announcing in the same breath the separation of the party’s reigning power couple, Ségolène Royal and François Hollande, and Royal’s intention to succeed Hollande as party chairman. No sooner do the Socialists dodge a bullet, it seems, than they re-load the gun and take aim at their foot once again...

Read the rest>>

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Friday, June 22, 2007

leaving l.a.

i finally left l.a.
when the smog got too thick.
it was all my fault,
of course: the smog
and everything.

Posted by judah in:  Verse & Prose   

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Friday, June 22, 2007

The Homefront

Given what we know about how Special Operations units have been used abroad in the War on Terror, the fact that they're being incorporated into domestic anti-terrorism planning is more than a little troubling. I said yesterday that the logic behind their extra-legal methods is expansive. Unless there's more transparency as to what these units are authorized to do, this is a very dangerous precedent.

Via Danger Room

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Afghan Women

One of the major accomplishments of the invasion of Afghanistan was the impact it had on Afghan women. At least, that's what was supposed to happen. Of course, changing a culture isn't that easy, so it's no surprise that the results have left a lot to be desired. But keeping Afghanistan a priority might have made a difference.

IRIN, an independent news outlet for the UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, has produced a short film (about 20 minutes) illustrating some of the hardships Afghan women still face, including high rates of maternal mortality during childbirth, lack of education, and high rates of domestic violence and abuse. (WMP or RealPlayer. Or else here's the transcript.)

We didn't create these problems. But we did suggest that we'd stick around long enough to help solve them. We let more than just Osama Bin Laden get away in Afghanistan. We also lost an opportunity to demonstrate that we were willing and able to help people rebuild.

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Blair Ditch Project

One problem with the idea of recycling Tony Blair as some sort of Middle East envoy is that, unless I've missed something, he doesn't have any credibility in that part of the world. Usually what you look for in a statesman/envoy is either an old hand with tons of diplomatic capital, or else a prominent politician coming off a winning streak. Blair doesn't qualify on either score. He's practically sneaking out of Downing Street by the back door, and he's regarded around the world as Bush's dupe. He'd be a fool to take the gig, but we'd be even more of a fool to offer it to him.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Living Large

Apparently, a "mysterious guest" at the Paris air show is planning to buy an Airbus A380 for use as his "private limousine". Unit cost? $300 mil, as of 2006. Kind of gets the imagination going, doesn't it?

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Reality Principle

He doesn't quite formulate it this way, but it's reasonable to conclude from Gawdat Bahgat's article in the latest issue of Parameters that the price of stability in the Persian Gulf and Middle East is an acceptance of Iran's recent strategic gains and enhanced influence in the region.

Now, this makes a lot of sense to me as a policy prescription, but also as an insight into why the Bush administration Iran hawks are so deadset against diplomatic engagement. Because the last thing they want is to concede the shift in strategic advantage that has taken place in the region over the last four years. What's odd about that, though, is that Iran's recent strategic gains and it's enhanced regional influence are both very real. Refusing to concede them is simply a state of denial.

What's also obvious to anyone who's been paying attention is that brandishing the military option, far from being a sign of American strength, is a testament to the weakness of our current position. After the invasion of Afghanistan, the Iranians came to us with offers on the table because they feared the combined threat of American military capability backed by the legitimacy of global support. If they are playing hardball now, it's because they've accurately assessed that their relative position has been greatly strengthened, and ours weakened, by the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and southern Lebanon.

The refusal to accept that the regional balance of power has shifted is not surprising, given the logic that underlies the neocon vision: America should defend its global hegemony by preventing its geopolitical rivals from developing into threats. It's an inherently comforting vision, suitable for a static world where we do in fact control all the outcomes. Accepting reality, though, works better for the world we actually live in.

Reality now demands that we choose between another five years of high-intensity warfare followed by twenty to forty years of massive garrisons in the region -- with no real guarantee that we'll achieve our goals and a certainty that even if we do, China will have taken full advantage of our folly to leapfrog us as global superpower -- or else reaching an accomodation with Iran.

That accomodation doesn't necessarily have to be a friendly one. It might even be based on the US serving as guarantor -- in the form of offshore, sub-launched nuclear warheads -- of a regional "mutually assured destruction" deterrant. But it's our best option for preserving our longterm strategic interests both in the region and the world.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

President Bush's Revolutionary Guard

Most of the jaw-dropping revelations from Seymour Hersh's latest article detailing Maj. General Antonio Taguba's investigation of the Abu Ghraib scandal have already been circulated widely. Certainly, the fallout the investigation had on Taguba's career is a tremendous injustice, and the possibility that Rumsfeld and the White House knowingly lied about when they first learned of the abuse ought to be investigated by Congress.

But what I found as shocking and perhaps more significant is the extent to which, according to Hersh's sources, the Bush administration has resorted to the use of rogue intelligence units that respond not to a chain of command subject to oversight and regulation, but to the verbal -- hence deniable -- command of the Sec. of Defense and the President. Here's Hersh:

...Shortly after September 11th, Rumsfeld, with the support of President Bush, had set up military task forces whose main target was the senior leadership of Al Qaeda. Their essential tactic was seizing and interrogating terrorists and suspected terrorists; they also had authority from the President to kill certain high-value targets on sight. The most secret task-force operations were categorized as Special Access Programs, or S.A.P.s.

The military task forces were under the control of the Joint Special Operations Command, the branch of the Special Operations Command that is responsible for counterterrorism... In special cases, the task forces could bypass the chain of command and deal directly with Rumsfeld’s office. A former senior intelligence official told me that the White House was also briefed on task-force operations...

J.S.O.C.’s special status undermined military discipline. Richard Armitage, the former Deputy Secretary of State, told me that, on his visits to Iraq, he increasingly found that “the commanders would say one thing and the guys in the field would say, ‘I don’t care what he says. I’m going to do what I want.’ We’ve sacrificed the chain of command to the notion of Special Operations and GWOT”—the global war on terrorism.

Of course, we already know about this administration's secretiveness, as well as it's willingness to engage in illegal activity. And the use of deniable and even unseemly backchannels for "les raisons d'état" is nothing new.

But what Hersh is describing amounts to more than just a formal kidnapping and torture operation that serves "at the pleasure of the President". It suggests the creation of a parallel apparatus that operates so far off the radar that it exists outside the limits of institutional loyalty or control. This is tantamount to a personal secret police for use as the President sees fit.

For the time being, as far as we know, it only operates abroad. But there's a reason why this sort of rogue force is so repugnant to democratic principles. That's because the logic behind it, that of the primacy of national security over the rule of law, is an expansive one. And the limits on it tend to grow weaker with time.

It also raises a frightening question. What happens to Bush's secret police once he leaves office?

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Above all, you must not take yourselves seriously. Your job, on the other hand, that's serious."

--Nicolas Sarkozy, addressing the first ministerial meeting of his new government. (Translated from the French.)

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Out Of Breath... Alyzer

Here's Nicolas Sarkozy's version of the events leading up to his now-famous G8 press conference:

I was late, so I took the stairs four at a time. I didn't have anything in particular to say. So I asked if there were any questions. I don't drink a drop of alcohol. Not because I'm virtuous: I just don't like it. (Translated from the French.)

Since I originally posted the video clip, the Belgian TV announcer who introduced it has apologized for suggesting Sarkozy was drunk. Because by all accounts, Sarkozy's actually a teetotaler. Which is somewhat surprising given his macho style. Somehow I could see him giving in, "just this once", so as to keep Putin from one-upping him. But his version is plausible, too... I suppose.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Shanghai Project

Okay, so it wasn't in Shanghai. But the American nuclear factories weren't in Manhattan either. Anyway, here's what the working conditions for the Chinese teams that produced the country's first H-bomb were like:

At that time, there were hundreds of thousands of people in the site, living in caves and eating barley and millet flour with a little oil. The only dish they could eat was Chinese cabbage soup. If they felt hungry, they could gather wild vegetables. Wang Jingheng said although life was hard, people's spirit were very good, hopeful, and positive.

That was forty years ago. You've come a long way, Baby.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Kiss Of Death?

I'm not sure whether this is good news or bad news for Fred Thompson's presidential hopes, but George "Macaca" Allen thinks he'd make a good candidate.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Balkanizing The Middle East

Usually, when I skim The Weekly Standard, the urge I feel to respond to their most flagrant diatribes dies down into a half-hearted, "What's the use?" before I even get done reading the thing. The more outrageous the assertions, the more quickly the urge to respond evaporates.

Oddly enough, though, an article that presents some unconvincing arguments against a policy proposal that I myself have trouble with, like Stephen Schwartz' critique of the Biden plan to partition Iraq, seems to do the trick.

Schwartz' main problems with the plan are that it's based on a rosy assessment of the partition of the former Yugoslavia, and that it rewards Sunni bad behavior by creating a moral equivalency between aggressor and victim.

I don't find his reasoning very compelling. My own problem with the plan has always been that its success depends on something that has never existed: A stable power-sharing arrangement among the three Iraqi constituencies. Whether across "soft" borders or within hard ones, if the willingness to set aside violence as a means of settling disputes isn't there, the plan won't work. And imposing a ceasefire from above will not only be near-impossible. It will further exacerbate Iraqi resentment of the occupying powers.

That said, the entire region from Pakistan to the Horn of Africa seems to be reaching a critical mass of violent instability right now, due in large part to the Bush administration's policies. If spreading the chaos was part of the neocon plan to provoke a final region-wide confrontation, they overlooked one important detail: the continued instability works more to our enemies' advantage than to our own. The porous borders and perpetual battlefields are being exploited by global jihadists to recruit and train the next generation of terrorists to broaden the conflict to North Africa and Western Europe.

Now, like it or not, the writing's on the wall: The era of inclusive solutions has come to a close. If you want a taste of things to come, just take a look at the world's response to the Palestinian civil war. And, as several people have already pointed out, there's an inherent contradiction in advocating for the partitioning of Gaza from the West Bank, while rejecting such a plan for Iraq. Or Lebanon, or Waziristan, or Somalia, et cetera ad infinitum.

None of which makes the Biden plan any more likely to succeed. Just more likely to be implemented. 

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   The Middle East   

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Awkward Comparison

Kevin Drum thinks Hillary Clinton's spot introducing her campaign theme song is pretty cute. Maybe. Seems a bit odd to me. The set-up plays off the Sopranos finale, with Hillary and Bill as the Sopranos. There's a menacing guy glancing over at them, Chelsea screeching her wheels against the curb outside, and Bill eating carrots instead of onion rings.

Of course, it isn't the first time the Clintons have been compared to a crime family. Normally it's a tinfoil hat-wearing Arkansan making the comparison, though. Also, the consensus analysis of the Sopranos finale seems to be that Tony got whacked at the end. Which means the spot essentially portrays a former president and an aspiring one being targeted for a hit. Even worse, it plays it for laughs.

Like I said, seems a bit odd to me.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Hurricane Carter

He's certain to pay for it, but I suppose at this point Jimmy Carter is used to getting slammed every time he opens his mouth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This time he's come out diametrically opposed to the developing conventional wisdom that rewarding Fatah and isolating Hamas is the only way to respond to the Palestinian civil war:

"This effort to divide Palestinians into two peoples now is a step in the wrong direction," he said. "All efforts of the international community should be to reconcile the two, but there's no effort from the outside to bring the two together."

Carter also condemned the failure of the EU and US to recognize the Hamas government, which won elections in 2006 that were monitored by the Carter Center:

Far from encouraging Hamas's move into parliamentary politics, Carter said the US and Israel, with European Union acquiescence, has sought to subvert the outcome by shunning Hamas and helping Abbas to keep the reins of political and military power.

"That action was criminal," he said in a news conference after his speech.

Of course, this comes pretty close to Daniel Levy's analysis over at Prospects for Peace. Something tells me Carter's going to take a bit more heat for it than Levy, though.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Who's Dividing Whom?

The first thing that occured to me while reading this Spiegel interview with Bahaa Balusha, the director of the Palestinian Authority's intelligence services, is that he's basically running through, word for word, the same talkingpoints that we've been hearing from American hawks for the past few months. He claims that a group of foreign jihadists helped direct Hamas' successful coup, that Hamas forces were trained in Iran, Syria and Lebanon "to eliminate political enemies using explosives and raids", and that Iran and Syria have deliberately provoked the violence in Gaza and Lebanon to make the US and Israel think twice before launching an expected attack.

Oddly enough, these are exactly the kinds of things you'd expect someone who's reaching out to the Bush administration to say. Which doesn't necessarily mean they aren't true. It just means they make for a very convenient analysis.

What struck me as more revealing, on the other hand, was his prediction that Hamas would now devolve into factional fighting and destroy itself within four months. More specifically, this:

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is practically powerless already. No one listens to him any longer. The hardliners Haniyeh had to sacrifice in order to form a unified government with Fatah will take their revenge on him for having done this.

Was the Fatah-Hamas unity government just a trap all along, forced on Haniyeh by the Saudis to destabilize an Iranian proxy? Maybe I've been following French politics too closely. But it sure made me wonder.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sarkozy And Le Pen

Before leaving for an EU summit, it's customary for the French president to receive the heads of the major political parties, in addition to a few other respected political figures, for a consultation at the Elysées Palace. With one notable exception. In his twelve years in office, Jacques Chirac categorically refused to meet with Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the extreme right National Front party, despite the FN's legal standing as a legitimate political formation.

So it's noteworthy that Nicolas Sarkozy has decided to meet with Le Pen tomorrow, in advance of the gathering of European heads of state to negotiate the EU's constitutional "mini-treaty". Sarkozy managed to attract a significant portion of Le Pen's followers during the presidential campaign by appropriating the FN's traditional themes of "national identity", immigration reform, and law & order rhetoric. The major question was whether this was just a clever, if cynical, electoral calculation, or whether he would attempt to maintain the new converts once in office.

Sarkozy's EU policy is diametrically opposed to Le Pen's, who advocates withdrawing from the Union. So there's little chance that the meeting is anything but symbolic. But the symbolism is significant. Chirac's one ironclad rule in politics was, "Ne jamais composer avec l'extrême droite." (Never join with the extreme right.) It was less a question of formal alliances -- which were out of the question -- than a moral dictum, a sort of political ex-communication whose logic led him to refuse to debate with Le Pen during the 2002 run-off election.

Sarkozy has obviously decided to take Le Pen off the Index. It remains to be seen if it's the first step in a progressive rehabilitation or simply a public relations move. Either way, it lends legitimacy to Le Pen and credibility to the image of a Sarkozy willing to pander to the extreme right.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Moral Relativity

With all the recent headlines about Turkey and the PKK, this is the first time I've seen an actual interview with a PKK leader. Michael Howard of The Guardian spoke to Cemil Bayik, one of the PKK's two chiefs, who had this to say about his group:

Mr Bayik said the PKK, which began life 30 years ago advocating a pan-Kurdish Marxist-Leninist state, was no longer a separatist movement. "We are not looking for independence, we are not even looking for federalism like the Iraqi Kurds have. The solution lies in granting the Kurds of Turkey language and cultural rights and freedom of speech."

He also denied that the group targeted civilians, and declared that they would welcome dialogue to resolve their conflict with Turkey.

According to most accounts I've seen, Turkey's record on the Kurds is pretty bad, and although Ankara has undertaken some reforms (mainly due to EU pressure), they've been pretty half-hearted. On the other hand, the US and EU have both listed the PKK as a terrorist group.

So there you have it. Looks like the final betting line on this one is "Pick 'em."

By the way, talk about a byline: Michael Howard in the Qandil Mountains. Indeed.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"The question you have to ask about the president is this: No matter when he learned -- and certainly he learned before it became public, and no matter how detailed it was -- is there any evidence that the president of the United States said to Rumsfeld, what's going on there, Don? Let's get an investigation going."

-- Seymour Hersh discussing the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Monday, June 18, 2007

When Nicolas Met Cecilia

Speaking of the candidates' romantic lives, that reminds me. The American press has mentioned Nicolas Sarkozy's "Brady Bunch" family, consisting of his two sons from a first marriage, his wife Cecilia's two daughters from a first marriage, and their son from their own marriage. And they've also mentioned their brief but highly publicized separation a couple years ago.

What I've never seen mentioned is the circumstances under which they met. Here in France, if you choose to get married in a civil ceremony, you go down to city hall where the mayor performs the wedding. Which is what Cecilia did when, at the age of 27, she married 51-year old television star Jacques Martin in the city of Neuilly. The mayor of Neuilly at the time? 29-year old political wunderkind, Nicolas Sarkozy.

As the official story goes, it wasn't until three years later that they met again and fell madly in love with each other. Each left their respective spouse, and they eventually married in 1996.

People talk about Rudy Giuliani's marital baggage. But try getting that one over in American politics today. Chalk it up to l'exception française.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Royal Flush

The other item making headlines today was the announcement that France's premier power couple, Ségolène Royal and Socialist Party chairman François Hollande, have separated. She immediately declared herself a candidate to succeed him when he steps down from his functions next year.

Talk about a custody battle: "Oh, and honey? One more thing... I get the Party."

Yikes.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Monday, June 18, 2007

The Blue Ripple

The major news this morning here in France was the surprising rebound of the Socialist Party in the second round of the legislative elections. While Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP still managed to win a 60% parliamentary majority, it was nowhere near the 75% tidal wave that had been forecast as late as a few days ago.

There are a number of explanations, including the UMP coming down with a case of political tone-deafness between the two rounds. Talking about raising the sales tax by 5% in order to make up for a reduction in corporate payroll taxes, for instance, isn't exactly how you gather people behind an economic reform package.

But the real message sent by French voters was that they still believe in the value of a strong opposition. They gave Sarkozy the comfortable margin he needs to pass his reform agenda. But by saving the Socialists from electoral meltdown, they guaranteed that someone would be around to keep him honest.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Sunday, June 17, 2007

Think Locally, Act Globally?

I'm not sure what to make of this survey from the recently released Pentagon report on security in Iraq. When asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "I feel safe and secure in my neighborhood", 77 percent of Iraqis replied that they agreed. On the other hand, only 32 percent agreed with the statement, "I feel safe and secure outside of my neighborhood."

Here's a graphic breakdown of the results, province by province (p. 26):

Unfortunately, the same question wasn't asked in any previous versions of the report, so there's no way to compare the results over time. A similar question that was asked both in this month's report and the one from March, though, was "How would you describe the tensions in your neighborhood today?" vs. "How would you describe the tension in the country today?" The contrast between perceptions of local tension and national tension was just as dramatic, even if both clearly trended towards less tension over the last six months. (The survey, which appeared in March's report, was conducted in January.)

Now if this were a sign of serious progress against sectarian violence, you'd expect not only for the responses to trend positive, but for the gap between local and national perceptions to narrow significantly. And they haven't. Besides, as the number of daily casualties indicates, violence against civilians has remained steady since the surge, even if the Pentagon no longer categorizes it as sectarian.

On the other hand, it could be confirmation that the partitioning of Iraq into ethnically cleansed communities -- within which one feels safe but outside of which one doesn't venture -- is already a fait accompli. And the fact that this has done nothing to reduce sectarian violence seems to undermine the argument, advanced notably by Joe Biden, that dividing the country into ethnically segregated regions will head off civil war.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Saturday, June 16, 2007

Some Of His Best Friends...

After a couple e-mails to the Romney campaign asking whether I was correct in concluding that of the 50 members of his Faith & Values Steering Committee, not a single one was Jewish, Muslim or Mormon, and if so, what the reasoning behind that was, I got this four-word response:

Paul Driessen is Jewish.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. Mitt Romney's Faith & Values Steering Committee doesn't even include his own faith & values. Or Muslims'. Jews, on the other hand, are disproportionately over-represented compared to relative population (2% of the committee vs. 1.6% of the population).

I've contacted the World Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the Council on American-Islam Relations, and the Islamic Society of North America to see if they have any thoughts on the matter. I'll keep you posted.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Friday, June 15, 2007

The Gitmo Delusion

Jonathan Hafetz calls attention to a confusion of categories resulting from the nature of the war on terror, which calls into question the way in which we determine and deal with enemy combatants. Basically, it boils down to the difference between enemies and suspects:

...In World War II, for example, there was little question that captured German or Japanese soldiers were, in fact, enemies. At the same time, their detention was limited to the duration of a war that had a clear and definite end, and they were afforded the protections of the Geneva Conventions.

But neat divisions between detention and trial break down when applied to the administration's "war on terror," which has no identifiable enemy or battlefield. As a result, it is easy to mistakenly detain people based upon suspicion, innuendo, or mere association. At the same time, detention as an "enemy combatant" amounts to a potential life sentence, since the "war on terror," the administration says, may last generations...

Terrorism by definition presents an epistemological challenge that conventional warfare doesn't. The first hurdle is being sure we know who the enemy is. Not in the abstract, on the level of terrorist organizations that we can identify as threats. But in the concrete expression, on the level of individual operatives where, besides the most visible few, there remains a doubt.

A correlary effect of terrorism, therefore, is a form of justified paranoia. Doubt about who the actual enemy is leads to the perception of everyone as a potential threat. In aggravated cases of paranoia, of course, doubt gives way to a compensatory certainty, and everyone is perceived as an actual threat.

Now consider that the mere suspicion of being an enemy combatant routinely leads to secret detention and torture, and that any evidence obtained through that torture is permissible in the CSRT (the hearings that determine whether someone is an enemy combatant). Knowing what we know about the unreliability of tortured-induced self-incrimination, this means that the mere suspicion of being an enemy combatant will most likely result in actually being classified one.

It's a neat way to solve the problem of filling up our detention centers with people we call our enemies. It might even serve the useful function of providing enough "confirmed" terrorists to prevent a collective slide into full-scale, psychotic paranoia. But it does nothing to solve the problem actually presented by terrorism, that is, knowing for sure who our enemies are.

The problem with militarizing the response to terrorism is that war is not an effective tool for determining competing truth claims. The American legal system, on the other hand, whether criminal or military, is. Until the enemy combatant review procedures are brought into line with traditional American jurisprudence, they will continue to function as a placebo, when what's needed is real justice.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Friday, June 15, 2007

More Dept. Of Shameless Plugs

For anyone interested in French politics, I've got another article up over at The American Prospect. This one's about the legislative elections, and in particular, how Nicolas Sarkozy turned a hard-fought presidential victory into an overwhelming parliamentary majority in just over a month. Drop any feedback you might have in the Comments here.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   Media Coverage   

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Chutzpah

President Bush, thanking Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey on his service in Iraq:

It's an extraordinary country where people volunteer to go into combat zones, to protect the security of the United States of America.

That makes me see red, and I've never even been in the military. I can only imagine how it makes a three-star general feel.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Out Of The Ashes?

Yesterday I expressed what seemed like a naive, desperate hope that something good might come out of the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. But it looks like it wasn't so naive after all:

Because Fatah recognizes Israel and past peace agreements, a boycott of the Palestinian government imposed by Israel and the international community after Hamas' electoral successes may no longer apply to the West Bank — only Gaza.

"The fact that President Abbas has fired the Hamas government is a very positive move in our opinion, and makes it easier to deal with and help the moderates," Miri Eisin, a spokeswoman for Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said Friday.

Now would be a really good time for a unilateral gesture of faith by the Israeli government. Not just because some good news from that part of the world would make a big difference right now. But also because those sorts of things pay dividends down the line.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"Today everybody is with Hamas because Hamas won the battle. If Fatah had won the battle they'd be with Fatah. We are a hungry people, we are with whoever gives us a bag of flour and a food coupon."

-- Yousef, a Palestinian in Gaza commenting on the Palestinian civil war.

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Super Sarko Saves Europe

This just in. Yesterday, Polish President Lech Kaczinski was threatening to veto the mini-treaty for institutional reform of the EU. This afternoon, he met with Nicolas Sarkozy. And wouldn't you know it, Kaczinski left the meeting "convinced" that the upcoming EU summit to decide the issue will be a "success":

"I'm full of optimism after my meeting with President Sarkozy... I am profoundly convinced that on June 21st and 22nd we'll arrive at a compromise... Today it seems to me that it's possible," he added. (Translated from the French translation of the Polish.)

So far they've only agreed to agree, without actually figuring out how. But it's a pretty dramatic turnaround for Kaczinski, who only a few days ago was describing Poland's demand for weighted voting as "worth dying for".

So how does Sarkozy do it? Is it a magic potion of Gallic origin? A psychic channeling of Napoleon Bonaparte? For now the source of his Super Sarko powers is still a mystery. One thing is certain, though. As Kaczinski himself put it best, "France has a president with whom you can resolve a lot of problems."

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Six-Day War

That Egyptian general who said that neither side in a Palestinian civil war could win a decisive victory seems to have been widely off the mark. At least in Gaza, anyway. According to Reuters, Hamas is basically conducting mopping up operations in the Gaza strip after routing Fatah security forces in six days of fighting. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has dissolved the Hamas-Fatah unity government and declared a state of emergency. But "it was gun law not the constitution that held sway in Gaza."

So after coming so close seven years ago to forging a two-state solution to the Arab-Palestinian tragedy, it now looks likely that there will, in fact, be a three-state nightmare: Israel surrounded by two Palestinian entities, one moderate and the other militant.

Counterintuitively, this might actually simplify the situation. The Israelis now have every incentive to deal with Abbas and turn the West Bank into a "model" of what an Israeli-Palestinian arrangement could look like, the better to isolate Hamas in Gaza. And Abbas seems to have more room to iron out a final status agreement now that he no longer needs to worry about throwing red meat to the militants.

Here's hoping, anyhow.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Square Root Of Sarko

Here's one for wonks and political scientists. The stripped down treaty that the EU is trying to substitute for its failed constitution includes a "double majority" voting system. To pass, a measure has to be approved by at least 55% of the member states representing at least 65% of the EU population.

In practice, it means that certain very big countries (read: England, France, Germany, and Italy) can't realistically be left out of any majority, but neither can the mass of very small countries. The problem is that the medium-sized countries (read: Poland and Spain) can neither block a big-small majority nor force through a medium-small one. 

Which is why Poland has made a counter-offer. To pass, a measure still needs 55% of the members states' approval. But the population majority is calculated using the square roots of member states' populations. In case you're wondering how that weights the results, consider the comparative populations of France (60 million) and Poland (39 million). Now consider the square roots: 7,745 vs. 6,244.

Poland has promised a veto unless the population majority is re-weighted, threatening to de-rail the urgently needed institutional reforms contained in the treaty. But not to worry. Super Sarkozy is in Warsaw as we speak, ready to work his negotiating magic.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Mad Libs

Here's a thought-provoking excerpt from a USA Today interview with Iran's top general:

Q: What is the current influence (in Iraq) from America?

A: The American influence has been very, very harmful to Iraq. There is absolutely no question that Americans are funding, arming, training, and even in some cases, directing the activities of extremists and militia elements.

It's more than disappointing given that one would think America would want the first Arab-Shiite state to succeed rather than wanting apparently to contribute to continued instability and serious security challenges.

The people they are arming are very, very serious thugs. Among them certainly are those who kidnapped the (five) British civilians the other day.

Ooops. My bad. That's an interview with Lt. Gen. Petraeus. And he was talking about Iran's influence in Iraq. Funny how the answer makes sense from both sides of the border, though.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tort Reform

This guy needs to be tossed off the bench and disbarred. Plus punitive damages for filing a frivolous lawsuit and causing mental anguish. What a prick.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Whose Faith?

What's revealing about Mitt Romney's new "Faith and Values" Steering Committee is that there isn't a single Jew on the list. The only two who might have passed the initial "Jewdar" test were John Pudner and Camille Solberg, but he's the chair of the RNC's Catholic Task Force, and she's a Hispanic activist who writes for the Wisconsin Christian News.

No Muslims, either, for that matter. Or Mormons. Or Buddhists. Obviously, a more accurate name for this group would be the "Pandering to Evangelical Christians (and Token Catholics)" Steering Committee.

I keep waiting for the announcement that Romney's campaign is just a hoax, like that Dutch reality tv program about the kidney donor. Or even better, a conceptual art piece. It would work so much better for me that way.

Update: John Daley wonders whether it's possible to know people's religions from a list of names. Fair enough. I did some googling, and it turns out that Jay Sekulow actually was Jewish, until he joined Jews for Jesus in college. I'll update if I turn up anything else.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bride Of Franken's Time

It occured to me after dashing off this post (about Al Franken's comic persona serving as cover for his unconvincing political persona) that I never found Al Franken's comic persona very funny. That is, I was always left with the sense that what he'd done could have been funny, even that it should have been funny, but that in the end it was not, in fact, funny. The potential was there, though, so I kept waiting for him to do something funny.

The TPM video interview is a small sample to go on, but as far as first impressions go, that's exactly how I'd characterize his political persona. It could be convincing, it maybe even should be convincing, but in the end, it's not really that convincing.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Priorities

You might remember Jack Idema, the ex-Green Beret convicted of operating a private prison in Afghanistan where he allegedly tortured handpicked "terror suspects". Apparently he was released from an Afghan prison two weeks ago as part of a general amnesty issued by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. And as if the story was lacking in the creepy department, he wanted to stay in Afghanistan, but couldn't because of the conditions of his release.

But here's the kicker. According to documents filed in a court case by the American consul in Kabul, Idema left the country for "an unknown destination".

Let me get this straight. Alberto Gonzales wants to listen in on my phone conversations. But a guy who entered a warzone illegally, conducted gonzo counter-terrorism operations, ran a private prison where he tortured his "suspects", wanted to stay incountry after three years in an Afghan prison (does anyone remember Midnight Express?)  -- in other words, the kind of guy I want the government to keep tabs on -- that guy just walks off into the sunset? What am I not getting?

Posted by Judah in:  Afghanistan   Say What?   

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Franken's Time

Josh Marshall and Al Franken, separated at birth? Maybe it's just the glasses. The other thing that occured to me watching the video interview is that Franken's comic persona offers him constant cover in the event that he says something kind of lame or unsophisticated. There were a couple of times where I couldn't tell if he was deadpanning or choking, and I just chalked it off to him being Al Franken. Whereas if it had been someone else, I probably would have thought he had just said something kind of lame or unsophisticated.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Odds & Ends   Politics   

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Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Post-Occupation Preoccupation

Via Matthew Yglesias come Spencer Ackerman's objections to a post-occupation force in Iraq:

The maddening thing about a post-occupation is that the concept is thoroughly prudential. Who wouldn't want to hedge a bet for withdrawal, considering how awful the consequences of one could be? Unfortunately, if the consequences are really that bad, 40,000 troops won't be able to handle them, and the political pressure to reinforce them will be great... That will leave two choices: reoccupation or withdrawal. Better to strategise around those choices - thoroughly - than convince ourselves that something called a "post-occupation" exists.

Yglesias makes a good point of his own:

50,000 troops indicates a commitment to controlling the situation, but 50,000 troops is too few to control the situation, so why not surge another division in? Meanwhile Iraqis opposed to a US occupation (i.e., the vast majority of Iraqis) will still feel occupied, and the fact that the troop presence will have the imprimateur of the Iraqi government will do more to discredit that government than to legitimate the presence.

I would add that this kind of military presence also requires an enormous logistical and monetary investment. The very kind of investment that governments get tempted to protect by interfering in the internal affairs of the host country. Which in turn reinforces the idea of a meddling occupying power.

So yes, there are problems with this approach, but I still think it's the least bad option. I'd previously suggested that "disengaged bases" would only work under two conditions: The time horizon would have to be shortterm, and the rules of engagment would have to be strictly limited to border integrity and humanitarian crises.

I'll add a third, to cover Ackerman's, Yglesias' and my objections: That they be under the mandate and command of the UN or some other multi-lateral organisation. Not just a bogus Coalition of the Willing. A real peacekeeping force.

Update: Kevin Drum agrees with Matthew and Spencer and thinks leaving any residual force is a bad idea.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Full Circle

Today President Bush gave an address at the dedication of the Victims of Communism Memorial in Washington D.C. Not surprisingly, after running through a list of communist atrocities, he made sure to mention this century's equivalent, terrorists:

Like the Communists, our new enemies are dismissive of free peoples, claiming that those of us who live in liberty are weak and lack the resolve to defend our free way of life...

Now it seems pretty clear to me that this is a reference to, among other things, "enhanced interrogation techniques". Maybe not explicitly, but in the sense that people who support their use would probably include them in any list of things that reflect our strength and resolve in the fight against terror. Maybe they formulate it like Bush's terrorists, that opponents of torture are weak and lack resolve, but the meaning is the same.

Either way, what's important to remember is that in order to put these techniques into practice, that is, in order to show the terrorist suspects we'd captured that we had the necessary resolve to torture them, we used the same Soviet-era prisons in Poland and Romania that created the victims Bush was memorializing today. Go figure.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Everything Goes Black

I don't really have a dog in this fight, since the last time I saw an episode of the Sopranos was back in 2000, before I left the States. But according to this post at The New York Nerd, whether you liked it as a concept or not, the whole "nothing got resolved" angle doesn't stand up to obsessive fan scrutiny. Apparently, Tony got whacked.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Sleight Of Hand

Any magician worth his salt knows the importance of misdirection to a successful trick. If you don't want people to pay attention to what's going on over here, give them something to think about over there. Well, with pressure growing from the army and public opinion to mount a cross-border incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gave every indication today that he's an apprentice magician:

Erdogan said on Tuesday that there has been no resolution with the PKK domestically and, therefore, talk of an Iraq invasion was a long way off.

"Has the fight with the 5,000 terrorists finished domestically that we should now be talking about Iraq?" he said.

For its part, the PKK has reportedly offered a ceasefire if Turkey calls off military operations on the border. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one though.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

High Five

Apparently former Iranian President Mohammed Khatami would do well to get one of those temporary marriages before he goes on his next diplomatic visit. He was just criticized in the Iranian press for shaking hands with women and girls on his latest trip to Italy. The paper, one of Iran's most conservative, refused to name the internet site where the photos were seen "...to avoid propagating corruption in society."

That's a relief. But I wonder... Would wearing gloves make a difference? 

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Bloodletting

The violence that's been simmering in Gaza for the past few days broke out into fullscale battles, with the Hamas militia mounting coordinated attacks on Fatah-controlled security headquarters. PA President Mahmoud Abbas called for an immediate ceasefire, and Fatah ministers have suspended their participation in the unity government until the violence ends.

According to the Egyptian General who's been trying to negotiate a truce, neither side has the weapons or capability to decisively win the civil war that will result if this continues to escalate. In other words, this is all just a lethal game of chicken where neither side can win, but neither will stand down.

Posted by Judah in:  
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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Convenient Chaos

The US program of extraordinary renditions and coercive interrogations continues, this time in Ethiopia. According to Der Spiegel, "terror suspects" fleeing the chaos of Somalia were captured by American, Somali and Kenyan forces and later transferred to detention centers in Addis Abbaba. While the US government confirmed that some suspects were interrogated in Ethiopia, the centers are allegedly being run by Ethiopians in order to conceal American involvement.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Squeaky Wheel

If the US eventually does get around to dealing with the PKK problem, either directly or by proxy through the Kurds, this article on Turkish relations with Iran might explain why. It might explain the EU's current charm offensive towards Ankara as well.

Posted by Judah in:  European Union   Iraq   Turkey   

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Good News Of The Day

A judge has voided the ten-year prison sentence given to Genarlow Wilson, a 21-year old Georgia man who was convicted of receiving oral sex when he was 17 from a consenting 15-year old girl. The State Attorney General has filed a motion to appeal with a request for an expedited ruling. Wilson has already spent two years in jail. Hopefully this decision will be upheld and he'll be out soon.

Posted by Judah in:  Good News Of The Day   

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Two Out Of Three

And then, every so often, public opinion gets ahead of geopolitical gamesmanship. Like when a funeral for three Turkish soldiers killed in a PKK cross-border attack turns into a 10,000-person strong anti-government rally. The government's inability to stop the PKK attacks, which have killed at least two dozen Turkish soldiers since May 24, led mourners in three Turkish cities to call for its resignation. With the Turkish military already advocating a major incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan, the only thing that seems to be standing in the way is Prime Minister Erdogan's insistence that Parliament be consulted.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"The government cannot subject al-Marri to indefinite military detention. For in the United States, the military cannot seize and imprison civilians -- let alone imprison them indefinitely."

--Judge Diana Gribbon Motz in a ruling ordering the release of Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri from military custody.

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Two Reports

Here's a description of the CIA's High Value Detainee (HVD) interrogation program from the Pentagon's website:

...Over the ensuing months, the CIA designed a new interrogation program that would be safe, effective, and legal.

  • The CIA sought and obtained legal guidance from the Department of Justice that none of the new procedures violated the US statues prohibiting torture. Policymakers were also briefed and approved of the use of the procedures.
  • The procedures proved highly effective...

CIA's interrogation program is designed to ensure that intelligence is collected in a manner that does not violate the US Constitution, any US statute, or US treaty obligations...

  • The Department of Justice has reviewed procedures proposed by the CIA on more than one occasion and determined them to be lawful...

Multiple safeguards have been built into the program to assure its professionalism. All those involved in the questioning of detainees are carefully chosen and screened for demonstrated professional judgment and maturity...

  • Specific senior CIA officers, and currently only the Director of the CIA, must approve -- prior to use -- each and every one of the mawful interrogation procedures to be used. No deviation from the approved procedures and methods is permitted.

Here's how the Council of Europe's Dick Marty described the program in a report based on interviews with former interrogators and detainees (pp. 52-53):

247. Detainees went through months of solitary confinement and extreme sensory deprivation in cramped cells, shackled and handcuffed at all times...

252. A common feature for many detainees was the four-month isolation regime. During this period of over 120 days, absolutely no human contact was granted with anyone but masked, silent guards...

254. The air in many cells emanated from a ventilation hole in the ceiling, which was often controlled to produce extremes of temperature: sometimes so hot one would gasp for breath, sometimes freezing cold...

257. Detainees never experienced natural light or natural darkness, although most were
blindfolded many times so they could see nothing...

266. There was a shackling ring in the wall of the cell, about half a metre up off the floor.
Detainees’ hands and feet were clamped in handcuffs and leg irons. Bodies were regularly forced into contorted shapes and chained to this ring for long, painful periods...

269. Detainees were subjected to relentless noise and disturbance were deprived of the chance to sleep (sic)...

271. The gradual escalation of applied physical and psychological exertion, combined in some cases with more concentrated pressure periods for the purposes of interrogation, is said to have caused many of those held by the CIA to develop enduring psychiatric and mental problems.

As Andrew Sullivan pointed out in a post detailing the origin of the term "enhanced interrogation techniques", even the Gestapo took care to codify, that is to legalize, torture. Are we the moral equivalent of the Gestapo? Of course not. Did we legalize and apply torture? Yes.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Pastor In Chief

David Kuo says Dems need to stop trying to out-Jesus the GOP. Instead, they should get specific on faith-based issues and be honest about where they disagree with so-called "values" voters if they want to stand a chance of picking off the ones who can be won over. I suppose he's right from a political standpoint. Still, I wonder... Maybe politicians should just stick to politics?

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Just The Three Of Us

According to this article in The New Anatolian, Turkey has begun coordinating its military response to PKK attacks, including shelling of PKK positions inside Iraqi territory, with Iran. That might explain the end of the "See no evil, hear no evil" approach on the part of the Iraqi government, which presented a diplomatic letter of protest to the Turkish ambassador in response to this weekend's artillary barrage, which some military analysts say could only have been carried out from Iranian, and not Turkish, positions. Counter-intuitively, the protest might actually be a good sign, a way for the US and Iraq to signal to Turkey that they're willing to play hardball against the PKK now, so long as the Iranians aren't involved.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Iraq   Turkey   

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Monday, June 11, 2007

This Side Of The Horizon

Just a quick postscript to yesterday' post defending the idea of basing American troops in Iraq after a significant drawdown. My support for the idea would be contingent on three conditions:

  1. The time horizon was shortterm (ie. in the 3-5 year range), with an emphasis on keeping it shorter rather than longer.
  2. The rules of engagement were strictly limited to defending the Iraqi borders from incursions by uniformed, regular forces, and preventing a fullscale humanitarian crisis (ie. sectarian massacres).
  3. The current level of insurgent violence does not follow the troops to their "disengaged" bases.

In all likelihood, I'm being too naive by dismissing the Bush administration's Korean analogy too quickly. So just to be clear, I am not supporting the idea of permanent, over the horizon American military bases in Iraq.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Monday, June 11, 2007

Endless Campaign

Most of the disadvantages of starting the presidential election campaign two years ahead of the presidential election have already been identified. But there's one I haven't seen mentioned. In theory, an election is decided at least in part by the positions a candidate takes on the issues. But the issues this country will be facing in November 2008, as well as the political landscape within which they'll be addressed, will undoubtedly have evolved between now and then. Which means that as things stand, the candidates are really campaigning on hypotheticals.

The consequence is not only to reinforce the importance of personality as opposed to policy as a criterion of selection. It also changes the sorts of policies that get debated, with the emphasis placed on exactly the sorts of longstanding, major-baggage issues -- ie. healthcare, foreign policy magic bullets, and the like -- that have the least chance of getting through the legislative process intact (see Comprehensive Immigration Reform). 

Posted by Judah in:  Domestic Policy   Politics   

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

All About The Cheddar

I'm not sure I understand what the problem is with Saudi Prince Bandar skimming $2 billion off the top of an arms deal between the British firm BAE and the Saudi government. Unless it's that Bandar used a government account instead of a personal one to launder the money.

And, frankly, who cares if the British government was in the know? As a Dutch ex-pat friend who spent alot of time in the Persian Gulf put it, That's the cost of doing business with the Saudis. To hear him tell it, you shouldn't even bother showing up unless you've got the briefcase full of Benjamins. And that's just to introduce yourself.

Oh, and, by the way... Try turning down $2 billion smackeroos someday. Just try it... Nah, I don't think so.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Going Long

The idea's been making the rounds for the past week or so, ever since President Bush compared Iraq to S. Korea. But Tom Ricks' WaPo article seems to make it official: the Pentagon brass is putting the finishing touches on a plan to maintain a longterm military presence based in Iraq after the bulk of American forces are drawn down. The timeframe for drawing down the lion's share of the troops just happens to be -- surprise, surprise -- the middle to end of 2008, ie. just in time to influence the presidential election.

Now, setting aside the Rovian timeframe and the boneheaded comparisons to the Korean Peninsula, the idea itself happens to be a good one, or at least the least bad one -- and I don't say that just because I happened to propose it back in February. It effectively ends what's known as the Iraq War by removing American forces from the line of fire of Iraq's civil war. It does so while securing our strategic interests in the country (namely, guaranteeing Iraq's territorial integrity and preventing a collapse into failed statehood). And it provides an insurance policy against any fullscale massacres and sectarian bloodletting that might follow a precipitous withdrawal.

Critics have pointed out that our presence catalyzes the Sunni insurgency and impedes the process of national reconciliation needed to put an end to sectarian violence. I would argue that by turning day to day governance and security issues over to Iraqis, they'll have their hands too full to worry about our garrisons tucked as far out of sight as possible. If not, the day will come sooner rather than later when an Iraqi government asks us to leave. So be it.

Hopefully those who oppose the war (and I count myself among them) will recognize this as a way to end it. Probably the quickest and safest way, too, both for American troops and Iraqi civilians.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Nancy & Laura

Funny how when Nancy Pelosi wore a veil to meet with Syrian President Bashar Assad, it was a sign of meekness, diffidence, and surrender. But I don't recall hearing a word about this photo on the White House website:

You'd think that if the President can address the Pope as "Sir" instead of "Your Holiness" then Laura could ditch the veil. And in case you're wondering whether it was just part of the snazzy outfit, here's the First Lady later that day, meeting with the Italian President's wife.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

La Vague Bleue

The results for the first-round French legislative elections were just announced, and as expected, Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP came out the big winner: 43% of the vote, compared to 35% for the combined left (28% for the Socialists), and only 7% for Bayrou's Mouvement Démocrate. Although there will be runoffs next Sunday in any races where a candidate didn't win a clear majority, that should translate into 440-470 seats for the UMP, compared to only 60-90 for the PS. Abstentions, as expected, set a record.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Electoral Hangover

It looks like the stress of last month's presidential election took its toll on the French. According to Le Figaro, the level of abstention in the first-round Parliamentary elections is projected to set a record of 37%.

It's not like there's been a whole lot of suspense about the outcome. The Socialist Party is in disarray, most of Bayrou's centrist incumbents abandoned his new political party, and Sarkozy and his government have made a strong impression in their first few weeks in office.

The question has been how big a majority Sarkozy will have to work with. By the looks of things, the answer is a substantial one.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Moqtada And The Kurds

Since he came out of hiding in the end of May, Moqtada al-Sadr has tried to re-position himself as a leader of national unification. Until this weekend, that consisted mainly of reaching out to the Sunni insurgency in an effort to undermine the governing coalition of Nouri al-Maliki. But today al-Sadr showed both his political skill and opportunism by taking advantage of the conflict between Turkey and the PKK to broaden his nationalist appeal.

Here's how he condemned the Turkish bombardment of Iraqi Kurdistan, according to an AP dispatch:

We will not stay silent in the face of these transgressions because our faith and our nation call upon us to defend Iraq and every inch of its territory, which we consider to be holy.

Meanwhile, Le Monde quoted him as declaring, "The Kurdish people are part of Iraq, and it is our duty to defend them." (Translated from the French.)

It's a clever move, not only because it reinforces his new image of a leader who transcends the sectarian divide. It also "Iraqifies" the problem at a time when the US was trying to localize it to the Kurdish north. What's more, the added attention can only exacerbate what is a thorny issue for everyone involved, but especially for the US. Should the crisis escalate, it will ultimately force our hand: either we choose sides between the Turkish and the Kurds, or else we wade into the middle of another shooting war in Iraq.

Either way it adds problems to America's Iraqi plate, which only strengthens Moqtada's hand.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Sunday, June 10, 2007

Ivre Mort

Nicolas Sarkozy might have been following the script I'd written for him up to now. But it looks like he's decided to do a little ad-libbing. Here he is after his G8 meeting with Vladimir Putin where, as the announcer surmises, "Apparently, he drank more than just the water."

Here's the (unofficial) transcript:

"Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you to forgive my lateness, which is due..."
[Cough, slur, half-smile. 'Should I mention the vodkas? Maybe not.']
"...to the length of the dialogue that I just had with Mister Putin."
[Shoulder shrug, head reel, glance around the room. 'Jesus, I am drunk off my ass.']
"What do you prefer, that I respond to questions? Well, then..."
[Involuntary hand gesture, sheepish grin.]
"Are there any questions? Go ahead..."
[Sudden look of panic. 'Holy shit, I might pass out.']
"Yeah, yeah, whatever..."
[Fumble earphone into ear. 'For a second I thought he was speaking French. I am seriously plastered.']
"Hhheuuh..."
[Crestfallen expression. 'Merde. This is going to be a long day.']

Via The New York Nerd

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

Black Holes

When the CIA decided to "enhance" their interrogation techniques, they turned to the Soviet-era KGB for inspiration. When they needed locations for the secret detention centers where the techniques would be put to use, they turned to Soviet-era prisons in Poland and Romania. Coincidence?

Well, then, consider how Abu Ghraib has become a symbol of both Saddam Hussein's cruelty and America's. Or how Guantanamo has become an American miniature of Fidel Castro's island prison.

There's no better proof that what goes on in these places is un-American than the fact that under no circumstances could they be located in America. Not because a free society can't produce men and women willing to torture. But because a free society serves as a constant reminder that torture and liberty are incompatible.

It's no coincidence that our American torturers work out of lingering monuments to totalitarian cruelty. It's the only way to keep them isolated from anything that might jog their memories and their consciences.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

The Quiet Tip

There were a number of reasons I'd come to believe that nothing really dramatic would happen on Turkey's border with Iraq. Not least of which is that any attack against the PKK bases -- whether by the Kurds, the Americans or the Turks -- is likely to do more harm than good.

But also because it seemed like the parties involved had found a way for everyone to save face while not really resolving the problem: Turkey would get to to respond to PKK attacks with "hot pursuit" cross-border operations and artillery strikes, and the US and the Kurds would look the other way and pretend nothing's happening.

Only trouble is, the Iraqi government just presented Turkey with a formal protest over today's early-morning artillery barrage on PKK positions in Iraq. So much for looking the other way.

There are still plenty of reasons for Turkey to forego a full-scale invasion. But they'll lose their dissuasive power if the Kurds try to tie their hands, while refusing to clean out the PKK themselves.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

New Hires

Quick. What do Oliver North, John Hinckley, William Bennett, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush all have in common? If you're thinking, They all did stupid shit in Washington D.C., you'd be right. But add Tim Duncan to the mix and what do you come up with?

The answer, it turns out, is buried in the President's recent Personnel announcement naming nine attorneys to the White House Counsel staff. Because two of the nine were recently partners at Williams & Connolly, a D.C. law firm that Legal Times once called "the Green Berets of high-stakes litigation."

In addition to the folks listed above, Williams & Connolly have also represented major corporations such as Halliburton, General Electric, Lockheed Martin and Arthur Andersen. Here's how the firm describes its approach on its website:

At Williams & Connolly, no case is too tough and no case is treated as routine. Every new challenge is examined with a fresh eye. As one of the firm's partners puts it: "There are nuances in every case. New problems. So you can't handle every case in the exact same way. We do not fight by the numbers. We do not fight the last war. We fight this war."

This fighting spirit, and the success it breeds, are what attract clients to Williams & Connolly.

Which should give you an idea of what to expect when the Congressional subpoenas start to fly.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Tense But Manageable

The Jerusalem Post's got a good interview with Shaul Mofaz, the former Israeli Defense Minister and chief of General Staff who's now the Transportation Minister. They introduce it as pessimistic, but to me it seemed if not upbeat, at least not alarmist.

He gives strengthened UN sanctions a 50% chance of getting Iran to freeze its enrichment program. He also doesn't think the jihadi-based violence in Lebanon will spill over into Israel. And he thinks that although things are tense on the Syrian border, it's in neither side's interests to go to war. To that end, he advocates backchannel negotiations with the Syrians that could eventually lead to formal peace talks.

On the negative side, he believes that Hizbullah has re-armed and is now back to pre-war levels of military preparedness on both sides of the Litani River, and that Hamas is poised to take control of the Palestinian Authority. Complicating everything is the flow of arms from Iran and Syria to Hisbullah and Hamas.

Still, all in all it's a coolheaded assessment. Not surprising, then, that he met with Condoleeza Rice while he was in Washington for joint strategy sessions last week. Cheney was probably busy talking shop and picking targets with Bibi Netanyahu.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   International Relations   

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Crimes & Misdemeanors

I probably shouldn't do this, but here goes. People need to stop hating on Paris Hilton. Yeah, she's a spoiled brat. Yeah, she broke the law. Yeah, there are tons of people doing time for what she did.

But the fact that she expects special treatment is not a sign of her moral vacuousness. It's a sign of her intelligence. Because the fact is, rich people do get special treatment. According to my sister, who met me at the gate, I was once on the same flight as Paris Hilton. I wouldn't have known it, though, because she was allowed to board the flight after everyone else, and leave before everyone else.

Of course, the legal system isn't supposed to have first-class cabins. (Except when it does.) But we all know that that's a fairy tale. There are things we could do to change that, but taking pleasure in a young woman's suffering doesn't strike me as one of them. Even if that young woman is rich and famous, hated by some and envied by all. Seriously, I've never wished prison on anyone until I saw the clip of Sarah Silverman taunting Hilton at the MTV Movie Awards last weekend. What gratuitous cruelty.

As for her release, people point to all the other prisoners who remain in prison with more serious medical and emotional conditions. But that's not a reason to keep Hilton locked up. It's a reason to let the others out.

In any event, she's back in front of the judge, and chances are he's going to send her back to jail. Maybe that's justice being served. But do people need to be so happy about it?

Update: According to the LA Times, she's been remanded back to county jail.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Spears And Shields

No sooner did I click publish on that last post than I ran across this article on a proposed American-Japanese ABM system in the People's Daily Online. The system is meant to counter the N. Korean nuclear threat, but that hasn't stopped the Chinese from getting bent out of shape about it. Said Jin Linbo, a scholar with the China Institute of International Studies:

"We cannot regard it as a defensive system just because that's what it is called... Since ancient times both spears and shields have been regarded as weapons in Chinese culture - because shields can make spears useless..."

The Bush-Putin catfight isn't the story. The story is that we need to find a way to address the issue of rogue nuclear proliferation without undermining the concept that's served as the basis of nuclear deterrant for the past fifty years.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   Russia   

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Friday, June 8, 2007

It's No Longer A Mad, Mad, Mad World

This past weekend, there was a medieval festival in the small village where I live in the South of France. And boys being boys, one of the demonstrations that the Lil' Feller and I spent the most time at was the catapult and cannon exhibit. Lined up side by side, the weapons really brought to life the way in which slow advances in technology expanded the range of our ability to project deadly force. (Or in this case, water balloons. But you get the idea.)

These were simple machines, at first disposable, later more sturdy, that became steadily more accurate and deadly. But it was a process -- of practical needs and technical progress driving design advances -- that lasted centuries. As a result, strategy and tactics had plenty of time to adapt to the new conditions on the battlefield.

Contrast that to the introduction of the atomic bomb in 1945, and the subsequent proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Within a matter of years, our collective destructive capacity accelerated exponentially until it achieved exit velocity. For the first time in history, humanity could not afford to learn the uses of its new arsenal through trial and error.

In retrospect, the greatest achievement of the generation that introduced the Bomb was the strategy it developed immediately afterwards to contain the consequences of its newfound technological capabilities: Mutually Assured Destruction. The counter-intuitive genius of M.A.D. lay in the notion that the surest way to prevent a nuclear launch was to guarantee that the risks always outweighed the potential benefits.

Which explains why anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems were considered so dangerous. By introducing the possibility of surviving a nuclear launch, they undermined the logic of MAD.

As I've mentioned before, the entire dust-up between the Bush administration and Vladimir Putin over the proposed American ABM system based in Poland and Czechoslovakia is a bit mysterious. On the one hand, it's an untested system to counter a non-existent threat. On the other, the idea that ten missile interceptors could seriously inhibit a Russian launch is farfetched.

Putin's opposition may be more posturing than real concern. But in its rush to dismiss it out of hand, the Bush administration has ignored the ways in which, by its very nature, the proposed system violates the logic of MAD. If the only way for Russia to overwhelm the system is to adopt a massive launch strategy, it creates a situation that amplifies the consequences of error and misunderstandings.

By the way, the proposed American system isn't the only example of MAD's recent decline as a guiding principle of nuclear deterrance. According to a recent analysis, the Chinese have begun to deploy nuclear and conventional warheads on the same class of missiles, greatly increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear conflict.

The Cold War might be over, but the doctrine that helped us survive it still serves an important purpose. There's no question that rogue states and global terrorism have created new challenges for nuclear deterrance. But those challenges demand a strategic response that enhances our security. Not an impulsive one that diminishes it.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   Russia   

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Your Move

I'm seriously tired of getting my butt kicked by my mediocre chess program. I especially take issue with the way it takes its time analyzing run-of-the-mill moves, but snaps up any stray pieces I've left undefended quicker than you can say Big Blue. To say nothing of checkmate. So if there are any chess afficionados out there:

1. Pe4

Drop your move in the Comments or via e-mail. Multiple games welcome. 

Posted by Judah in:  Chess, Jazz & Ethics   

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Super Sarko Goes Continental

Nicolas Sarkozy attended his first G8 as France's president, and if his first press conference is any indication, it looks like he's been reading the site regularly and decided to make me look like a clairvoyant genius.

First off, he asked himself how best to illustrate my "Sarkozy the Activist" prediction. 'I know,' he said. 'How about getting Tony Blair on board for my streamlined institutional treaty for the EU? Then afterwards, tell the press, Don't worry, me and Tony straightened everything out.' (OK, I'm paraphrasing, but not by much. The direct quote was, "Tony Blair and I just agreed on what could be the framework for a simplified treaty.")

It was a good start, but he soon realized that it might not be enough, since France and England are supposed to be influential in EU politics, and I'd predicted that he'd find ways to surprise people with his ability to wield French influence in areas where they might not expect it.

'Wait a minute,' he said to himself. 'Here I am meeting one on one with Vladimir Putin, right when this whole Return of the Cold War business is getting out of hand. If I suggested that France could serve as an intermediary and help resolve the entire crisis, why, that would make Monsieur Grunstein look like he reads a crystal ball.'

So that's exactly what he did, telling Vlad, "Have your people call my people and we'll get this whole thing squared away." (OK, I'm paraphrasing, but not by much. He actually suggested "...that French and Russian military experts meet to see where things stand.")

'Zees ees verrry good,' he thought to himself. 'But M. Grunstein also once described in detail my negotiating strategy. If I outline an approach to resolving Kosovo's final status agreement in terms that basically paraphrase his, it will make him look like a mindreader.'

Sarkozy's words:

"You have to avoid going straight to conflict." He therefore proposed that "...President Putin recognize the inescapable perspective of Kosovo's independence..." and "...that we let Belgrade and Pristina dialogue together..." for six months. In the absence of an agreement after six months, the UN plan would take effect.

My words:

Sarkozy is careful to never identify what he wants (mini-treaty, minimum service) without at the same time dangling the cost to his negotiating partner (Turkey veto, unilateral legislation) should he not get it. More importantly, he's perfectly willing to postpone confrontation, as long as he can leave the room with a child in his arms.

For an encore, I predict that the next time President Bush goes to Crawford, Sarkozy will be one of his first guests. They'll engage in manly activities like clearing brush together, and get into a minor altercation when Bush has a Secret Service agent trip Sarkozy up in order to win the mountain bike race he's challenged him to. They'll shake hands afterwards and joke about it for the cameras, but things will never be the same between them again.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Heading For The Border

The trend in the press as the day went on was to downplay early reports of a sizable Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan. By the evening, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had denied the rumors, and stated that any pre-meditated invasion would need to be presented to and approved by the Turkish parliament. At the same time, however, the Turkish military declared what it called "security zones" in three southeastern Turkish provinces. What exactly that means was not clear.

What is clear is that the Turkish military is crossing into Iraqi territory on a regular basis. A press officer at the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs told me that while she couldn't provide any details on these operations, they were no secret. She stated that they were limited to "hot pursuit", where Turkish units engaged by PKK guerillas in Turkish territory subsequently followed them when they retreated back into Iraqi territory.

The press officer stated that this was in accordance with international law, under the legal doctrine of "hot pursuit". The doctrine itself originates from the Law of the Seas, and pertains to a state's right to pursue foreign vessels into international waters for violating laws and regulations in its territorial waters. Its application to ground operations, on the other hand, is far from a settled matter. Some people have used it to argue for American military forces following Iraqi insurgents into Syria, for example, but the argument is not universally accepted.

I doubt we'll hear much about it in Turkey's case, though. For political reasons, the Kurdish Regional Government might not be able to root out the PKK itself. Same goes for the US. But neither do they want to alienate Turkey, with whom they both have strong ties. So it looks like they've decided that the best way to handle this prickly situation is to let the Turks take care of the PKK  and pretend as if nothing is happening.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Over Here, As Seen From Over There

There are a few observations I'd like to make as an ex-patriate whose been closely following both the recent French presidential election and the nascent American one. First, there really is something weird about the "values" litmus tests that have coagulated American politics these days. Compared to that, following the French campaign -- where religious faith, abortion and evolution were never once mentioned -- is like the feeling you get for the first few seconds after taking off a pair of ankle weights.

Second, the criteria for selecting the President of the United States just seem to have become -- there's no other word for it -- insubstantial. When you consider the potential impact the outcome has on the lives of American voters, it's curious. But when you consider the potential impact the outcome has on the lives of the all the people around the world who can't cast ballots, it's an abdication of responsibility that borders on criminal negligence.

From a global perspective, the idea that Mitt Romney might ever be invested with the power of the American presidency strikes me as fundamentally unjust.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   Politics   

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

My Enemy's Enemy Is Not My Friend's Friend

Whether or not the Turkish army actually crossed the border into Iraqi Kurdistan today, one question that the recent tension on the border raises is, Why hasn't the US used its influence among the Kurds to have the PKK bases closed? The answer seems straightforward enough. As an unnamed State Dept official told Laura Rozen, "America has a multiplicity of problems in Iraq, and the PKK are not killing Americans."

There's also the fact that the Kurds have expertly cultivated contacts with Turkey (they're heavily involved in Kurdish development projects), Iran, and Israel, in addition to the US. So as things stand in Iraq right now, America probably needs the Kurds more than the Kurds needs America.

But there's another potential explanation, one that Seymour Hersh alluded to in a New Yorker article last November. Because there's another Kurdish guerilla group, closely affiliated with the PKK, that uses northern Iraq as a base to launch attacks across the border. Not the border with Turkey. The border with Iran.

It's called PJAK, the Party for Free Life in Kurdistan, and it's made up of Iranian Kurds. And according to Hersh, the group has received training and support from both the US and Israel as part of the covert effort to destabilize the Iranian government.

As usual, Hersh's claims have been denied by the Israeli, American and Turkish governments. But it's something to consider when trying to make sense of why this whole problem wasn't resolved a long time ago.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Hot Pursuit

According to Turkish "security officials" cited in an AP report, hundreds of Turkish special forces supported by thousands of regular troops crossed into Iraqi Kurdistan in a "hot pursuit" operation against PKK guerillas who fired on a Turkish patrol from within Iraqi territory. Although Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and an Iraqi military commander in charge of border control denied the report, the unnamed officials stood by the claim. The forces reportedly pursued the guerillas a few miles inside the Iraqi border, and were back at their base within Turkish territory by the end of the day.

I've been doing some research on the Turkey-PKK conflict in preparation for an article I'm working on, and it actually turns out that this sort of tension on the border is almost a yearly event. Every spring, the PKK mounts an offensive, and the Turkish army masses troops on the border in an effort to fight it back.

During the nineties, when the Kurdish north enjoyed autonomous status, the Turkish army conducted cross-border incursions on several occasions. In 1995, for instance, 35,000 Turkish troops supported by armored divisions and helicopter cover, crossed into Iraqi territory to attack the PKK camps located in the mountainous border region.

To sum up, the potential consequences of an outbreak of hostilities between Turkey and the Kurds are all very damaging to regional stability and American interests in the Iraq theater. That means there are a lot of disincentives to anything actually happening. This is still one to watch. But the fact that for the time being all the right people are denying today's report is an encouraging sign.

Update: According to a report in The New Anatolian, two Turkish military helicopters, one that was either hit by enemy fire or developed a mechanical problem and another that provided cover, were forced to land inside Iraqi territory on Monday:

"Iraq Kurdish officials said there were no Kurdish forces or a base in 'the very remote area" but local commanders were asked by Erbil to extend any assistance required by the Turkish military."

Which leads me to believe that some sort of deal for limited cross-border operations has been struck, as long as everyone denies they've ever taken place.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The Threat Of Protracted Conflict

It's a bit long, but if you have the time and inclination, give Steven Metz's monograph, "Rethinking Insurgencies", a read. It's a brilliant analysis of how 21st century insurgencies differ from 20th century ones, how America's post-9/11 counterinsurgency models are all based on the latter rather than the former, and what an effective response to today's insurgencies would look like.

Metz claims that various historical pressures, including globalization and communication advances, have weakened states' ability to provide security and a cohesive identity to their citizens, as well as meet rising economic expectations. This has in turn created a proliferation of power vacuums. So whereas "old" insurgencies sought to seize areas controlled by the state, "new" insurgencies compete for uncontrolled spaces that the state has been forced to vacate.

Another distinction: old insurgencies were usually binary (the rebels vs. the state) with support from outside sponsors, whereas new insurgencies exist in complex, multi-party environments (militias, criminal organizations, multi-national corporations, ngo's and international media) that Metz compares to violent markets. It's not surprising then that the goal of total victory represented by marching through the capitol city and seizing the reins of state power has now been replaced by that of simply dominating the competition (ie. market share).

Because insurgencies often do mutate into economic enterprises, in particular organized crime syndicates (see Colombia), there are often incentives for maintaining them as a perpetual status quo (see Colombia). But Metz argues that the prolonged violence and breakdown in order they provoke poses a much greater threat to American interests than integrating insurgents into a sustainable power-sharing arrangement:

Given this, the U.S. goal should not automatically be the defeat of the insurgents by the regime (which may be impossible, particularly when the partner regime is only half-heartedly committed to it), but the rapid resolution of the conflict. In other words, a quick and sustainable outcome which integrates most of the insurgents into the national power structure is less damaging to U.S. national interests than a protracted conflict which leads to the complete destruction of the insurgents. Protracted conflict, not insurgent victory, is the threat.

Metz goes on to identify economic development, job creation and women's empowerment as key aspects of an effective counterinsurgency campaign. But he acknowledges that what he's proposing resembles social re-engineering more closely than war. Which is why he warns that "...the United States should only undertake counterinsurgency support in the most pressing instances."

This kind of analysis would have come in handy four years ago, before the start of our misguided Iraq debacle. But it's still pretty timely in light of this Robert Dreyfuss article in The American Prospect describing a broad "Iraqi nationalist coalition" that's in the formative stages right now. If Metz is correct, it might well be our best chance to limit the damage we've done there.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   

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Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Abbott & Costello

Upon closer examination, there's a common thread that connects the last three foiled domestic terrorist plots, and I'm not just talking about the sheer buffoonery aspect to all of them. Don't get me wrong, it's possible that the Miami Seven, the Fort Lee gang, and the JFK pipeline crew intended to kill people, and in that regard there's nothing comical about them. Or rather, there wouldn't be anything comical about them if they weren't inept clowns.

But a clown is nothing without a straight man, and that's the common thread I'm talking about. None of these guys would have been capable of doing the slightest bit of damage without the help of the undercover FBI agents that were in the process of entrapping them. So as far as actual terrorist threats go, the good guys were light years ahead of the bad guys.

And that's really the difference between the real bad guys and the convenient bad guys. The real bad guys have been trained in paramilitary operations, and already have a network of other bad guys to help carry them out. So they're less likely to get tripped up by FBI agents posing as terrorist handlers.

What's also interesting is that the real bad guys seem to have a keener understanding of the symbolic significance of their targets than our own homegrown domestic terrorists do. I could think of at least a dozen targets that would resonate more deeply than the Sears Tower or JFK Airport before my first cup of coffee in the morning.

The problem is, so can the bad guys. The real ones, that is.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Dept. Of Creative Solutions

Ecuador has announced that it's willing to forego developing oil fields in the Amazon rainforest containing almost a billion barrels of crude if the international community makes up 50% of the projected yearly revenues for ten years. By the government's calculations, that would mean roughly $350 million a year for the next ten years. The idea is to protect not only an area rich in biodiversity, but also the area's indigenous culture.

Meanwhile, France has announced that in addition to cracking down on illegal immigration, it will pay legal immigrants up to E. 6,000 (Euros) should they choose to return to their country of origin. The measure is being touted as a means of supporting investment in developing countries.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Checkpoint Roulette

With all the talk about Turkish troops massing on the border with Iraqi Kurdistan, it's pretty easy to forget about the Turkish troops that are already in Iraqi Kurdistan. 1,357 of them to be exact, a majority of them special forces. And they've been there under a special arrangement between the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the US, and Turkey ever since 2003.

This past weekend, a carload of them dressed in civilian clothes got into a tense standoff with Peshmurga forces manning a checkpoint in Sulaimaniyah. The Kurds backed off once the Turkish forces identified themselves, and both sides later agreed that it was a simple misunderstanding. But it's the kind of misunderstanding that, given the current situation, could prove disastrous.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Monday, June 4, 2007

The Boiling Point

According to a RIA Novosti dispatch, the EU has given its "tacit support" for a Turkish incursion into Iraqi Kurdistan to attack the PKK camps located just ten miles in from the border:

Speaking after their meeting with [Turkish Foreign Minister] Gul, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German foreign minister, and Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, neither condemned nor openly supported the plan. Renh said, however, that the EU was definitely on Turkey's side where counterterrorism was concerned.

It's worth noting that an AP dispatch quoted Steinmeier as saying only that he "did not get the impression that Turkey would stage an incursion." The same AP report describes a PKK attack on a military outpost in Southeastern Turkey that killed seven soldiers (other reports put the toll at eight), an attack that can only serve to underline the Turkish case for a cross-border raid.

So, what would a Turkish attack on Iraqi territory mean? The simple answer is big trouble, for just about everyone involved. The Kurdish Regional Government has made it clear that it would respond to any Turkish attacks, both in Iraqi Kurdistan and in Turkey, meaning a cross-border raid could turn into all-out war. Should things escalate, not only would it risk destabilizing the only relatively peaceful region of Iraq, it could also threaten the "Surge", which includes a sizable detachment of Kurdish Peshmurgas deployed to Baghdad, who would presumably be recalled if needed.

Significantly, in an attempt to shore up his weakening domestic political standing, Iraqi Prime Minister al-Maliki has thrown his support behind the Kurds. But that could end up antagonizing Iran and Syria, both of whom, like Turkey, have concerns about how Kurdish autonomy might impact their own Kurdish minority populations. It also could spell trouble for future Sunni cooperation with a Maliki-led coalition.

Finally, a Turkish attack on Iraqi Kurdistan would spell major trouble for American-Turkish relations, which are already heavily strained as a result of our having done nothing to address the PKK issue for the past four years.

To underline just how astonishing that is, we're talking about a secular Muslim country that's been a member of NATO since 1952, with a legitimate claim against what amounts to state-harbored terrorists. In other words, exactly the kind of country that in principle we should be treating like an ally. Instead, we're treating them like a red-headed stepchild, all due to the perverse calculus that is our failed Iraq policy.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Military Justice

One of the things that's struck me in monitoring the available transcripts of the Gitmo detainee review hearings has been the professionalism of the military men and women serving on the tribunals. Yes, the Military Commission system put in place by the Bush administration and a complicit Congress is a travesty of justice. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the individuals that serve in it aren't committed to seeing that justice is ultimately served.

Today the military judge in charge of the commission proceedings against Omar Khadr, Col. Peter E. Brownback III, threw out the charges against Khadr. His reasoning was procedural: Khadr was declared an "enemy combatant" by a review panel, and not an "unlawful enemy combatant" as the Military Commissions Act stipulates for the commission to have jurisdiction to try him for war crimes. But it's definitely another black eye for Bush's show trials.

Now I really don't know whether Col. Brownback is using the letter of the law to take a principled stand against the military commission system. And there's nothing preventing the military from having Khadr declared an unlawful enemy combatant and then re-instating the charges.

But it's reassuring to know that a corrupt system can't always count on the blind allegiance of the people serving under it.

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   

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Monday, June 4, 2007

Jumping Ship

The American press made a big deal out of the fact that Nicolas Sarkozy named Bernard Kouchner, a Socialist, as his Foreign Minister. But despite all the attention given to Kouchner's "humanitarian interventionist" approach, the move was mainly meant to provide bi-partisan political cover for Sarkozy heading into the parliamentary elections. Trouble is, although Kouchner's always been popular among the general public, he was something of a contrarian within the Socialist Party itself, often at odds with the party line on foreign policy (see Iraq), and resentful of the lack of respect he got from the party apparatus. So as Socialists go, he was really a consolation prize.

Jack Lang, on the other hand, has been both wildly popular and a Socialist Party fixture ever since serving as François Mitterand's Minister of Culture. (His brainchild, "La Fête de la Musique", is celebrated every year on June 21st with free street concerts and festivals in every town, village and city in France.)

And rumor has it that Sarkozy has offered him a cultural portfolio (probably on the level of special assistant to the President) to be announced after the legislative elections. For the time being, Lang's people are denying that any discussions have taken place. But if it turns out to be true, it would deal a heavy blow to the Socialist Party's hopes for reconstructing itself following its loss in the Presidential election and what looks to be a disappointing showing in parliamentary elections next week.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Saturday, June 2, 2007

Birthday Open Thread

On a lighter note, and as alluded to in the comments yesterday, today also happens to be my birthday. As of 10 a.m. New York time, I'll have completed thirty-nine revolutions around the sun. I know I'm supposed to be approaching some sort of mid-life crisis, but frankly I feel about as good as I ever have. I've made my peace with the thinning hair, and I'm seriously digging the traces of gray coming in around the temples and the beard. I'll be spending the afternoon with the Lil' Feller, and the evening with some friends, so posting will be on hold til tomorrow. If you've got any interesting links, pop them in the Comments.

Posted by Judah in:  Open Thread   

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Saturday, June 2, 2007

Pride Of The Yankees

My first hero as a child, outside of cartoon characters with superpowers, was the legendary Yankees first baseman, Lou Gehrig. First captain in franchise history, Gehrig was known as the Iron Horse because of his 2,130 consecutive game streak that stood as a record for fifty-six years following his career. His work ethic and dependability were surpassed only by his incredible production. Despite being overshadowed throughout his career, first by Babe Ruth and later by Joe DiMaggio, Gehrig remained the heart and soul of what's since become an immortal club.

Gehrig succumbed to ALS sixty-six years ago today. Two years before his death, he stood on the field at Yankee Stadium surrounded by the 1927 and 1939 Yankees, and delivered the following farewell speech to his fans:

Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of this earth. I have been in ballparks for seventeen years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.

Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.

When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift - that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies - that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter - that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body - it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed - that's the finest I know.

So I close in saying that I may have had a tough break, but I have an awful lot to live for.  

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Hold The Outrage

That Dutch reality show where the dying woman chooses who she'll donate one of her kidneys to? It was a hoax.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Friday, June 1, 2007

The Fine Line

A friend asked me today if I think A-Rod is a dirty player. My answer was that I don't think he's dirty in the sense that he intentionally cheats. I just think he's got poor impulse control. For whatever it's worth, as great a player as he is, I don't consider him a true Yankee. Posada, Rivera, and of course Jeter, those guys are Yankees. But A-Rod and Clemens and guys like that are just hired guns. (Check back in tomorrow for a guest appearance by the greatest Yankee of all-time. Extra credit if you can tell me who that is and why he'll be featured tomorrow.)

Anyway, all that by way of saying that the Times has got a great article on the latest in the long line of A-Rodisms.

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Dirty Bomb

About a week or so ago, reader RGM asked me whether Jacques Chirac's secret Japanese bank account was news here in France. The answer is yes and no. It's a story that's been floating around for a while now, so it's not exactly news. But it's regained some momentum now that Chirac is out of office and will soon lose his presidential immunity, and as details slowly leak out about the case.

Like the possibility, as the Guardian claims, that Gaston Flosse, the former President of French Polynesia recently convicted of corruption, may have deposited money into the account. Money that theoretically might have come from the E.150 million (Euros) France used to pay French Polynesia each year for the right to test their nuclear weapons there.

So far, it's a string of hypotheticals. But it's safe to say that the wave of post-presidential "Chirac sympathy" will quickly subside if it turns out the deposits into his slush fund were some sort of radioactive kickback.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Friday, June 1, 2007

Getting Out Of Dodge

A Turkish operation in Iraqi Kurdistan may or may not happen. Tensions are high on the border, but they've been high before and that didn't prevent everyone involved from walking things back from the brink. But as Henri Barkey points out in The National Interest, a number of political factors on the Turkish domestic scene are combining to pressure the government towards a hardening of their position vis à vis not only the PKK, but also the Kurdish Regional Government seen as harboring them.

Should Turkey decide to pursue the PKK into Iraqi territory, only one outcome would be worse than Turkish and Kurdish forces engaging in open battle. And that would be American forces getting caught in between them. Which might explain why Coalition Forces just handed over security responsibilities for the three Kurdish provinces in Northern Iraq to the Kurdish Regional Government.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Friday, June 1, 2007

The Joy Of Spam

I've got to admit to having mixed feelings about the arrest of the Spam King. After all, if it weren't for junk mail, some days there'd be no mail at all.

Besides, without spam I'd have never found out I was paying way too much on my mortgage. The money I've saved through refinancing has helped pay the processing fees necessary to help an online acquaintance transfer a sizable fortune out of an African country and into my bank account. (I can't go into too much detail, but he should be wiring the money any day now.) And there was still enough left over to buy all the Viagra I've needed to maintain an erection for the past four years.

Seriously, though, between Spam Assassin on my site's webmail account and Thunderbird's adaptive controls, the only time I see spam is when I doublecheck the Junk folder to make sure there's nothing important in there. I just wonder how there's enough profit in the deal to make it worthwhile.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Friday, June 1, 2007

No New Friends

There's a great article in the NY Times about Obama, the pickup basketball player. No surprises for anyone whose spent any time on the court: Unable to dominate with his size, he relies on competitive drive and know-how to do what it takes to win.

What jumped out at me, though, was this passage buried on page 2:

But the easy friendships Mr. Obama once struck up on the court are a thing of the past. Lately, the rule in the family is “No more new friends,” Mr. Robinson said. “You don’t know what people’s real agendas are.”

What a lonely image.

I've spent some time around people who would be considered minor celebrities, and a few who might be considered major stars. (ie. "I know your friend. What's his name?" True story.) And it's commonplace that they become very careful about who they open up to. Generally this means frequenting either people they knew before they were famous, or else other people who are also famous.

There's always a downside to this phenomenon, what I think of as the Michael Jackson Neverland effect. Celebrities who withdraw behind a wall of familiar faces risk losing touch with what made them famous in the first place.

The same goes for politicians, who tend to stick with the people who got them to the big show. And if they have to change in mid-stream, they turn to old hats, since they can't afford to make any "new friends". Which might explain why folks like Bob Shrum continue to get work directing campaigns, even though they've never actually won any.

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   

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