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September, 2007

Friday, September 28, 2007

Deja Vu All Over Again

The question, it seems to me, is, How many more times do we need to read this headline before we win? Or alternatively, How many more second-in-commands does Al Qaeda Iraq have?

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   

Comments (0) | Permalink



Friday, September 28, 2007

Good News Of The Day

For anyone unfamiliar with it, the French school schedule is in-sane. In primary school, the kids have Wednesdays off and morning classes every other Saturday. Later on, it's morning classes every Saturday. Which means that working parents have to cover for childcare one day a week, and can forget about sleeping in Saturday mornings until the kids are old enough to fend for themselves.

Luckily, all that will change as of next year, when Saturday classes will be eliminated for primary schools. And it's a safe bet the same will be true for secondary schools by the time the Lil' Feller has become the Not So Lil' Feller. As they say here in Paris, Yes!

Posted by Judah in:  Good News Of The Day   

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Missing In Action

Add 190,000 firearms to the list of "Stuff We've Sent To Iraq That's Unaccounted For", right there under the 360 tons of cash we managed to lose track of:

The command said 185,000 Russian-designed AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 sets of body armor, and 140,000 helmets had been issued to Iraq troops by September 2005, according to the July GAO report.

But due to incomplete record-keeping, the command couldn't be certain if the Iraqis received 110,000 of the rifles, or 80,000 of the pistols. More than half of the body armor and helmets couldn't be tracked.

According to Turkey, some of these weapons have ended up in PKK hands, and the FBI is investigating whether former Blackwater employees were involved in diverting them onto the black market.

Of course, given what we know about how sectarian militias have infiltrated the Iraqi Army, I'm not sure it would have made such a difference had the weapons made it to their destination.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Friday, September 28, 2007

Did Dick Sign Off On This?

Let's imagine for a moment that the Israeli air raid on Syria earlier this month really did target a Syrian nuclear facility. And that the equipment at the site really was provided by the North Koreans. And that the Israelis provided unequivocal proof of that to the Bush administration in July.

If that's what actually happened in northeastern Syria, do you really think we'd go ahead and free up the $25 million in energy assistance for the North Korean government that we'd promised as part of the six-party agreement signed in February?

I've seen it suggested that America wanted to avoid any open confrontation about proliferation violations until after the North Korean nuclear facilities are cemented up and their bombs dismantled. But when it comes to negotiations, this administration is obsessed with leverage. And I don't see how we maintain much leverage if we let the North Koreans know that they can pretty much violate the agreement and get away with it.

Which leads me to believe that whatever actually happened in northeastern Syria, it did not involve North Korean-supplied nuclear materials.

Posted by Judah in:  Dear Leader   The Middle East   

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Getting Sidetracked

When real life follows a Seinfeld script:

Authorities said they arrested 13 people and seized more than $500,000 in cash after breaking up a smuggling ring that collected millions of beverage containers in other states and cashed them in for 10 cents apiece in Michigan...

The probe recalled a 1996 episode of "Seinfeld" in which two characters learn about Michigan's 10-cent deposit law and head there with a truckload of 5-cent New York cans, hoping to cash in on the difference, before getting sidetracked.

"A half-million in cash is not 'Seinfeld' humor," Cox spokesman Matt Frendewey said.

It is kind of Kramer-esque, though, that Michigan loses about $13 million every year this way and still doesn't seem to have a solution to the problem.

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Evil Empire

All is right in the world.

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Nothing From Nothing

So two days after complaining that the sexy story (Iran) has been distracting folks from a perhaps more significant one (Turkey), I've spent most of the morning chewing over some of the talking points bouncing around out there about... Iran. I know. Sue me.

Specifically I've been thinking about the question of whether we could live with a nuclear-armed Iran. And one of the major arguments given for why we can't is that a nuclear-armed Iran would become emboldened to use its conventionally-armed proxies to advance its regional interests. In other words, we might be able to deter Iran's nuclear threat (a point former French President Jacques Chirac made this past spring, before hastily retracting the comment the following day). But we would no longer be able to deter Iran's conventional threat.

The problem is, we're already unable to deter Iran's conventional threat. I don't think anyone can accuse the Israelis of having held back last summer in their response to Hizbollah's provocation. And yet it did nothing to weaken Iran's support of Hizbollah, which began re-arming almost immediately upon the cessation of hostilities.

As we speak, we've got 160,000 troops on one side of Iran, 20,000 on another, and two carrier groups on a third, all of them backed up with a not-so-very-subtle threat to bomb Iran back into the stone age unless it renounces its uranium enrichment program. And Iran's response, if you believe the Bush administration, has been to play an even more active role in supporting the Iraqi insurgency.

Don't get me wrong. A nuclear-armed Iran presents a whole host of complications, not least of which is the risk of nuclear proliferation throughout the Middle East. I just don't see how it really changes the conventional balance of power, except insofar as it makes the US-Israeli worse-case option (ie. regime change) unacceptably costly.

If we were steadily rolling back Iranian influence throughout the region, this would strike me as a compelling argument. But until then, the danger is that we'll lose something we don't actually have.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   

Comments (1) | Permalink



Thursday, September 27, 2007

Playa Hate-uz

A propos of nothing, but I'm checking out the site traffic statistics for the past month over at Google Analytics, and it turns out I've had at least one visitor from 49 out of the the 50 states in the union. The one hold out? Wy-o-ming!

Come on, Y-O! Show some love!

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

All Sound, No Bite

Kevin Drum makes a good point about the Democrats' lack of a compelling, sound-biteable argument that can crystallize waffle-y opposition to the Iraq War into the urgent, unequivocal demand to withdraw our troops necessary to actually end the war. Given the doomsday scenarios tossed around by the war's advocates should we leave (Iraq bathed in blood, the Middle East in flames, and planeloads of al-Qaeda kamikazes headed Stateside), "...the surge isn't working and there's been no political progress..." does sound a bit feeble:

...Instead of merely claiming that we're not doing any good in Iraq, we need to make persuasive arguments that we're actively doing harm. There are plenty to choose from:

  • A significant chunk of the insurgency is motivated by opposition to the American occupation. Our presence is actively inflaming the violence, not reducing it.
  • The Maliki government will never make any political compromises as long as they know we're around to prop them up. Leaving is the only way to force them into action.
  • We're arming both sides in a civil war. The longer we stay, the worse the eventual bloodbath will be.
  • Our presence in Iraq is al-Qaeda's greatest recruiting tool. They're going to keep getting stronger until we leave.
  • The real disaster is in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We desperately need to more troops into that theater.

All of these are valid, but I'm afraid they're not enough. I'd wager that a significant percentage of Americans couldn't even identify Nouri al-Maliki, would be hard-pressed to identify two sides to the civil war (to say nothing of the four or five that are actually fighting), and believe that Osama Bin Laden is operating out of one of Saddam Hussein's old palaces. (Okay, maybe not that last one, but you get the point.)

There are a lot of reasons to oppose the war -- its cost in blood and money, the fact that it's accomplishing nothing positive and many things negative, and the sad fact that whether we stay ten more months or ten more years, the country will in all likelihood implode the moment we do leave.

But the most compelling reason to oppose the war is that it is weakening America:

  • by squandering our military capacity;
  • by strengthening our enemies;
  • by distracting us from other, more serious threats;
  • by diminishing our standing in the world. 

It's an argument that has the advantage of being not only compelling and simple, but also of being true. And if Democrats can convince the waffling middle that Kevin refers to of its truth, they can become the national security party by ending the War.

George Bush wants to weaken America. John McCain thinks securing Baghdad is more important than securing Washington. Mitt Romney thinks the US military is disposable.

Say it often enough and people will realize it's true. 

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Lowering The Heat

The announcement of an agreement between Turkey and Iraq allowing Turkey to conduct cross-border "hot pursuit" raids against the PKK with Iraqi approval is good news. It remains to be seen how effective the agreement is in operation, as well as how willing the Iraqi Kurds are to go along with the deal. But any development that reduces tensions in that part of Iraq is welcome.

I'm curious to know just how involved the US was in brokering this deal. It would be a reflection of how much influence we really have on either of these governments.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Turkey   

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Say It Ain't So

This demonstrates an incredibly bad sense of timing:

Israel is looking to a U.S.-India nuclear deal to expand its own ties to suppliers, quietly lobbying for an exemption to non-proliferation rules so it can legally import atomic material, according to documents made available Tuesday to The Associated Press.

And this might go down as the understatement of the year: 

But Daryl Kimball, an analyst and executive director of the Arms Control Association, said that - even if unsuccessful - any attempt by Israel to move closer to nations exporting sensitive nuclear technology and material that could potentially be turned into fissile material for warheads would alarm many in the Middle East.

"There is a great deal of tensions between non-nuclear (Arab) weapons states and Israel, and the mere existence of this proposal would exacerbate ... the Middle East situation," he said from Washington.

A lot of people pointed to the US-India deal as a blow against the non-proliferation regime. But I think they were primarily worried about how rogue states might try to exploit the inconsistencies (read: hypocrisy) involved. Now with the ink hardly dry on the as yet unratified deal, Israel is willing to dramatically reduce the level of "ambiguity" in its nuclear status to jump on board the gravy train.

To paraphrase the old Chris Rock routine, I ain't sayin' Ahmadinejad should get nuclear weapons... But I unner-stan'. 

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Kosher Won-Tons?

Anti-semitism rears its ugly head in the City by the Bay. It's a time-tested formula: When you need a scapegoat, find a Jew.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Charitable Causes

Regular HJ reader Gerald Scorse donates $0.02 to the Gray Lady, pointing out the flawed logic often used by conservatives to argue against increasing the capital gains tax.

Gerry's been a faithful supporter of the site since its inception, as anyone who clicks through to the Comments section knows. I've tried to convince him to put some of his thoughts down on the frontpage, but so far he's been too busy grazing on greener pastures...

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

New Dog, Old Tricks

Ezra Klein links to a Rick Perlstein piece describing Ike's reception of Nikita Krushchev in September 1959. The conclusion they both draw is that this week's controversy over how to receive Iran's President Ahmadinejad reveals a diminished America, lacking confidence in its ability to defeat its adversaries on the merits.

While Krushchev's regal tour (which was more than anything else an elaborate stage production) certainly stands in contrast with the treatment Ahamdinejad received this week, there is another distinction to be made between the two. Krushchev represented a country that, in addition to being a sworn enemy with the capacity to annihilate us, we recognized diplomatically. And he was on an official state visit. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, represents a country that we do not formally recognize. And he was on a visit to the UN.

Fortunately, there is a better comparison to be made from 1959, when a young, charismatic leader hostile to American interests (though posing no existential threat) also visited the United States. His name? Fidel Castro:

Fidel's first trip to the United States (on April 15, 1959) demonstrated his intelligence. He neither requested nor accepted the classical official invitation; rather, he had himself invited by the press, the Press Club...

...He never lost his temper, always kept his good humor. And he visited progressive universities, liberal organizations, the zoo, Yankee Stadium; he ate hot dogs and hamburgers, and tried to make a media splash.

...Fidel was a hit.

...And in Washington the prevailing atmosphere was pure disdain. One incident typifies the entire scene. Someone came into the room where the delegation was waiting and was announced as "Mister So-and-so, in charge of Cuban affairs." To this Fidel could only reply, "And I thought I was in charge of Cuban affairs."

Now, granted, the United States and Cuba didn't formally end diplomatic ties until January 1961. But I still think this is the more appropriate comparison. The controversy over Ahmadinejad's visit reflects not so much a novel failure of American nerve as it does a traditional failure of American diplomacy. Namely, to enhance the status of petty goons by treating them as mortal threats, while at the same time proving unable to defeat them in the war of images.

Ahmadinejad is the latest in a long line of inflated nemeses (one that includes Saddam Hussein and Hugo Chavez, but not Nikita Krushchev). The answer isn't to roll out the red carpet for these guys. It's to reveal them for the frauds they are. I think Ezra and I are probably in agreement that the best way to do that is to engage and challenge them. I just wouldn't exagerrate the psychological significance of our failure to do so.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   Iran   

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Canary Redux

[This reader's comment on a previous post about Turkey is informative enough that I thought I'd pop it onto the front page.]

Yes I agree that Turkey's route is, and has always been, an important stick where Islam and democracy's compatibility can be measured.

I am a secular Turk. The western, and eastern for that matter, media portrays us seculars as some kind of rich spoiled "elites", who have the army at our disposal to pound on the poor, religious and innocent masses at anytime. We are somehow related to autocrats of Egypt, Algeria and Syria. This is not only ridiculously simplified, it is also not true.

Instead of my words, I'll let the numbers do the talking. These following numbers are taken from a May 1999 survey (please consider the fact that that year was considered to be the height of Islamic fundemantalism in Turkey):

Those who define themselves as Muslim: 97%

I pray 5 times a day: 46% [ in '07 : 25%]

I never pray: 53%

Even if someone drinks, if they have faith they are Muslim: 67%

Even if someone doesn't pray, if they have faith they are Muslim: 87%

Even if someone doesn't fast, if they have faith they are Muslim: 82%

If a woman has faith, but doesn't cover her hair, she is still a Muslim: 85%

As you can see Turkey's people always had a very relaxed point of view when it came to religion.

I, being a secular, probably would have been considered a liberal in the US, however that title in Turkey is given to the current administration, which came to being from a religious background.

But the most important number comes from a PEW report. Only 9% of Turks had a favorable point of view regarding the US. This is astonishing as it is even lower than the 11% of Palestinians who were favorable. In fact the favorable numbers have all fallen greatly for Russia, European Union, Iran, Israel etc. We are becoming isolated and very very confused with our neo-liberal religous, hardline seculars, elites and masses, the army, the Kurds, the Armenians want to stick another one here and there, European Union will never takes us, we shouldn't even be there etc etc.

We are in a locked battle with ourselves and somehow, without bloodshed or assassinations or coups we have managed to get through it.

So yes I agree that what happens in Turkey is very important to the whole region, but we are not slipping into theocracy. Our people wouldn't allow it.

Posted by Judah in:  Turkey   

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Bad News, Good News

In one of the first definitive outcomes to emerge from the Israeli mystery airstrike over northeastern Syria last week, Syrian officials have let it be known that there's no longer any hope of getting Israeli-Syrian peace talks off the ground. Not only do the Syrians have enough on their plate handling fallout from their Lebanon meddling, but in the aftermath of such an aggression, any move on their part towards the negotiating table would be a sign of weakness.

The good news is that while it might have killed any chances for peace breaking out anytime soon, the air raid also reduced the odds of war breaking out either. You'll recall that there was some concern over the summer that despite the fact that neither Israel nor Syria wanted war, the fear of an imminent attack might lead one side to launch a pre-emptive strike. So there were quite a few backchannel messages sent, including through Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi when she visited Damascus, to defuse the tensions on the border.

Now Syria has confirmed that it will not respond militarily to the Israeli strike, partly because of a lack of Arab support, partly because of a tepid Russian response, but mainly because it knows it would get its butt whooped in any conflict with Israel. Which means that barring a regime-threatening assault by the IDF, it looks like prospects for an accidental war have dramatically decreased.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Monday, September 24, 2007

That, Mr. President, Is A Diss

Over the past week, there was some wringing of blogger hands and declarations of outrage over just how to deal with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Josh Marshall over at TPM suggested that it was beneath us to worry about the kind of propaganda points Ahmadinejad might score by laying a wreath at Ground Zero. Ezra Klein concurred. Kevin Drum wondered if he were alone in feeling queasy about letting such a creep use such a potent symbol for his advantage.

While I didn't post about it, I agreed with Josh and Ezra that it revealed a certain brittle fragility to deny him the right to visit the site. I also agreed with Kevin, though, that it wasn't wise to leave him alone to mind the store, so to speak. My thinking was that we risked nothing letting him go down there, so long as we came up with a good PR riposte, like a delegation of 9/11 widows to meet him there with a petition demanding that he cease funding terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah.

But I think Columbia University President Lee Bollinger showed us all the proper way to handle the Iranian President. You call him out for the petty dictator he is. Because when it comes right down to it, the man is ridiculous. But that's easy to forget if we build him up into some malevolent super-villain.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Media Coverage   

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Monday, September 24, 2007

Canary In The Mine

This post isn't really inspired by any single major news item as much as by a whole slew of smaller ones. The thought was triggered by a blurb about Turkey opening its yearly fall offensive against the PKK a month earlier than normal this year, gathered steam with the news that Blackwater (or two of its employees) are the subject of an FBI investigation for illegally smuggling weapons to the PKK in Iraq, and culminated in an article about the US urging Turkey to find alternatives sources of natural gas instead of developing Iranian reserves as planned.

And the thought is that somehow, in pursuing a generation-defining war against Islamic extremism, we've managed to push the one democratic, secular, dependable Islamic ally we have in the region into the arms of our worst enemies.

Iran is a sexy story right now, and rightfully so. But when the dust of history settles on the Iraq War, I'm not sure that the unleashing of Iran will rate as its most significant adverse outcome. That honor might very well go to the deterioration of the American-Turkish strategic alliance. Because unlike Iraq or Iran, which we never really stood a chance of winning over, Turkey was already on our side. And we're in the process of losing it, at the very moment when religious Muslims have begun to dominate the Turkish political scene.

For the time being, the Turkish military and cultural elites serve as guarantors of secularism. But if Turkey ever does wind up sliding into theocracy, it will be a major strategic setback for American regional interests. And it will be in many ways traceable to bi-lateral tensions caused by our intervention in Iraq.

Iran is important. But the future of Turkey, it seems to me, will determine the future of the region.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iran   Iraq   Turkey   

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Monday, September 24, 2007

RSVP

The Bush administration and its proxies have been ramping up the rhetoric about Iranian interference in Iraq now since about January. And while it's understandable to suspect that the charges might be exagerrated (a healthy skepticism seems warranted as far as this administration and casus belli go), I don't think there's anything on the face of them that's surprising. In fact, it seems obvious that Iran would attempt to influence the outcome in Iraq, and not only influence it, but influence it in its own favor.

That's probably why securing the Iran-Iraq border to seal off smuggling routes for Iranian-supplied weapons has been such a high priority since the early days of the American occupation. Manned outposts were immediately put in place to plug the gaps in the border, well-known because they'd been used for years to supply anti-Saddam militants. The Iraqi troops trained to patrol the area were well-supplied and backed up by American firepower...

Oh, wait a minute. Maybe I got that wrong:

...Mueller and his troops are also getting a late start, basically trying to secure the thinly patrolled border from scratch after it was largely ignored during more than four years of war...

The problem has roots in the immediate aftermath of the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, when the American military was focused on seizing Baghdad. The U.S. Marines received orders to send patrols to the area southeast of Baghdad - but not to the frontier itself, despite fears it was a tempting entry point for Islamic militants from Iran.

In other words, the "Iran meddling in Iraq" talking point is yet another instance of the Bush administration's failure to plan for the aftermath of the invasion. I've seen a lot about the unguarded munitions dumps that basically provided the insurgency with explosives for use against American troops. But I haven't seen a lot on this. The same goes for the Syrian border.

If the Iranians are in Iraq, at least part of it has to do with the fact that we did everything but print out a personal invitation for them.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Saturday, September 22, 2007

Settling In

You've probably noticed by now, but posting has been light since I arrived in Paris. I've been busy exploring the city, making contacts, and getting my bearings. I've also been pitching article ideas, so with any luck I'll have some story links to announce some time soon. All of which means I've had less time to sift through the world press in search of those off the beaten path news items that get my blog juices flowing.

I'll try to jot down some first impressions on Paris early next week. In the meantime, please bear with me. Over the past six months, the amount of people who regularly visit the site has grown steadily. I feel a responsibility to continue providing whatever it is that keeps bringing you back, and a bit guilty when I don't have the time to do that as well as I'd like to.

I'm still interested in finding people who would like to contribute to the site to fill out content when I'm not able to. So if you have an area of interest and some free time, drop me an e-mail through the 'Contact Us' link in the navbar. Everyone else, just sit tight.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

House Of Cards

Barry Ritholtz over at The Big Picture provides the key to understanding the real danger of the subprime meltdown:

Alan Greenspan's 1% rates created what looked like a huge Housing boom. But what it really created was a credit boom, which then in turn led to a derivative boom and ultimately structured finance boom.

Thus, the so-called sub-prime crisis was merely the match that ignited a much wider breakdown.

What's also important to keep in mind is that everyone now getting burned by the flames of these high-risk loans was busy cashing in on them while the run lasted. That includes individual buyers (the ones who managed to convert unstable credit positions into solid leverage, anyway), as well as the institutional investors who underwrote the high-risk debt. Kind of like the junk-bond schemes of the 1980's.

As usual in a pyramid scheme, the last folks in are the ones left holding the bag. I'm just wondering if anyone's going to play the Michael Milken role and do some white collar time on this one. Of course, it would be difficult to really pin the blame, given that the entire operation was Federally subsidized.

Posted by Judah in:  Markets & Finance   

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Thursday, September 20, 2007

That's A Start

The YouTube debate might have been flashier, but it really just amounted to the old debate format with a new gimmick. The Democrats' Online Debate, on the other hand, better exploited the strengths of the new medium. Charlie Rose asked the questions; each individual candidate answered fully. The viewer lines up the answers he or she wants to hear and clicks play.They call it a mashup, but it's more like a video archive of the candidates' substantive policy positions.

If there's a drawback it's that the viewer selects the clips, so while the lesser known candidates get equal opportunity, they don't necessarily get equal exposure. But that's democracy, I guess. The customer is king.

Now what I'd like to see is a series of round-robin, one-on-one debates between all the candidates, whether online or live. Whatever happened to the country of Lincoln-Douglas?

Thanks to Jason over at Voices of Reason for the tip.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   Politics   

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Stardust

Nothing like a good meteor crashing to Earth to put things in perspective. It left a crater 65 feet wide by 15 feet deep, in a barren plain of the Peruvian Andes. The water that filled the crater boiled for ten minutes from the heat. 200 people complained of a gas causing nausea and dizziness, but an expert said they were probably suffering from psychosomatic sympoms:

When a meteorite falls, it produces horrid sounds when it makes contact with the atmosphere... It is as if a giant rock is being sanded. Those sounds could have frightened them.

He took blood samples just to be on the safe side.

Posted by Judah in:  The Natural World   

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Honeymoon's Over

There's been a subtle change in the political climate here the past week. Or maybe I should say that given the kind of bad news that's been bubbling up through the usually on-message Sarko-sphere, I sense a shift coming. Because even if Nicolas Sarkozy is still surrounded by plenty of sycophantic courtiers (in both politics and the media), his act is beginning to wear a bit thin on the folks outside the palace.

To begin with, other European leaders, who are having trouble keeping up with Sarkozy's scatter-shot initiatives that lack any overarching logic or strategy. Add to that his own Prime Minister, who in an interview with Paris Match cited by Le Figaro admitted that he'd been annoyed by some of the President's condescending comments over the past couple months. Toss in the labor unions that are a bit steamed over his two-week deadline for negotiating a reform to the "special retirement regimes" for hard labor, and have called a railroad strike next month. And if all that weren't enough, there's the police who have opened an investigation into a possible kickback scheme dating back to 1997 while he was still Mayor of Neuilly.

Besides that there are rumors of a government shakeup planned for January, along with knowing asides about dissatisfied cabinet members. All of this, it's important to remember, when there isn't the slightest shred of a legitimate opposition left to contest him.

That's a lot of rumbling. The question is, What's going to blow? As Dominique de Villepin pointed out, Sarkozy's dynamic activity is only convincing if it produces concrete results. So far, everyone has played along with him. But that might be changing, which means the next three months could get bumpy. And the Sarko that so many people warned us about during the presidential campaign might rear his ugly head.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Annoying Isn't A Crime

Just a quick follow-up to the Univ. of Florida tasing incident. By now, the video has gone viral. Conspiracy theorists are pointing to the coming police-state apocalypse. Consensus seems to have coalesced around the hypothesis that the student in question, Andrew Myer, is a jerk who intended to provoke an incident. It also appears that the viral video doesn't include the incident's debut, in which Myer jumps to the front of the line of questioners and interrupts another student at the microphone. Finally, according to an eyewitness, Sen. John Kerry did try to defuse the situation, in general, and to get the police officers to stand down, in particular. In light of which, the officers were probably justified in removing Myer from the microphone and the gathering, and I was probably unjustified in condemning Sen. Kerry for inaction. 

Be all that as it may, my main point was that this was an inappropriate use of the taser, and that in light of other similar abuses, there ought to be some national discussion and/or regulation of what constitutes appropriate use of it. The fact that the taser is non-lethal force doesn't make it universally applicable. And while abuses might persist in the face of regulation, at least there will be laws on the books protecting citizens and allowing for effective legal oversight.

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   Media Coverage   

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Silence Is Deafening

The web's been abuzz with speculation about what actually happened in Syria last week. So far, what's actually known is that Syria announced that it had fired on Israeli warplanes that had violated its airspace. Turkey later announced that it had recovered fuel tanks of the type Israeli fighter jets use on its border with Syria, and very mildly protested about the Israeli violation of its airspace.

The rest is really speculation, because Israel has neither denied or confirmed the raid, and the only people who have commented on it have been "unnamed American officials" who at first suggested the target had been Iranian arms shipments transiting Syria for delivery to Hezbollah, and later tried to grow legs on a Syrian-Korean nuclear link story. The latter angle was picked up by the so-called "responsible" press, suddenly unable to resist a sensational story.

But this story's significance, as Ilene Prusher of the CS Monitor points out, lies not in what happened, but in what didn't happen. Namely, a rousing condemnation of the Israeli provocation. Not only has no one forcefully reprimanded them (aside from the Syrians), there's almost been a tacit sigh of relief.

My initial reaction to the story last week, before the Syrian nuclear installation got tagged onto it, was that the Israelis were conducting a dry run to smoke out Syrian air defences for an eventual raid on Iran's uranium enrichment facilities. And this map that accompanies the CSM article seems to bear out that hypothesis. Continue along that trajectory and before long you're in Isfahan and Natanz. In other words, the heart of the Iranian nuclear program.

Whether or not that's the case, though, I think Prusher's spot on in her conclusion. Israel sent the entire region, but especially the Iranians, a message, and it was willing to jeopardize any chance of peace talks with the Syrians to do so. The message? It can do what it pleases. And it can do it with impunity.

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   Media Coverage   The Middle East   

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Tortured By Taser

This is the second time in the past year that I've seen a video of police tasering someone for refusing to follow their orders to leave a building. The first occurred in a UCLA student library. This one occurred at a speech given by John Kerry.

The young man clearly disregards "protocol" by asking accusatory, conspiracy theory-driven questions. It's something that I find mildly irritating, along the lines of the Code Pink protesters who pop up in Congressional hearings. But far from breaking any law, he was engaged in a political act: Confronting power with discomforting questions. In fact, it's the fundamental political act of any democracy, as essential as the act of casting a ballot.

In the case of the UCLA student earlier this year, I wondered why no one intervened. That is, why no one stopped the police who repeatedly tasered the young man. But of course, the witnesses were all young students. It would have taken an unusual degree of courage to confront the authority of the police officers.

In this case, however, Mr. Kerry could have intervened at the moment it became clear that the police intended to remove the questioner. As a US Senator, he has at least the moral authority to do so. And as is demonstrated by the fact that he goes on to answer the man's questions, there was no justifiable reason to remove him from the audience. His silence as the scene unfolds becomes deafening.

On a broader level, it's time there was some national legislation addressing the police use of tasers. I know that the young man was in violation of the law the moment he refused to comply with the police officer's command, whether or not the command itself was justified. But from that to the use of what amounts to torture seems like a leap of barbaric proportions.

Until the use of tasers is regulated, in the age of cell-phone video and YouTube, we'll be witness to this kind of scene more and more frequently. We can't change what happened in this video. But maybe we can prevent it from happening in the next one.

Via The New York Nerd.

Posted by Judah in:  Human Rights   

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Monday, September 17, 2007

You've Come A Long Way, Baby

Just a quick reality check for anyone who really believes the Bush administration's rhetoric about spreading democracy through the Middle East: Saudi Arabian women are petitioning the king for the right, not to vote, but to drive. And the Saudis are our friends.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   The Middle East   

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Project Salam

Remember all those reports a few months back about British arms manufacturer BAE greasing Prince Bandar's palm to get the Saudis to buy BAE-manufactured Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jets? Well, apparently all that negative publicity, not to mention an American investigation into the allegations, wasn't enough to derail the deal. The ink just dried, to the tune of $8.9 billion.

Posted by Judah in:  The Middle East   

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Cyber Attack?

Keep your eyes open tomorrow for a news item on the Army website being hacked. I've been trying to access it now for quite some time, with no success.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Pragmatic Idealism

I haven't seen any coverage of this, and it's worth a read. James Baker outlines his ten maxims for a sound foreign policy, something he calls "The Big Ten: The Case For Pragmatic Idealism". It's short enough not to need a summary here. I will cite his final maxim, though:

A last, but by no means least, important guiding principle: Domestic support is vital to any successful foreign policy.

The will of the American people is the final arbiter of foreign policy in our democracy. Generating and sustaining domestic support for foreign policy is in every way as important as the policy itself...

The rest is just as timely. God, I never thought I'd see the day when I'd think of James Baker as a step in the right direction. But that day is definitely here.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Be Ready. Be Very Ready.

Let me preface this post by saying that I'm perfectly willing to accept the possibility that I'm way off base on this. But it strikes me that the Dept. of Homeland Security's disaster preparedness camp for ten year-olds represents all the worst aspects of our country's reaction to the traumas of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina:

...The Be Ready Camp curriculum includes an introduction to survival and first aid, disaster psychology and terrorism awareness, as well as instruction on creating a family emergency plan and an emergency supply kit.

Be Ready Camp culminates in a disaster exercise, with kids stepping into the shoes of public safety professionals, such as police officers, firefighters, dive teams, doctors, soldiers and first responder volunteers.

Now don't get me wrong. I don't think kids shouldn't be prepared to respond to individual emergency situations, both emotionally and also (to whatever degree they're capable of) technically. It just seems inappropriate to not only inculcate them with a mass disaster mentality at such a young age, but also with a sense of responsibility to respond to one.

After all, the emergency response failures to both 9/11 and Katrina weren't due to kids not knowing how to respond. They were due to grown ups not knowing how to respond. And if a disaster ever results in there being no adults available to respond, then I don't think this kind of camp is going to make much of a difference for the kids that are left.

There's a certain comic aspect to this, sort of like the "Duck & Cover" drills of the 1950's. But those drills, as silly as they were, managed to psychologically mark a generation with a foreboding of impending doom. Which isn't such a laughing matter.

Also, I'm a bit curious as to what the "Terrorism Awareness" component of the curriculum consists of. Are the little tikes learning how to racially profile potential terrorists? Or spy on their parents? Just how ready is ready, anyway?

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Reverse Stockholm Syndrome?

In what may prove to be the next front in the War on Terror, Gitmo officials are investigating how two detainees managed to obtain contraband... underwears. That's right. Two detainees were found with non-regulation skivvies and one of them was also in possession of a pair of Speedos. The Pentagon suspects the men's lawyers had something to do with it, since they're both represented by the same English advocacy group, Reprieve. A lawyer for Reprieve rejected the charge, calling it unlikely that anything could be smuggled in to Gitmo, and pointing out that the brand of underwear in question, Under Armour, is popular among the US military.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Say What?   

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Dept. Of Bitter Ironies

A headline from the White House news roundup for September 14, 2007, noted without further comment:

President Bush Signs Honest Leadership and Open Government Act of 2007.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Don't Hold Back

Remember that WaPo article that quoted a "senior official" as saying that calling relations between CentCom commander Admiral William Fallon and Lt. Gen. David Petraeus bad would be "the understatement of the century"? Gareth Porter, in an article for IPS picked up by Asia Times, fills in some of the blanks:

Fallon told Petraeus that he considered him to be "an ass-kissing little chickenshit" and added, "I hate people like that," the sources say. That remark reportedly came after Petraeus began the meeting by making remarks that Fallon interpreted as trying to ingratiate himself with a superior.

I guess that does strike me as a little worse than bad.

On a more serious note, the rest of the article describes Fallon's strategic outlook for American force structure in the region. He is apparently very strongly opposed to a prolonged American engagement in Iraq. According to Porter, Fallon is more focused on keeping Pakistan stable and avoiding a hot war with Iran, both of which he feels necessitate a quick American drawdown in Iraq.

So why is it Congressional Democrats don't call for a Fallon Report?

Update: By the way, I found this article through a link from Corporal Cutten Paste

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Brush With Greatness

If you're wondering why posting and linking has been light this week, it's because I dropped back down to the little village in Provence where I've lived for the past six years to clear out my apartment and tie up loose ends. It's actually a pretty emotional exercise for me, as it involves combing through mementoes and drifting through memories of a very intense passage in my life: the birth of my son, his early childhood, and the challenge of carving out a place for myself in a village where the only way to make a living is by putting up walls or tearing them down, and where the folks from the village 10 km away "aren't from here". After tomorrow, it's back up to Paris for the next leg of this adventure.

But that's not why I'm writing tonight. Tonight I'm writing because of what I learned over a farewell dinner with a retired English couple here in the village, who I met when I built some custom-made bookcases for them (up the side of a staircase), but who have since become good friends. It turns out she grew up in Liverpool and saw The Quarrymen play The Cavern in 1957. You might have heard of the group's singer and lead guitarist: A couple guys by the name of Lennon and McCartney. Needless to say, I was impressed.

Update: My friend just called to clarify that when she had gone to The Cavern, it was actually to see local Liverpool celebrities, The Merseysippi Jazz Band. The Quarrymen, at that time a "skiffle" group, were just a bunch of kids whose set was included in the price of admission.

Posted by Judah in:  Arts & Letters   

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Quote Of The Day

"I lost."

-- Diego Montoya, the world's most wanted drug trafficker, after being captured by Colombian troops.  

Posted by Judah in:  Quote Of The Day   

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Fourth And Long

Funny how closely the Petraeus Reports seem to follow the President's schedule for requesting supplemental funding for the Iraq War. According to an article two weeks ago in the WaPo, President Bush is confident he'll be able to get the $50 billion he needs this time around:

The request is being prepared now in the belief that Congress will be unlikely to balk so soon after hearing the two officials argue that there are promising developments in Iraq but that they need more time to solidify the progress they have made, a congressional aide said.

And the reassessment Petraeus referred to for March 2008? That's just about when the administration will be rolling out its spring supplemental request.

That's really the only way to understand the Petraeus testimony, which is nothing short of masterful. A little drawdown to satisfy the Democrats. A little progress to satisfy the GOP. And a strategically scheduled reassessment to forestall any firm decision.

Of course, the drawdown is a false drawdown, mandated by logistical strains on the American military. And the progress is false progress, belied by the numbers as well as the political impasse in Iraq. And the reassessment is a false reassessment, determined by the political calendar in Washington.

Punting might move the ball further into the opponent's end. But it shouldn't be confused with offense.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Politics   

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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Do As I Do, Not As I Say

The Bush administration's zeal for promoting democracy doesn't seem to extend to our erstwhile ally in the War on Terror, Pakistan. Today, former Prime Minister Nazir Sharif returned from seven years of exile to challenge General Pervez Musharraf in general elections called for later this year. As this video from Ria Novosti shows, Sharif's experiment in democracy was short-lived. Arrested immediately at the airport, he was promptly expelled from the country. Before the standoff, four thousand of his supporters had already been detained by Pakistani police.

In watching the video, notice the shirts worn by the security forces that sealed off the Islamabad airport: Anti-Terrorist Squad. On second thought, maybe Bush really has exported American-style democracy.

Posted by Judah in:  Foreign Policy   

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Cherry Picking

It's all well and good for Ryan Crocker to mention French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner's visit to Iraq as a sign that European states originally opposed to the war are now becoming more involved in trying to find a solution to the Iraq problem. What he left out is that Nicolas Sarkozy explicitly declared that a withdrawal timeline for American forces was essential to any progress being made.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   La France Politique   

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Monday, September 10, 2007

Let's You And Him Fight

Ryan Crocker just made an important point about the distinct identities, cultures, histories, and languages that separate Iraq's Arab Shiites from Iran's Persian Shiites. The common refrain of American advocates of an extended force commitment is that should we leave, Iraq will become at the very least an Iranian alliy, and at worst an Iranian proxy or satellite.

I've never understood the logic behind that. While it's true that Iran would be the primary ally of Iraqi Shiites as they face off against Iraqi Sunnis, the reality is that there is no monolithic Shiite faction in Iraq. That's part of the reason that the Iraqi government is so ineffectual. In fact, the Badr Brigades and Mahdi Army are busy massacring each other, in parts of Baghdad, as well as in the South. And I don't see how Iran would be able to stop that any better than we have.

Strategically, an American withdrawal from Iraq would turn the Iraqi meltdown, complete with intra-Shiite fighting and al-Qaeda, into an Iranian problem. That doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Youth Shows But Half

From where I’d sit on the porch nights, I could see everything. They’d move from room to room like cats. One would retreat, the other would follow, then they’d switch – arms waving, faces turning red. Pretty soon I’d hear their voices, loud enough to carry through the windows and clear across the street. Then, if it was a real bad one, things would start flying: lamps and glasses and the like. Somehow with all the broken windows they replaced, they never did manage to put up curtains.

I used to call them the Richters. Nan said it wasn’t right to make light of other people’s troubles. But it just happened to come out one night, what must have been three or four months after they moved in. By then we’d seen it happen enough times not to be surprised anymore, but still not so many that we’d lost interest. Nan had brought some iced tea out to the porch and sat down next to me on the loveseat. It was a balmy summer night, with a breeze to make the trees out front whisper. We sat sipping the iced tea, not saying much as is our habit. We no longer needed to say much, Nan and me, to get by.

Then they started up. This time it was her chasing after him. From the living room to the kitchen, upstairs to where we couldn’t follow them, and then back down. I felt Nan tense up next to me, waiting. She would wait for the worst, that was Nan. Forty years of sitting beside someone at movies, theatre plays and the like, it’ll teach you a lot about a person’s tendencies. Nan would tense up and wait for the worst. That night, though, it seemed to pass quickly. Shortly they went upstairs and the lights went out.

“That looked to be about a four on the Richter scale,” I said then, relieved to feel Nan’s body relax into mine. And we both let out a little chuckle. So from then on they were the Richters, even though I said it without a bit of malice. It wasn’t long before we grew accustomed to them, and they became a feature of the landscape, like any other. Volatile perhaps, but familiar, like a volcano that smokes and spews from time to time but that we otherwise took for granted...

Continue reading Youth Shows But Half>>

Posted by Judah in:  Verse & Prose   

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

What Goes Up...

I was mistaken yesterday when I said that Dominique de Villepin's new book describes Napolean's fall. Instead it describes how Napolean's fall was historically inscribed in his rise. But the truth bears out my point even more effectively. Namely, that Villepin is articulating the theoretical principles around which an opposition to Sarkozy might mature. Here's the historical thesis on which it's based, from his book as quoted by a review in Marianne:

For me, the mechanisms of his fall are at work from the beginning of the Napoleonic gesture, at the Empire's source... If Berezina, Leipzig or the betrayal of Talleyrand punctuate the collapse, to my mind they still only finalize it. Their direct causes are the result of older and more profound factors; they are inscribed in the adventure's genes, marked from the very beginning by the precarity of a power undermined by revolutionary fever.

Villepin's larger point, according to the article's author, is that France is at its core a conservative country. So any ruler whose agenda is too ambitiously revolutionary is bound to fail. This was true of Napoleon at the very zenith of his power. And by dedicating his book to the subject, Villepin the Gaullist is sending Sarkozy the Reformer a message: To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, "Mr. President, I've studied Napoleon Bonaparte, I've written two books on Napoleon Bonaparte. Mr. President, you're no Napoleon Bonaparte."

I've gone back and forth, personally speaking, on Sarkozy. There are parts of his agenda that seem necessary, others that seem excessive, and some that are just plain, downright offensive. I've often felt that the fear expressed by his most virulent opponents was a bit out of proportion. And then every now and then I find myself wondering if he isn't capable of the worst.

So it's reassuring to know that should Sarkozy give in to his own worst instincts, Villepin is prepared to play the role of Joseph Welch to Sarkozy's Joe McCarthy. It's a role that's he's already familiar with, having played it to perfection in the run-up to the Iraq War. It'll be fascinating to see if he'll be needed for a reprise.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Live Rugby Blogging

Yo, these guys are gnarly!! Probably not any more than American football players, but you notice it more without the pads. Half of them have got ears that look like cauliflower bulbs, and there's not a whole lot of neck on display. As the announcer said, "Rugby, c'est une histoire d'Homme, avec un grand 'h'." (Rugby is about being a Man, with a big 'M'.) That said, they're all super-emotional. A bunch of them were holding back tears during the national anthems. Don't see that a lot on an NFL sideline.

Update 1: Halftime. Argentina's up 17-9. For anyone interested, I just found this simplified Rules of Rugby. It's really a brutal sport. Head's snapped back, people getting stomped on, and one guy left the field looking like Sissie Spacek in the last scene in Carrie. But somehow very sportsmanlike.

Update 2: Final score, Argentina 17, France 12. Pretty exciting match, but the French kept giving the ball away. This dude here came in for France as a replacement at the end of the match. Only in addition to looking like that, he had his game face on. That's where I'd be like, "Okay, guys, which one of you's gonna cover the caveman? Cuz it sure ain't gonna be me."

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   

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Friday, September 7, 2007

World Cup Of Rugby!!

Well, maybe this makes up for all the Super Bowls I've missed. Tonight's the opener, France vs. Argentina. The Cup is taking place here, and there's been an enormous promotional campaign all week. So along with the rest of the country, I'm stoked!!

France has a pretty strong team, but apparently Argentina has had their number in qualifiers. I'll have to brush up on the rules (what the hell's up with those scrums?), but it still ought to be a blast.

Posted by Judah in:  Hoops, Hardball & Fisticuffs   

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Hare Allah

In a monograph for the Army War College titled "Deprogramming an Ideology", Lt. Col. Johnathon French draws a parallel between jihadist terrorist organizations and religious cults. This seems about right to me, and underscores a major drawback of our approach to counter-terrorism. Namely that in reducing the options to military vs. police tactics (which is in and of itself silly, since both are necessary), we've excluded any consideration of the psychological component of the struggle. (By some odd coincidence, I just deleted a whole folder of articles on this subject while cleaning up my Bookmarks last night.)

Admittedly, there is no accepted psychological profile for identifying the potential terrorist, although my review of the literature suggested some convergences. But it's always struck me that terrorist organizations operate along the same lines (and depend upon the same qualities in their recruits) as religious cults. Indoctrination in moral absolutism, isolation from the pre-existing social context, and substitution of the group's ideology for the individual's moral compass are all time-tested ways to "convert" vulnerable subjects. (They also resemble the psychological principles behind the "enhanced interrogation techniques" designed to break detainees.)

Lt. Col. French calls it Thought Control, and he advocates a global effort to "deprogram" the terrorists and their pool of recruits, similar to interventions designed to emancipate cult members from the influence of the brainwashing they've experienced. Here's a chart of some concrete proposals (click on it for a larger readable version):

Some seem more practical and potentially effective than others. (For instance, I'm not sure how exactly Lt. Col. French intends to "De-nuclearize Israel", which you'll find under "Decisive Points" in the footnote box.) But at least it's a step towards the kind of creative thinking we'll need if we're actually going to defuse terrorism as a global threat.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   

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Friday, September 7, 2007

You Can Ring My Bell

I was just glancing at the Iranian state news agency, and the thought occurred to me that the function of reporting and governance are irrevocably altered by the nature of a theocracy, where the public interest and factual concerns must also pass through a filter of religious ideology. Then I ran across President Bush's latest Presidential Proclamation:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GEORGE W. BUSH, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Friday, September 7, through Sunday, September 9, 2007, as National Days of Prayer and Remembrance. I ask that the people of the United States and their places of worship mark these National Days of Prayer and Remembrance with memorial services, the ringing of bells, and evening candlelight remembrance vigils... (Emphasis added.)

Now granted, this is a promotion of religion in general, and not one faith in particular. But is it really the role of the President of the United States, which is after all a secular office, to give instructions as to exactly how its citizens and places of worship should conduct what is essentially a religious service? Or have I just been living in France for too long?

Posted by Judah in:  Say What?   

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Friday, September 7, 2007

The Pendulum Of Power

For anyone with an interest in politics, the developments of the past six months here in France could serve as a primer in the dynamics of power. Particularly the peculiar alchemy of how power contested becomes power consolidated, only to become contested once again.

The most striking aspect of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency so far has been the way in which he transformed a 53% electoral victory into an effective dominance of the political landscape, even in the face of a lower-than-expected parliamentary majority. A lot has to do with the actual state of the opposition: The 47% who voted against him did not necessarily vote for his opponent. A lot also has to do with his skillful dismantling of the fractured Socialist Party by offering plum ministerial and advisory posts to the PS stars who were too impatient to wait another 5-10 years for the party to regroup and retake power. Finally, a good deal has to do with his skillful management of the media. More than any previous French president, Sarkozy seems to have understood how media has been transformed in the information age, and his active governing style is tailor-made for dominating the political dialogue and determining the lines of debate.

But power consolidated inevitably leads, once again, to power contested, even if that alchemy is more difficult to trace. In the face of a conquering hero, most opposition seems feeble, petty, and ineffective. So where does opposition arise, and under what circumstances does it gain legitimacy? When the consolidated power over-reaches, raising fears of absolutism and tyranny. And when it fails, leaving doubts about its omnipotence.

Once again, the French political landscape offers a demonstration, in the person of Dominique de Villepin. As a former UMP prime minister, Villepin is ostensibly within Sarkozy's majority, even if they belong to rival clans. In fact, at one time it looked like Villepin was the only person who might stand a reasonable chance of disappointing Sarkozy's presidential ambitions. But Sarkozy skillfully outmaneuvered him in the party in-fighting that determined the UMP nominee, where Villepin's tenure as prime minister presiding over the last days of Chirac's failed presidency handicapped him.

But not content with defeating Villepin, Sarkozy has made it clear that he intends to destroy him. And the instrument he has chosen is the Clearstream affair. Sarkozy believes Villepin was behind a smear campaign designed to de-rail his presidential aspirations, and has promised to "hang him from a butcher's hook". But Villepin, after silently suffering a series of humiliating searches and perquisitions over the summer, has now decided to fight back. In part, his calculation is based on political survival. But it is also, I suspect, based on his astute understanding of the dynamics of power (his new book describes Napolean's fall from grace).

Villepin is calling attention to the danger posed to an impartial judiciary by a President (who under French jurisprudence oversees the magistrature) who is also a civil party to the Clearstream investigation. Which takes care of the first condition for legitimating opposition, namely overreach. And by offering a critique of Sarkozy's policies from the right, he has filled the political vacuum left by the decline of the left. In so doing, he has clearly defied the imperium and raised the stakes considerably. For should he survive, he will have demonstrated the limits of Sarkozy's power, which is the first step in pushing it back.

All of this in many ways resembles the problems faced by Democrats in the aftermath of 9/11, where President Bush enjoyed such an overwhelming level of popular support that it became almost impossible to rein in his power. Even in the face of Bush's repeated overreaching and legislative failure, the Democrats have not been able to frontally contain him, which I attribute to the impact of 9/11 on the country's political judgment, as well as their relatively fragile Congressional majority.

The tipping point will undoubtedly come from Bush's flank (ie. from someone like Chuck Hagel). Of course, we've known it all along. We just didn't think it would take this long.

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   Politics   

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Friday, September 7, 2007

Shadow Dancing

Really quite extraordinary.

Via The New York Nerd.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Treating The Wounded

With all the debate over the Surge being reduced to whether or not the statistics for sectarian violence have gone up or down, and whether or not there's been political reconciliation from the top down or the bottom up, it's easy to lose sight of all the metrics that are being left out of the equation.

For instance, this article from the IRIN news service which describes the crisis gripping Iraqi hospitals and clinics. According to the Iraqi Medical Association, roughly 75% of doctors, nurses and pharmacists have left their posts, and 55% have left the country altogether. Low wages and a shortage of equipment and medications are contributing factors. But the primary reason Iraq's doctors are packing up and leaving is the threat of violence from sectarian militias.

In other words, the Bush administration and Lt. Gen. Petraeus have succeeded in defining the terms of the debate. And while we're all busy parsing the who, what, where, how and why's of casualty statistics, there's nobody left in Baghdad to treat the wounded. Which strikes me as a far more significant barometer of the country's viability, or lack thereof, than whether or not a bunch of thugs in the Green Zone have hammered out the fine print for how to divvy up the petro-dollars. Andrew Sullivan posted a video about a visual phenomenon, which he calls "inattention blindness", but which magicians call misdirection. This is the political version.

When Iraq's doctors not only stop leaving the country, but start coming back, we can start talking about progress. Until then, it's all just smoke and mirrors.

Posted by Judah in:  Iraq   Media Coverage   

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Scarface Jihad

This news item about Turkish forces capturing a ton of hashish and almost 90 kilos of heroin supposedly belonging to the PKK reminded me of a section in Steven Metz's monograph, Rethinking Insurgency, where he discusses the relationship between insurgencies and organized crime (pp.29-30):

Insurgencies can evolve into criminal organizations. "Particularly in protracted conflicts," Cornell notes, "entire groups or parts of groups come to shift their focus increasingly toward the objective of profit." The best example is the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Cornell again is instructive:

"Over time, insurgent groups tend to become increasingly involved in the drug trade. Beginning with tolerating and taxing the trade, insurgents tend to gradually shift to more lucrative self-involvement. Self-involvement, in turn, generates a risk of affecting insurgent motivational structures, tending to weaken ideological motivations and strengthen economic ones."

There's something comforting in the thought that eventually the profit motive will win out, and the Taliban and al-Qaeda will become little more than rival gangs of narco-traffickers targeted in the War on Drugs. Until, of course, you stop and consider how successful we've been in the War on Drugs.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Dry Run?

The Syrian state news agency is reporting that Israeli warplanes penetrated into Syrian airspace, "...coming from the Mediterranean heading towards the eastern-northern region (sic)..." The planes were allegedly chased off by Syrian air defenses. Israel has refused comment on the matter.

Now if you look at this map (links removed) of the Middle East, and this map of Iranian nuclear facilities, it's clear that northeastern Syria is the quickest way for Israeli planes to reach potential targets in Iran (assuming that for political reasons, Jordan would refuse a flight path over its territory).

Is it that far a stretch to wonder if the Israeli airforce was trying to smoke out the Syrian air defenses to better plan an eventual bombing run? Or at least that they'd like the Iranians to think that?

Posted by Judah in:  Iran   The Middle East   

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

French Medicine

I'm not a policy wonk, and I'm certainly no expert on healthcare. But with the subject getting alot of recent attention, and with Michael Moore's SiCKO just opening here in Paris, I thought it might be interesting to American readers if I offered a couple of anecdotes on my experience of the French medical system.

The first occured on my very first visit to France in 1999, when a case of "water on the ear" clogged my ear canals, leaving me barely able to hear a sound. I'd had similar experiences in the States after swimming a few times before (although never to that degree), and I'd always used some over-the-counter eardrops that chemically dried out the ear canal within days. So I went off in search of some at the local pharmacy, only to find out that they don't exist over here. Of course, my first reaction was to grumble and rail about the superiority of American medicine, until my future ex-wife's family convinced me to do what is perfectly natural for any French person, but is the last resort for an American: go see the doctor.

I called a local ear doctor (an otologist, for any persnickity wordies out there), who gave me an appointment for that afternoon. I went over and explained the problem, and he promptly removed the offending earwax with the help of a funnel-like instrument and filament. Total cost of the procedure: the equivalent of twenty bucks. (As a tourist, I wasn't covered by the French Social Security system, and so I was ineligible for reimbursement.)

The second occured this past winter. My son woke up one day with a slight cough, but without any fever, so I brought him to school as usual. When I went to pick him up for lunch, he wasn't looking so good, and his teacher suggested that I bring him to the doctor. After six years in France, my instinctive resistance to doctor's offices had evaporated. So I immediately walked him across the street where, after waiting ten minutes for the doctor to return from an emergency house call, he was diagnosed with a throat infection. We still had time to make the pharmacy before it closed at noon to fill his prescription. Total cost: the equivalent of twenty bucks for the medical visit, of which (if memory serves correctly) twelve were reimbursed by Social Security. The medication was fully reimbursed.

Two points I'd like to make. First, in writing this post, I realized to what extent one's experiences with a healthcare system become internalized (ie. the resistance I always felt towards going to see a doctor in the States compared to my willingness to do so here). Second, as someone with an entrepeneurial bent, I also recognize to what degree the social charges needed to fund France's generous medical system function as disincentives to initiative. But I wonder if the American system doesn't serve to hide those disincentives in the exagerrated cost of seeking care.

Like I said at the beginning, I'm no healthcare wonk. There are costs and benefits to such an affordable (to the patient) and accessible system. Some of them, like these two anecdotes, don't translate very well into statistics.

Posted by Judah in:  Domestic Policy   La France Politique   

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

In The Court Of The Sarko King

After months of kid glove treatment, the new theme creeping into French political coverage is the disturbing parallels between the Sarkozy presidency and a royal court. Throughout the summer, the serious opinion-setting dailies and weeklies featured wide-eyed, "celebrity tabloid"-style coverage of Sarkozy's active governing style. This was followed by the publication of an authorized and largely flattering campaign-diary by a noted French playwright who followed him throughout the presidential campaign.

This week, Marianne, an iconoclastic centrist weekly, blasted the press and the political world for its courtisan-like behavior. Now, in a radio interview related by Nouvel Obs, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has picked up where they left off. Comparing the new President with Molière's Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, the nouveau riche bourgeois who dreams of becoming a nobleman, Villepin also defined his own role:

I am part of the majority in a country where there is no longer an opposition, and in this majority I believe we have to be self-critical... I'll cite my source: it's Nicolas Sarkozy. I was in a government where Nicolas Sakozy never ceased to say that we had to animate the debate... He was right, and I'm the one who will play the role of gadfly to a majority that must not rest on its laurels.

Villepin's attack is something of a double-or-nothing gambit. He is currently under investigation for his role in a scandal known as Clearstream, where an anonymous source provided a judge with a phony list of offshore accounts that included Nicolas Sarkozy's name. Sarkozy remains convinced that the list was an attempt by Villepin to upend his presidential ambitions, and the conventional wisdom is that he is using the current investigation to finish Villepin off.

Villepin, sensing the political void left by the implosion of the Socialist Party, must believe that his best defense is an aggressive attack. Either that or he has decided that if he goes down, Sarkozy will go down with him.

Via French Politics

Posted by Judah in:  La France Politique   

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Gonzo's Greatest Hits

[I just noticed this old post from back in March due to a Google image search that turned up in the traffic logs. It's a little dated, I know, but I thought I'd re-post it in its entirety.]

Here's a guilty pleasure I can't resist. The Presidential Prayer Team has just come out with a handy deck of cards to help folks remember America's leaders in their prayers:

The National Leaders Prayer Deck contains 52 cards featuring the most influential men and women in our national government. Included are President Bush, the First Lady, the President’s Cabinet, the majority and minorty leaders of the House and Senate, the Supreme Court Chief Justice, all the Military Joint Chiefs, Congressional Chaplains and more. Use this resource to pray for one powerful American leader each week of the year. (Emphasis in original.)

Better get your order in quick though, because judging from the sample cards it's going to be a collector's item any day now:

[I guess that day has come. Better late than never.]

Posted by Judah in:  Politics   Say What?   

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Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Know Your Enemy

Greg Djerejian of The Belgravia Dispacth has a long post identifying the source of the real threat we face with regard to terrorism. In a nutshell, he poses the following the question:

...Put differently, how did the attack on downtown Manhattan lead us to become involved in ostensibly decades long nation building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and perhaps to come, a bombing campaign that would likely lead to a full-blown conflict with the Islamic Republic of Iran?

In my view, the greatest threat we face in the post 9/11 era are radicalized Islamists of mostly lower to middle class background who have grown up or emigrated to cities like Madrid, London, Paris, Hamburg, Milan... The radical Islamists who threaten us the most are those who have become technologically sophisticated, who perhaps speak our language, who can more easily appear ‘Westernized’, and meantime have become highly alienated by the West, basically the Mohammed Atta type. Which is to say, not rural peasants in the environs of Kandahar or impoverished Shi'a slum-dwellers south of Baghdad...

Greg's point is on the money, but for one thing: Looks like we'll have to add Copenhagen to the list. Because the Danish police have just arrested a cell of eight suspected bomb plotters who all match Greg's description to a tee. And initial reports suggest that at least several of them have direct links to al-Qaeda's top leadership.

Americans have a tendency to minimize the target value of "minor" countries like Denmark, while getting unnerved by every Moe, Curly and Larry nabbed by the FBI and DHS stateside. But these arrests confirm the pattern of the London and Madrid bombings, as well as recent intelligence reports that suggest that Islamic terrorists are increasingly turning their sights on Western Europe as a second "front".

But while it's important to take these threats seriously, it's also important not to lose sight of the kinds of distinctions that Greg makes. This kind of analysis seems like an opportunity for Democrats to turn their perceived weakness on National Security into a strength. Because there's really no way we can defeat our enemy if we can't even identify him.

Posted by Judah in:  Global War On Terror   Iraq   

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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Presidential Stand-Up

Here's a funny exchange from a roundtable interview President Bush gave the foreign press in advance of next week's APEC meeting in Sydney:

Q: So what are your outlook and hopes for U.S.-Malaysia relations, and especially with Malaysia being the 10th largest trading partner?

THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I do believe we ought to have -- take this notion of trade and have meaningful discussions with a potential free trade agreement with Malaysia. Secondly, I respect Prime Minister Badawi, admire his leadership. When his wife died I tried to call him early just to let him know I cared about him.

Q: He has remarried.

THE PRESIDENT: Has he? Good. I'll congratulate him. Thanks for giving me that heads-up. Don't put that in the article that you had to tell me that. You can put it in there if you want. (Laughter.) I'll be glad to -- I'm going to congratulate him. That's neat.

MR. WILDER: You did, sir.

THE PRESIDENT: What?

MR. WILDER: You did congratulate him.

THE PRESIDENT: Exactly. I'm going to congratulate him again. (Laughter.) I'll double the congratulations. (Laughter.) That's right, I did write him a note. I forgot. Did I call him or write him a note?

MR. WILDER: You wrote him a note.

THE PRESIDENT: That's right, yes. Sent him a couple flowers. Anyway, Malaysia is an interesting example of how a free society can deal with movements that could conceivably change and alter the nature of the free society.

It's striking how charming he can be when he's humble enough to be self-deprecating. But as soon as he's pressed with an agressive line of questioning, his pride gets the better of him and he comes across as petulant and embarrassingly simple-minded.

Posted by Judah in:  Media Coverage   

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Sunday, September 2, 2007

Endless Summer

Being on the other side of the pond and pre-occupied with our move up to Paris, I totally forgot that it's Labor Day weekend. I'm assuming you all have better things to do than read about the world's trouble spots, so I'm going to concentrate on unpacking and getting the Lil' Feller ready for his first day of school tomorrow. Enjoy the barbecues, and raise a bottle of beer for a homesick American ex-pat if you'd be so kind.

Posted by Judah in:  Odds & Ends   

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