The extended Edition of The Two Towers was... magnificent.

I'm still collecting my thoughts for my review... stay tuned. But I can vouch immediately that the extended footage makes the changes to Faramir's character not just defensible, but essential. And if you hated having elves at Helm's Deep, take solace that the trees were there too.

kudos to Bush

I've been thinking about the GWB visit to Iraq, and found to my surprise that it was difficult to achieve clarity of opinion at first. But I've had some time t think on it and I think that the main thing that should be said about the surprise Thanksgiving visit is: well done.

There's a single reason why it deserves praise. Because for the troops in Iraq, it was an uplifting moment. Regardless of the soldiers' political or religious beliefs, hardships incurred from the long deployment, or problems awaiting them when they return, they are professionals and Bush's visit gave them their due.

Bush is a divisive, politicizing figure, so it's no surprise that his trip to Iraq is being spun hard by left and right. The conservatives see it in tones best described as "reverent-macho". The trip sets historical precedent, these are epic times, Bush is a fearless warrior. Etc.

There's no shortage of inane leftist commentary (see this comment thread at Calpundit for examples). But the conservative defenders of Bush's trip struggle mightily to paint legitimate critiques of the trip as identical to the craven loony bin. Tacitus for example pokes fun at Matthew Yglesias' complaint that no Democrats were invited - but notably doesn't address the more cogent points: that photo ops are nice, but good policy and leadership are better, and the President has no reserve of benefit of the doubt left given all the other craven political stunts he has pulled (including lying about the Mission Accomplished banner, and ridiculously transparent photographic maneuvering). Nor is the fact that the Bush visit was planned in October, but Hillary Clinton's Iraq trip was planned (and publicized) in September. It should be noted that Clinton's trip lasted significantly longer, including an overnight stay, and an actual visit to Baghdad rather than confined to the airport.

The President did a good thing for the troops. Extrapolating it to promote his personal virtue, or his vice, is nonsensical.

I take issue with the claim that Bush's trip is the first by a President to a war zone. I don't see why Bush's supporters feel the need to push this, because 1. it's irrelevant to why Bush's trip should be praised (unless you rank mythologizing Bush's courage as a higher goal than the troops' morale), and 2. it's completely false. Bill Clinton visited Kosovo four years ago in 1999, the former president Bush visited troops in Saudi Arabia prior to the first Gulf War on Thanksgiving 1990, President Nixon went to Vietnam in 1969 and Lyndon Johnson also visited Vietnam twice, and Eisenhower visited the Korean front in December 1952.

Guilty until proven innocent

Alt.muslim provides the best summary of the Yee case:

After three months of detention on suspicion of terror-related er... stuff, James Yee was released from prison only to be slapped with unrelated adultery and pornography charges, leaving his family and friends feeling both relief and outrage. When Yee was arrested on Sept. 10th, the media-fanned (and leak-motivated) outcry implied the worst - a sensitive military position abused by a Muslim "fifth column." Only afterwards was Yee charged with significantly minor offences - transporting classified material without proper security containers. Now that the classified material happens to be downloaded porn (which would doom scores of other military men), Yee's many Muslim and Chinese-American supporters see it as a face-saving gesture by the Army at the expense of law-abiding Muslims in the military. "Porn can be downloaded on a computer without the user even knowing it. How did they come up with these charges?" says Cecilia Chang, president of the Justice for New Americans, who led a coalition of Arab and Asian American groups to free Yee. "I don't know why the government would pursue these charges, except for the fact that it's embarrassed by the implosion of charges it originally asserted," agreed Eugene Fidell, his lead attorney. The charges mirror the after-the-fact sentencing of John Walker Lindh for crimes unrelated to his arrest. The Army seems to agree - asked whether Yee's case was still espionage-related, Southern Command spokesman Raul Duany said, "Based on the charges, obviously it's not."

The whole affair is a replay of the Alligator Alley accusations and the case of Samyuktha Verma.


the light is brighter when seen through the tunnel

Essential reading - the NYT carries a powerful op-ed from a man in saudi Arabia who talks frankly about the atmosphere of religious oppression and the damage being done to his country by its Wahabi symbiosis.

The most recent government crackdown on terrorism suspects, in response to this month's car-bombing of a compound housing foreigners and Arabs in Riyadh, is missing the real target. The real problem is that Saudi Arabia is bogged down by deep-rooted Islamic extremism in most schools and mosques, which have become breeding grounds for terrorists. We cannot solve the terrorism problem as long as it is endemic to our educational and religious institutions.

Yet the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Islamic Affairs have now established a committee to hunt down teachers who are suspected of being liberal-minded. This committee, which has the right to expel and punish any teacher who does not espouse hard-core Wahhabism, last week interrogated a teacher, found him "guilty" of an interest in philosophy and put on probation.

During the holy fasting month of Ramadan, imams around the country stepped up their hate speech against liberals, advocates of women's rights, secularists, Christians and Jews � and many encouraged their congregations to do the same. I heard no sermons criticizing the people responsible for the attacks in Riyadh, in which innocent civilians and children were killed. The reason, I believe, is that these religious leaders sympathize with the criminals rather than the victims.

I cannot but wonder at our officials and pundits who continue to claim that Saudi society loves other nations and wishes them peace, when state-sponsored preachers in some of our largest mosques continue to curse and call for the destruction of all non-Muslims. As the recent attacks show, now more than ever we are in need of support and help from other countries to help us stand up against our extremist religious culture, which discriminates against its own religious minorities, including Shiites and Sufis.

Even more essential reading - read the letter with Dan Darling's in-line commentary.

Grand Old Plebiscite: Towards a Corporate Welfare State

as a follow-up to my earlier post, here is a Bob Novak column on the tactics that the GOP mafia used against their own party members in order to force the passage of the Medicare boondoggle:

Republicans voting against the bill were told they were endangering their political futures. Major contributors warned Rep. Jim DeMint they would cut off funding for his Senate race in South Carolina. A Missouri state legislator called Rep. Todd Akin to threaten a primary challenge against him.

Intense pressure, including a call from the president, was put on freshman Rep. Tom Feeney. As speaker of the Florida House, he was a stalwart for Bush in his state's 2000 vote recount. He is the Class of 2002's contact with the House leadership, marking him as a future party leader. But now, in those early morning hours, Feeney was told a ''no'' vote would delay his ascent into leadership by three years -- maybe more.

The GOP isn't even the party of conservatives anymore. The fact that the economy has done better under the Democrats than under the Republicans for the last 40 years is well-documented (see Dwight Meredith's "For the Record" series). And the behavior of the GOP in the past few years of total control has been extravagantly pro-spending. Excluding defense and security, the GOP has been the worst offender in terms of spending earmarks and pork projects:

The subject of the report is earmarks, which are specific pet projects inserted into bills by congress critters who are eager to funnel some federal dough directly to their own districts. Bottom line: everyone does it, but Republicans do it a lot more.

In the Labor-HHS-Education bill, as the chart shows, the number of earmarks has gone up from zero in 1995, when the Republicans took over, to 1,857 this year.

In the annual transportation bill, Democrats inserted 322 earmarks in their final bill in 1995. Republicans inserted 1,818 this year. In the defense appropriations bill the number has gone from about 300 to 1,800 and in VA-HUD from 265 to 921. Earmarks in the Commerce-Justice-State appropriations bill have skyrocketed from 45 to 966.

Put it all together, and in just these five appropriations bills the number of earmarks has risen from about 900 in 1995 to 7,362 this year.

You can read the on the House Appropriations Committee's full report on Republican addiction to pork right here (PDF).

Conservatives have many ideas I respect. Unfortunately, their party doesn't share my view of their principles. And as a political ideology, the GOP's true corporatist colors are ultimately a serious threat to conservativsm itself. As Matthew Yglesias notes, the Democrats can't carry water against the GOP onslaught alone:

Ultimately, it seems to me that the Democratic Party is just helpless when faced with the prospect of a GOP that isn't even going to try to stand for conservative principles. A party organized as an alliance between Big Government and Big Business just has too many big guns on its side. The only real question is whether or not conservatives will try and take their party back from the Rove-DeLay-Frist domestic policy agenda and return the GOP to advocating something that resembles a small government philosophy.

emphasis mine. The GOP is the party of Government-Corporate collusion - expecting such an entity to act with fiscal sanity (let alone fiscal conservatism) is counter to common sense. And as Matt points out, the resources available to such an alliance are prodigious in the extreme.

And Bush is nothing like Reagan. As Kevin points out, the right has fooled themselves into wishing it were so, but there isn't any coherent ideology driving Bush's presidency at all, other than simple electorial interest-group politics:

I think that both liberals and conservatives have made the mistake of convincing themselves that Bush is a hard right ideologue � conservatives because they were so eager for a conservative president after eight years of Bill Clinton and liberals because it gives them a convenient object of hatred. But if you look a bit more closely you'll see that he's not.

It's true that Bush is temperamentally conservative, and it's also true that he sometimes does things that conservatives like: lowering taxes, for example, or invading Iraq. What's more, he talks the conservative talk pretty well, and all of this has fooled conservatives (and many liberals) into thinking that he does what he does out of deep devotion to conservative principles.

But he doesn't. I suspect that conservative eagerness for a conservative president has caused them to project their own views onto Bush, but Bernstein is right: Bush is just playing electoral politics. Tax cuts reward his rich contributors, invading Iraq was a crowd pleaser, the energy bill helped out his business pals, tariffs helped him with steel workers, the Medicare bill helps him with seniors, and the partial birth abortion bill helps him with the religious right. None of these things were truly driven by any kind of ideological purity.

Some conservatives are catching on, but as long as their discontent remains at the hand-wringing angst stage rather than actually fighting for their principles and sending a clear message by their votes, it will continue. Such conservatives have marginalized themselves by making a great case against Bush but then asking with great (feigned?) tremulous concern, "how can we stop this?" Simple answer: vote Democrat, and send a message.

There's really only one way to fight this. By creating an alliance of the many - and that's why Howard Dean's candidacy holds such promise. Conservatives need to realize that they can have more influence on policy under a Democratic Dean administration, rather than being paid lip-service by a GOP that takes them for granted and prostitutes their support to further their own radically anti-conservative agenda.


religious loyalty test

Go read Zack's responses to Daniel Pipes' "Moderate Muslim Questionnaire". The list of questions is designed to trap Muslims in contradiction, force them to accept second-class citizenhood, undermine their religion, and accept collective responsibility for the actions of a few. Zack treats them with the appropriate level of respect.

UPDATE: Kynn provides a test for identifying Christian moderates. Note that I think it's valuable in highlighting the bias in Pipe's questionairre, rather than an actual test that Christians would be expected to take. The entire point is that these tests meet an impossible standard and reject the integrity of faith, forcing the person who answers to sacrifice belief for political sanitization. As Zack's responses and Kynn's recasting of the entire thing towards a Christian target demonstrate, Pipe's questions are fundamentally an attack on the very act of believing in Islam.

party rule: plebiscite, not parliamentary, democracy

There are a number of assumptions that are needed for American governance to work. One is that the legislative branch is the realm of debate and compromise. The need for such debate and dialog is the foundation of government (and the root principle that also gives rise to such secondary concepts as freedom of speech).

The Republican Party has rejected this model utterly. Rather than compromise between majority and minority, the new rule is "plebiscitary democracy" - the small cadre of leaders of the Majority party decide policy unilaterally, and the entire Party membership is coerced into voting as a single block. Thus the Party ideology trumps all other concerns, including those concerns of the people whose interests representatives were elected to serve.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the GOP tactics to pass the Medicare bill:

If anyone doubted the rules had changed, House Republican leaders ended all illusions in the early hours of Saturday morning by holding open a 15-minute roll call vote for an unprecedented two hours and 51 minutes. At the end of the normal time for voting, Republican leaders faced defeat on the drug bill by a two-vote margin. Eventually, two Republicans were hammered into switching their votes.

"I don't mean to be alarmist, but this is the end of parliamentary democracy as we have known it," said Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts. The new system amounted to "plebiscitary democracy" in which leaders of the House have imposed such a strong sense of party discipline that they will ultimately pass whatever legislation they bring to the floor. "The Republican Party in the House is the most ideologically cohesive and disciplined party in the democratic world," Frank said. In response, House Democrats were more united in opposition to the bill than Democratic senators, who are operating as if the older system of give-and-take were still in force.

Edward M. Kennedy was one senator who believed the old system could still work. He had urged his colleagues to pass an earlier version of the drug bill on the assumption that Republicans would agree to a compromise acceptable to Democrats.

Instead, House and Senate negotiators pushed the Senate bill to the right by adding in Medicare privatization experiments, big HMO subsidies and medical savings accounts. These and other changes pushed Kennedy to lead the last-ditch fight against the final version of the bill.

When the majority party decides it has the votes, and can bend the roll call itself to ensure that the votes are there, we are only one step away from the party deciding that it holds the votes of its members as proxy, and dispensing with the roll call altogether.

And after that, why bother with the formality of voting at all?

UPDATE: more on the history of the 15-minute rule, and comment:

The Medicare prescription drug vote -- three hours instead of 15 minutes, hours after a clear majority of the House had signaled its will -- was the ugliest and most outrageous breach of standards in the modern history of the House. It was made dramatically worse when the speaker violated the longstanding tradition of the House floor's being off limits to lobbying by outsiders (other than former members) by allowing Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson on the floor during the vote to twist arms -- another shameful first.

The speaker of the House is the first government official mentioned in the Constitution. The speaker is selected by a vote of the whole House and represents the whole House. Hastert is a good and decent man who loves the House. But when the choice has been put to him, he has too often opted to abandon that role for partisan gain.

Democracy is a fragile web of laws, rules and norms. The norms are just as important to the legitimacy of the system as the rules. Blatant violations of them on a regular basis corrode the system. The ugliness of this one will linger.

The writer is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.



it's rare that I condemn anyone in public, but a regular commentator here on UNMEDIA has just disgraced himself:

#47 Joshua Scholar 11/25/2003 10:11AM PST

I would add, "do Israelis have a right to self defense?"

I think there's lots of "moderate" muslims that would agree to most of what you said, but in their hearts believe that jihadis are doing the work of God, that Jews are evil and prove it whenever they try to protect themselves and their children from attack.

I think even the venerable Aziz Poonwalla fails that test.

emphasis mine. I've never been slandered so brutally in my life. I'm utterly disgusted and profoundly disappointed by Joshua's behavior. On Eid ul-Fitr of all days, he chooses to go behind my back and spread pure libel? why? to score some cheap points with the shrill bigots infesting the comments at LGF? I can't believe I ever offered him the opportunity to guest-post here and I'm thankful he never bothered to accept.

Joshua is welcome to his sick belief system. Unless he becomes abusive, I won't ban this deceitful creature from commenting on my site, but I certainly won't ever engage him in conversation again.


Eid ul Fitr mubarak

Mubarak to all.

On the occassion, I would like to share the story of the Conquest of at Mecca by the Prophet SAW:

In 5 AH, Rasullulah (SAW) had a revelation which inspired him to leave for Makkah to perform umra. The Makkans, having lost a number of battles against Rasulullah, swore they would not let him enter their city. Their army intercepted the unarmed and pilgrim-garbed Rasulullah at Hudaibiya. Here, a famous pact was entered into by the two sides which assured peace for 10 years. Rasulullah was to return to Madinah and perform umra after 12 months. However, within 10 months, one of the terms of the treaty was violated by a tribe allied to the Makkans. When given the opportunity to retract or to declare the treaty void, the Makkans chose the latter. Rasulullah swiftly prepared an army to march into Makkah. The Makkans realised their mistake and attempted to renew their treaty but it was too late. The time for cleansing the Kaaba of the impure idols had come. The month was Ramadan, the month of fasting and purity, the month of Allah and in it, Makkah was destined to return to Islam.

On 6th of Ramadan, as Rasulullah approached Makkah at the head of an army of 10,000, the Makkans panicked. They had treated their own son, Mohammed (SAW) shamefully. They had fought him bitterly. Now, they thought, he was returning in revenge. Even Abu Sufyan, their head, betrayed his own people and submitted to Islam to save himself. As Rasulullah's army entered Makkah, its denizens hid themselves in their houses as they had been promised refuge if they did so.

Giving praise to Allah he immediately approached the Kaaba and performed tawaf. He then delivered a powerful khutbah reminding Muslims of their obligations and how Allah had chosen to favour them. Then, he set about doing what he had come to Makkah for. He entered inside the Kaaba with his wasi Ali (SA) and together, they destroyed the idols, returning it to the original state that the Prophet Ibrahim (SA) had made it. The Makkans watched as the symbols of their superstitious idol-worshipping religion were reduced to a heap of rubble, and along with them their prestige and honour in Arabia.

Born in Makkah, and raised to prophethood there, Rasulullah had preached Islam amongst the Makkans for 13 years whilst they had ridiculed him. They had opposed him, put him under house arrest, tormented him and his followers and finally plotted to kill him. Even when he left for Madinah, they had raised armies against him. Now the Makkans expected that Rasulullah would exact a just retribution.

Instead, Rasulullah forgave them all. Not only that, but he declared Makkah a safe-haven for man and animal alike. The nobles and those from amongst his family who repented and embraced Islam were even rewarded. His magnanimity startled the whole of Arabia and overwhelmed the Makkans who repented their past actions tearfully. Even the Madinans were taken aback by his benevolence and feared that the Prophet might make his home in Makkah again. They approached him and asked:

"O more beloved than our souls, will you now disregard the treaty of Aqaba and forsake us?"

The Prophet replied that he would never do so and consoled the Madinans thus:

"Do not fear my bestowals to the Makkans, for you will always have me".

Emigration filters

Steven has a long post about differences between America and Europe, in the context of which he makes the observation that immigration to America from the old country was in effect, a kind of filter:

When you're doing a cost/benefit/risk analysis, you may be in a situation where the risk and consequences of inaction are so crummy that any alternative is virtually certain to be better. In that case, you can and should choose some alternative even if it's not at all well understood. Part of the willingness to do such a thing is confidence that as problems with the alternative start turning up, you'll probably be able to deal with them, and part of that is a recognition that even if you can't, the consequences will still be less severe than what you'll face if nothing happens.
a filter on the source, not the target

Sometimes when the status quo is intolerable, the best answer is to chuck everything and strike out into the wilderness. If life in the slums of Europe is terrible, the best answer may be to save enough money for a steamship ticket and move to a strange land across the ocean, where they speak a strange language but where there's more opportunity. The great wave of immigration in the sixty years after the American Civil War was a filter; those who said, "It might be better!" were more likely to go than those who said, "It might be worse!"

It's probably over-stating to claim that all the pioneer spirits in Europe left for America, but certainly enough did that the center of mass shifted. The effect on America was profound - isolationist conservatives' claims to the contrary, its immigrants' energy and commitment to the freedom and opportunity and promise of this new land that the success of America was built on. And the great fortunes of the corporate elites were also built on exploitation of that same teeming surge of raw human power and will.

Also note that immigration waves from other countries and during other times were quite different. From China there were two waves, one of immigrant laborers, and a second of educated professionals fleeing the communist revolution (causing no small amount of culture clash in San Francisco's Chinatown). From India it has been mostly the educated professionals, the so-called "brain drain" who realized that they could earn more money and live better with their skills in the US than try and ocmpete against the hordes back home. My own parents are examples of this, they came here so that their children would have access to the opportunities that a rich nation can provide. In India, you're lucky to even get seated in a college, regardless of grades (the Dalit quota is a necessary investment in the future, but it comes at great cost) - in contrast, I went through the standard ritual of throwing away bags upon bags of college literature. All of these immigrations left a mark upon America, but they also left a mark upon the home countries, often subtle but never insignificant.

And now it's Israel's turn - 760,000 Israelis are living abroad:

According to Prigat, some 60 percent of them live in North America, 25 percent in Europe, and 15 percent elsewhere. Prigat had no statistics as to the number of Israelis who had left during the three years of the intifada, but she noted that an estimated 550,000 Israelis (400,000 adults and 150,000 children) were living abroad in 2000.
Statistics show the return rate of Israelis is influenced by the economic and security situation in Israel. From 1993 to 1999, a relatively high number of Israelis returned each year (between 4,700 and 6,500). But in 2000, apparently as a result of the intifada and the economic downswing, the number of returning Israelis declined. In 2000, 3,956 Israelis returned; in 2001, 3,546 Israelis returned; and, until October of this year, the number of returning Israelis stood at 2,771, Prigat reported.

This is an early Exodus, not a late-stage one, and the primary factor is economic. The lavish per-capita spending on the settlements amounts to a tremendous drain on Israel's resources.

Of course, security has a psychological effect, the economic situation is the real threat to Israel's existence. It is a massive drain on the country's resources and the reason that many domestic problems simply cannot be addressed.

The problem is simple. Democracy, Jewishness, and Greater Israel. Pick any two. Since the the two that Sharon seems to have chosen are Jewishness and Greater Israel, many Israelis are finding that the only way to preserve the promise of a free society (as opposed to a broken one) is to leave. And most of them are coming here, to the US - a good filter for America, but at what cost to Israel? Not to mention the radicalization of those who stay behind...

cut and run

Coming from TNR, this critique of Bush's Iraq policy "whiplash" is damning indeed, since they were strongly pro-war.

This week, in an abrupt about-face, the Bush administration tasked the "25 unelected people" of the Iraqi Governing Council with writing a transitional constitution by March 2004. By April, Iraq will have a "Transitional National Assembly," selected in provincial caucuses consisting of participants chosen by the United States. That unelected assembly will choose a provisional government, and, by July, the U.S. will give that unelected government--you guessed it--sovereignty.

After it gains sovereignty, Iraq's transitional government is supposed to oversee elections for a constitutional convention and a new government--thus writing itself out of existence. Will Iraq's provisional leaders break with national tradition and hand over power? In a deep sense, the Bush administration no longer cares.

Sovereignty, as the Bushies used to tell the cynical French, was America's trump card--our leverage to ensure that Iraq's nascent politicos stayed on the democratic path. But, in recent weeks, American deaths have mounted and U.S. public opinion has soured as an election year approaches. Our experience with the governing council has shown just how difficult and time- consuming it is to build democratic institutions in Iraq. So we are no longer demanding them. The transfer of sovereignty will likely accompany a large-scale withdrawal of American troops-- further reducing America's leverage. As Reuel Marc Gerecht recently put it in The New York Times, "The administration that waged a war for democracy now wants an exit strategy that is not at all dependent upon Iraq's democratic progress." Perhaps it's a coincidence, but, two days before the new transition plan, General John Abizaid, the American commander for Iraq, said, "We will stay as long as we need to to ensure that ... a moderate Iraqi government emerges." Note the new language: Hosni Mubarak's government is moderate, too.

Many conservatives who once scorned liberals for wanting to quit Iraq have embraced Bush's new strategy. How arrogant, they say, to assume the Iraqi people need U.S. pressure to build a democracy. But the Iraqi "people" have little to do with it. Bush's plan will strengthen unelected power brokers, none of whom--be they exiles, Shia clerics, or former Baathists--have much experience with democracy. To conflate these selfproclaimed nationalist leaders with the Iraqi people is exactly the kind of fallacy for which the right used to excoriate the anti-colonial left. The Wall Street Journal this week editorialized that "the important point is that Iraqis begin to exercise authority, take responsibility for doing so, and be recognized for it by the Iraqi people." But Iraqis exercised authority and were recognized for it under Saddam Hussein. The important point is that the Iraqis who exercise authority lay the foundations for democracy, even if it imperils their newfound power. The Bush administration's accelerated political and military transition makes that less likely.

And there's another, much more important point about deterrence... read on.

deconvolving Liberal icons

Matthew Yglesias clarifies:

The problem, basically, is that Lyndon Johnson comes very close to having been the greatest progressive president in American history. The Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act were triumphs of the American promise over the ugliness of American reality. The Great Society had its problems, of course, but it also did a great deal that liberals love. The only trouble with this theory is that Lyndon Johnson was also a terrible president who basically wrecked the country's foreign policy. The Vietnam War has its defenders, but nobody thinks prosecuting it in the Johnson mold was a good idea. LBJ was, moreover, pretty crazy, as well as ridiculously corrupt, astoundingly power-hungry, and something of a racist.

Hence, psychological defense mechanisms are called for. One popular one is to displace things LBJ did onto the sainted FDR. Oftentimes, one hears Medicare and Medicaid referred to by liberals as part of the New Deal when they are, in fact, no such thing. Others take advantage of the temporal proximity of the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to give JFK (a more appropriate liberal icon, personality-wise) credit for the good things LBJ did, while blaming LBJ for a Vietnam policy that was, in fact, put in place by Kennedy. This is aided by retrospectively projecting Robert Kennedy's Vietnam policy and Ted Kennedy's domestic policies onto their brother.

I'm taking notes...

Guilt by Association

Ted Rall drew an offensive cartoon after 9-11, and wrote an offensive editorial. This is because Ted Rall has an extreme leftist perspective (which one could charitably call "Nader-Kucinichian").

Then he praised Howard Dean.

This praise was noted by the Dean campaign's weblogger Matt Gross, who linked to it as he does dozens of articles of week.
Apparently, Matt's note of the praise by Rall on the Dean campaign weblog is tantamount to Howard Dean "cherishing" Rall's endorsement, as far as Volokh is concerned - and Glenn also comments disapprovingly.

If this is the new moral standard by which to judge a politician, then what should we make of the explicit courting of the white supremacist vote by former GOP chairman Haley Barbour? The answer is none. But that's the kind of association that should be setting off alarm bells, not this.

The point here is that whatever you think of Ted Rall, it's not an endorsement of his views to accept his praise. I personally find Rall loathsome - but he doesn't set policy any more than does Ann Coulter. And if Coulter's endorsement of Bush was reported in Bush's weblog, it wouldn't be a moral failing on Bush's part either.

cause and effect: losing hearts and minds

To recap some recent events:

Operation Iron Hammer - also called "Shock and Awe II" - was a massive heavy-duty military operation launched in Iraq by US forces about two weeks ago. The offensive was carried out in a bizarre manner, such as targeting empty buildings such as a textile factory:

American soldiers came to the neighborhood several hours before the attack, local residents said, warning of the impending strike and making sure that everyone in the area was evacuated. Then an American AC-130 gunship strafed the building, knocking holes in the walls and wrecking much of the textile machinery arrayed inside.

After the strike, the Americans came back but detained no suspects, not even the owner of the building, and found no weapons.

The owner, Waad Dakhil Bolane, who said the Americans had warned his guards of the impending air raid, shook his head in befuddlement.

"Does this look like a military base to you?" he asked, standing inside his factory, which was still filled with textile machinery. "The Americans came here, told the guards to leave and then attacked. I don't understand."

One week later, the occupation forces started adopting distinctly Israeli tactics:

In a tactic reminiscent of Israeli crackdowns in the West Bank and Gaza, the U.S. military has begun destroying the homes of suspected guerrilla fighters in Iraq's Sunni Triangle, evacuating women and children, then leveling their houses with heavy weaponry.

At least 15 homes have been destroyed in Tikrit as part of what has been dubbed Operation Ivy Cyclone Two. Among them were four houses allegedly belonging to suspects in the Nov. 7 downing of a Black Hawk helicopter that killed six Americans. Those houses were leveled Sunday by tanks and Apache helicopters.

Family members at one of the houses, in the village of al Haweda, said they were given five minutes to evacuate before soldiers opened fire.
"This is something Sharon would do," said farmer Jamel Shahab, referring to the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon. "What's happening in Iraq is just like Palestine."
Farmer Shahab, 41, stood amid the rubble of the former home of 55-year-old farmer Omar Khalil, who was arrested shortly before the home was destroyed. The military said Khalil's son, who escaped, was one of the suspects in the downing of the Black Hawk.

Khalil's wife, Kafey, sat wailing near her wrecked house. "I have no son. I have no husband. I have no home. I will be a beggar."

Kafey Khalil said military officials first visited the house two days ago, demanding that her husband turn in her son. He refused. Then about 10 p.m. Sunday, the military returned, she said.

"They started shouting at us: 'Get up! Get out!' " she said. "They brought a big truck for us. It was so cold we felt like we were dying. After five minutes they started shooting. We didn't have time to get anything but blankets. They brought in the tanks and the helicopters and started bombing."

The analogy between the West Bank/Gaza and Iraq is a poor one. The rationale for occupation is completely different and an analogy cannot be used to justify using the same tactics. But doing so anyway will accelerate the process by which the two occupations do indeed become analogous. Juan Cole's comments are cogent:

Shock and awe does not work. Period. No enemy army has ever been cowed by mere firepower alone. Especially in a guerrilla war, what counts is getting people on your side. If you try to scare them (i.e. terrorize them) into cooperating, you will only alienate them. I remember seeing footage in Vietnam of carpet bombing. And then after it was over, the Viet Cong just got out of their tunnels and resurfaced. All that bombing in Afghanistan a couple of years ago did not destroy the Taliban or al-Qaeda, either.

That people in Iraq are now comparing US tactics to those of Sharon on the West Bank is truly scarey. Occupation is an ugy word in the Arab world, but Sharon's kind of occupation is evil itself. That comparison should not be what we are going for.

And now, today we have a display of actual hatred towards the US forces - in Mosul, outside the Sunni triangle - of a kind we have never observed before from the general public:

The 101st Airborne Division said its soldiers in Mosul were shot while driving between U.S. garrisons. Several witnesses also said the soldiers were shot during the attack in the Ras al-Jadda district, though earlier reports by witnesses said assailants slit the soldiers' throats.

Bahaa Jassim, a teenager, said the soldiers' vehicle crashed into a wall after the shooting. Several dozen passers-by then descended on the wreckage, looting the car of weapons and the soldiers' backpacks.

After the soldiers' bodies fell into the street, the crowd pummeled them with concrete blocks, Jassim said.

The response? Moral outrage at the barbarous savages and a hint of suggestion once again that Islam may be relevant. All well and good, but largely misses the point. Unlike in Israel and the West Bank, one could argue that preventing such anger towards US forces is a legitimate and essential security objective in our goal to build a democratic and US-friendly Iraq. And this backsliding from recent appearances of progress in that regard is a Bad Thing:

I just do have to remark that this incident is an alarming indication that the US is losing the battle for hearts and minds. Mosul is not in the Sunni Arab triangle where hostility has run high, though it does have a substantial Arab population, and a long-lived Muslim Brotherhood branch. But my impression from earlier reports was that progress had been made. I guess you can win hearts and minds or you can pound an Iron Hammer, but it is tough to do both.

The point is that the US forces are not seen as saviors but are objects of anger. NOW. In Mosul, not just Tikrit. The question becomes "why?" and the impact of previous policy must be assessed honestly.

I never thought I'd pine for the good old days of realpolitik. The new Sanctimonipolitik is much more harmful to our self-interest.


the grocery workers' strike

Before forming an opinion on the issue based solely on a general conservative dislike of unions, read this perspective on the California grocery wqorker strike from Barbara Maynard, the chief spokesperson for UFCW Locals 770 and 1442, the grocery workers unions in the Los Angeles area:

The employer proposal that led to this strike put so little money on the table that, in addition to the premium pickup of $5 to $15 a week, workers� health benefits under their insurance plan would have to be cut 50% (which means that health care costs would be shifted onto the workers outside their insurance plan, meaning out of their own pocket). If the workers want to get the same insurance plan, it would cost them $95 a week or nearly $5,000 a year. THAT IS 25% OF THE AVERAGE WORKER'S SALARY. Is that what "everybody " pays out of pocket on a percentage basis? Hardly....

The fact is that most of these workers � at an average annual gross income of $20,000 � live paycheck to paycheck and earn their healthcare. If the cost to the worker is too high, experience has shown that workers "opt out" of insurance and roll the dice by becoming uninsured.

The bottom line regarding health care is that when a worker lives paycheck to paycheck she can only get her healthcare one of two ways: earn it or get it from the taxpayer. The answer as a taxpayer is clear to me: I would rather people earn their healthcare than get it from me as a taxpayer. What about you?

The companies have proposed to pay all new hires � and the stores have about 1/3 turnover each year, which means that there are a lot of new hires � $3 to $4 an hour less than the current employees. What does this mean? This means that new hires will be making Wal-Mart wages, which means that anybody with kids will be eligible for food stamps and taxpayer subsidized health care...

Barbara's guest-blog at Calpundit is worth reading in full. Also keep in mind that the major grocery store chains are in price collusion :

The pact basically says that if one of the three chains reaps added business during the dispute, it will share some of that money, according to some Wall Street analysts who follow the companies closely.

...."I will acknowledge that there is an agreement, but we're not going to say anything about it," said Gary Rhodes, a spokesman for Cincinnati-based Kroger. "I'm not going to characterize it, nor provide any details about it."

This isn't a case of a union run amuck trying tosqueeze the blood from the employers, though tha certainly is the way it's being spun. But there's a larger issue at stake here, and why again I am proud to be on the unabashed liberal side of the equation:

Productivity gains have made goods increasingly affordable since the Industrial Revolution, but there have been other factors at work too. In the mid-20th century, thanks in part to vigorous unionization, American businesses steadily paid their workers more, thus creating a growing class of people who could afford the products they made. Wal-Mart, by contrast, pays their workers less, which allows them to cut prices and therefore makes their products affordable to more people.

So which is the better and more sustainable model? Increasing the overall affordability of goods by creating a larger class of people who can afford them? Or increasing the overall affordability of goods by squeezing the blue collar workers who make them and thus lowering prices?

Both models work, but one works by building up the working class and the other works by tearing it down. I'll take Door #1.

That's what liberalism is about. Building people up - and they pay society back ten-fold. The only way to characterize the other side is "cheap labor". But cheap labor builds a cheap society, and the benefits to america from a more educated and more affluent working class - ie, a true middle class - are immeasurable and the very foundation of our nations' superpower economy.


ungrateful little bastards

Daniel Drezner fisks James Lileks.

Lileks' position appears to be, "you sorry little arab bastards better be damn grateful we used your country as a pawn. Now eat Haliburton contracts and flat taxes without further free speech or we will have to raze some more civilian houses as collective punishment, you ingrates."

Drezner simply decimates Lileks. I really need to start reading his blog more often.

glass houses

via LGF is this interview with self-appointed non-muslim expert on Islam, who has a special demand of all the world's moderate muslims:

The only Koran that really matters is what's in Arabic, because as far as traditional Islamic theology goes, Allah . . . was speaking to Muhammad through the angel Gabriel, and the language is intrinsic, can't be separated from the message. The fact is that what's in Arabic is very clear . . . but in two opposite directions. What you have are very many verses of peace and tolerance, and also very many verses sanctioning and mandating violence against non-believers. . . .

You find many moderate Muslim spokesmen and American-Muslim advocates in this country, who quote you the peaceful and tolerant verses, and no reference to the violent verses.

What we need to see is a forthright acknowledgement of it and reform from moderate Muslims themselves, the same way that the Pope has apologized for the Crusades and Christianity at large . . . has repudiated the theology that gave rise to them. So we need to see . . . moderates on a large scale repudiating the theology that has led to violent jihad, which the radicals are using to justify their actions.

I've addressed the Qur'anic perspective towards vioence before, that part of this guy's attack is stale indeed. But what interests me is his call for moderates to renounce the Qur'an. Let's play with this idea for a moment... he makes an analogy between written Qur'anic verse and the theologic interpretation that led to the Crusades.

Well, moderates have already been repudiating violent interpretations of the Qur'an. For 1400 years. If, however, he wants to assume that the interpretation is intrinsic to the text (ie a declaration by moderate Muslims that "verses xx:yyy are no longer applicable"), then he should also be calling upon all moderate Christians to repudiate the Bible.

The real issue is whether interpretations are the target, or something much more basic.

who cares?

via Arash, I see that Johnny Hart (cartoonist of the B.C. comic strip) has drawn some criticism for a cartoon that could be interpreted as anti-Islam. It's not the first time he's been the subject of such religious controversies:

In the past, Hart has gotten into trouble for religious-themed strips -- most notably on one recent Easter Sunday when his strip showed the seven candles of a Jewish menorah being extinguished, one by one, with each image accompanied by one of Jesus Christ's last utterances. As the last flame disappeared, and the words "It is finished" appeared, the menorah became a cross.

Many Jewish readers were outraged, claiming Hart was making the argument that Christianity had extinguished Judaism as a "better" religion. Hart denied it, protesting that the cartoon was intended to honor both religions. To many, his explanation seemed hollow.

Asked about the outhouse strip this week, Hart denied that it was about Islam at all. He said that interpretation stunned him.

Somehow, I think Islam will survive. Judaism seems to have prospered despite an equally ambiguos and easily rationalized attack by Hart, after all.

UPDATE: Here are the two offending strips. Judge for yourself: Easter 2001, Ramadan 2003

Maybe CAIR and the ADL could join forces and become one super-organization, the Council of Americans Against Defamation of Islam and Judaism by Anyone who is Not Muslim or Jewish but who Dares to Express an Opinion About the Actions of a Nation whose Citizens are Adherents of Islam or Judaism. The CAADIJANMJDEOAANCAIJ could be quite effective in bringing peace to the Middle East, I'm sure.

Sacrificing security for political expediency

Most conservatives, unlike Tacitus, subscribe to the notion that liberals critique the President because they hate America. The idea that a liberal might critique Bush because they actually disagree with the implicit assumption that Bush has made this country safer, runs counter to the Hannity-FOX-Limbaugh-NRO indoctrination of minds receptive to that particular flavor of groupthink (regrettably, far more mainstream than the corresponding groupthink on the left).

Still, Tacitus does assume that Bush makes this country safer, without dismissing all disagreement as rote partisanship, and hence his challenge to find fact-based evidence that the bombings in Istanbul were the result of the diversion of resources from the legitimate war on Terror to the illegitmate-but-now-essential-to-finish war on Iraq, is worthy of answering.

The fact is that Al-Qaeda is evolving. Via Phil Carter's excellent analysis, the La Times has an editorial on this evolution by Peter Bergen, author of Holy War, Inc. :

Al Qaeda has always been relatively decentralized and unstructured. But today it moves faster, inciting attacks that require less time, expertise or high-level supervision, said Matthew Levitt, a former FBI analyst and terrorism expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"It was always a network of networks whose inner core would wait patiently for three to five years to carry out spectacular attacks," Levitt said. "What's different today is that it's not clear they can conduct attacks with that kind of command and control. So to maintain relevancy, they gave the go-ahead: Do what you can, where you can, when you can. And they are targeting softer targets more frequently."
The resurgent global menace leads critics to assert that the U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq have boomeranged by scattering Al Qaeda's forces, making them harder to detect, and inspiring like-minded extremists.

"I think it [U.S. strategy] has backfired," said Alani, of the London defense studies institute. "There is no evidence they can cope effectively with these groups."

On the other hand, some U.S. and European officials see signs of weakness as inexperienced, improvised terrorists turn to soft targets. Even in a diminished condition, Al Qaeda has shown how effectively it can harvest the seeds of hate, said Olivier Roy of the National Center for Scientific Research in Paris.

"It's a movement that functions by franchise," Roy said. "You find a local group like the Casablanca group who exist all over, who are radicalized and controlled by intermediaries. Al Qaeda gives a general attack order, and then it's not really important if the attack is rational. Casablanca was not rational in many aspects.... The real message was in the suicide, not in the targets. It was necessary to strike fear."

Al-Qaeda's recent attacks in Saudi Arabia itself underscore this fact. Phil adds his own analysis, noting:

This is truly a living, breathing, thinking, evolving enemy. Its original form was probably the "Afghan Arab" movement which successfully fought the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan with a composite force of Afghans and Arabs supported by America and others. In the 1990s, this force mutated into the international terror network responsible for the 1996 bombings in Africa, 1998 embassy bombings, 2001 USS Cole attack, and Sept. 11. Over that period, the Al Qaeda network evolved, building redundancy and operational capabilities, building doctrine, and learning lessons from other conflicts. One lesson it learned well was how to survive the eventual Western counter-attack.

The organization had enough redundant operational capability, as well as enough dispersal, to withstand our operations in Afghanistan and continue its operations abroad. The best that can be said is that Al Qaeda has been diminished. It currently appears to lack the ability to conduct "spectactular operations" in the U.S. or Western Europe. But Al Qaeda does not lack the ability to conduct operations abroad, either in Africa, Asia or the Middle East. It appears likely that Al Qaeda has adopted a purposeful operational strategy of "wait and strike where we can."
To lure more recruits and more donations from sympathetic Arabs around the world, Al Qaeda doesn't have to launch another 9/11-style spectacular operation. They can simply go on, throwing rocks and bombs at insignificant targets while being hunted by American special operations units. Doing so will inspire their followers, which will make them stronger.

At some point in the future, Al Qaeda 3.0 will resume its larger operations, perhaps when we have become complacent or when America can no longer politically justify the exhaustive hunt for Al Qaeda. This enemy has the tactical patience to wait for that moment, and to strike then.

Relevant to this point is this timetable of attacks by Al-Qaeda since 9-11 by Lt. Smash - note that they are exclusively confined to the Islamic world. Far from eroding their base of support, it will fuel it, since they are franchising violence by extreme groups within these societies. AlQ has been affected by our war on Terror, but by no means dismantled, and in fact has evolved into an even more virulent strain of terror ideology exporting than before. Given that we are committed to Iraq, it's not a challenge we have resources to address effectively, because Al-Qaeda's recruitment efforts are aimed at the radical fringe in Islamic societies, who will not be receptive to the beacon of a Free Iraq.

UPDATE: Billmon has more on how resources are being diverted to Iraq that are sorely needed in Afghanistan. Namely, Arabic-speaking linguists.


New York Times archives

via Kevin and thanks to Dave Winer, there's a kludgy workaround to accessing the New York Times' new closed archive policy:

... how to create permanent links to New York Times stories that don't disappear behind their archive wall after a few days. It's a bit klunky, but since we bloggers link to the Times frequently I thought I'd pass it along. Here's how to do it:

  1. The Times provides an RSS feed for all their stories in conjunction with Dave Winer's Userland. The various feeds are all listed here. You'll need to subscribe to all or some of these feeds in your news aggregator (for example, I subscribe to National, International, Opinion, and Politics).
  2. The RSS feed provides a URL for each story that has some additional stuff tacked onto the normal Times URL. For example, here is the normal URL for the Thomas Friedman column I linked to last night along with the expanded link from the Userland RSS feed:



  3. The expanded URL indicates that the link comes from a blog, and according to Dave the Times has agreed that "now and in the future this link will work without a fee to access the archive."

And what if you read the Times the semi-old fashioned way, by just scanning their website? There's no way to generate the permanent URL yourself, so if you want to link to something you've found you'll have to keep a couple of keywords in mind and then search through the appropriate RSS feed in your aggregator and look for the story there. That's a bit of a pain, but it might help wean you off your non-RSS ways and begin reading news the 21st century way. There's a silver lining to every cloud, isn't there?

If you want to know more, Dave explains the whole thing here and has a bit of discussion about it here.

I don't like the idea of the Times closing its archives. Working with them is great but the NYT is on the wrong side here - archives need to be open. Otherwise you'll simply have people 1. not link to teh Times anymore (there goes that whole "paper-of-record" thing) or massively copy and paste instead of doing short excerpts. That latter will be my strategy.

only the will is lacking

Thomas Friedman has a nice summary of the "virtual peace deal" hammered out by Yossi Beilin and Yasir Abde Rabbo, without th eblessing of their governments:

There is nothing more enraging than someone exposing your faults � and being right.

What is true at home is true in diplomacy. I was reminded of that watching the enraged, hysterical reaction of Israel's ruling Likud Party to the virtual peace treaty � known as the Geneva Accord � that was hammered out by Yossi Beilin, the former Israeli justice minister, and Yasir Abed Rabbo, the former Palestinian information minister. Mr. Beilin and Mr. Abed Rabbo, with funding from the Swiss government, decided to see if they could draw up a detailed peace treaty, with maps, at a time when their governments were paralyzed. After three years, they did it. They shook hands on it Oct. 12 and today they are mailing copies in Hebrew and Arabic to every home in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza.

Ariel Sharon and his far-right coalition threw a fit, crying treason and sputtering about the gall, the "chutzpah," of Mr. Beilin drawing up a virtual peace treaty with Yasir Arafat's deputy. The Likud's over-the-top criticism of Mr. Beilin � and of the Israeli Army chief of staff when he pointed out the Sharon government's reluctance to strengthen Palestinian moderates � had all the earmarks of a ruling party that knows it has not washed the dishes, not made any creative initiatives for peace since coming to power, and hates being exposed.

The Geneva Accord fleshes out the peace initiative first outlined by President Clinton. You don't have to accept every word to see its basic wisdom and fairness: In return for peace with Israel, the Palestinians get a nonmilitarized state in the West Bank and Gaza. They also get the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and sovereignty over the Temple Mount, but under a permanent international security force, with full Jewish access. The Israelis get to keep settlements housing about 300,000 of the 400,000 Jews in the West Bank (in return for an equivalent amount of land from Israel), including virtually all the new Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem built in the Arab side of the city. About 30,000 Palestinian refugees get to return to their homes in Israel proper, and all refugees receive compensation. Polls show 35 to 40 percent of Israelis and Palestinians already support the deal, without either government having endorsed it.

"Our agreement is virtual, because we are not the government and do not pretend to be," said Mr. Beilin, whose deal was co-signed by a former Israeli Army chief of staff, a former deputy Mossad chief and leaders from Mr. Arafat's Tanzim militia. "But we need to create a virtual world that will impact the real world by demonstrating that a workable deal is possible. It is inconceivable that for the past three years there have been no official meetings between Israelis and Palestinians about a permanent solution."

By 2010 or so, there will be more Palestinians than Jews living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza put together. "We will fairly soon be losing the Jewish majority," added Mr. Beilin. "This may not interest President Bush, but it interests me and should interest Sharon. If we don't do something to create a border with the Palestinians, we're going to put an end to the Zionist dream."

The point of this is that many possibilities to find peace exist and can be agreed upon if the parties involved are actually willing (I personally prefer Jonathan's Peace Fence as a first step, to allow the mutual trust required to re-establish the Taba accords, and then eventually leading to a Binational State. This route should circumvent the catch-22 of the two-state solution).

And the writing is on the wall. More and more Israelis - even former Shin Bet security chiefs (who predictably are now victims of a retaliatory smear campaign) - are recognizing the fact that simple demographic, economic, and civil pressures resulting from the occupation are threatening the existence of Israel as a viable and healthy First World state - far more a threat than that posed by the suicide bombers.


resurgence of the conserva-fascists

A Holocaust Museum in Indiana was torched yesterday. The place burned down, and graffitti on teh wal proclaimed, "Remember Timmy McVeigh".

"Remember Timmy McVeigh" - yes, indeed. White, supremacist christian militia member. Intellectual heir to the Klu Klux Klan. The target demographic of Ann Coulter's photo shoot and erudite literature.

and anti-Semitic, of course. There is a cancer growing within the American Right. Conservatives will denounce the act, but will deny that their ideologies have any connection. But some arguments are a double-edged sword indeed...

UPDATE: Jews are the canary in the coal mine for fascism's rise. And dont tell me that the Right is one monolithic bloc and that Bush's strong support of Israel somehow negates the anti semtism endemic to its xenophobic wing. This country's Christian terrorists have much blood on their hands, and all too often it's been blacks and jews whose blood stains their robes.


Weak leadership

The President always talks a tough game:

In brief remarks to reporters Thursday, Mr. Bush said that a rushed exit from Iraq would carry a high cost, and called attention to a survey in Baghdad, saying that it found "the vast majority of people understand that if America were to leave and the terrorists were to prevail in their desire to drive us out, the country would fall into chaos."

but even his political allies are questioning his commitment:

The Bush administration's decision to speed the transfer of sovereignty to Iraq and replace American troops with Iraqis is bringing fresh warnings from Congress and policy experts against pulling out of Iraq too early and letting election-year considerations dictate Iraq policy.
"The Pentagon strategy of reducing troops doesn't make sense to me," said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, adding that the security situation demanded a continuing American presence.

The administration is not suggesting that a speedier transfer of power to an Iraqi governing authority would mean an end to America's military presence in the country. Indeed, the reduction in troop levels envisioned by the Pentagon would still leave 105,000 American soldiers in Iraq next year, compared to the 130,000 there now.
one critic, Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who ran for president against George W. Bush three years ago, said that, if anything, more American troops � perhaps a division � might be needed to "stay the course," as he put it.

"To announce withdrawals when the number of attacks and deaths of American military are going up is not reasonable or logical," Mr. McCain said in an interview. "If the American military can't do it, then certainly half-trained Iraqis cannot."
"We are in trouble in Iraq and I think there is no other way to say it," said Senator Chuck Hagel, a Nebraska Republican, adding that he hoped that L. Paul Bremer III, the administrator in Baghdad summoned to Washington this week, told Mr. Bush "that we are going to have to do some things differently."

and meanwhile on the ground in Iraq, our military policies are increasingly nonsensical:

American soldiers came to the neighborhood several hours before the attack, local residents said, warning of the impending strike and making sure that everyone in the area was evacuated. Then an American AC-130 gunship strafed the building, knocking holes in the walls and wrecking much of the textile machinery arrayed inside.

After the strike, the Americans came back but detained no suspects, not even the owner of the building, and found no weapons.

The owner, Waad Dakhil Bolane, who said the Americans had warned his guards of the impending air raid, shook his head in befuddlement.

"Does this look like a military base to you?" he asked, standing inside his factory, which was still filled with textile machinery. "The Americans came here, told the guards to leave and then attacked. I don't understand."

Of course, the calls for an increase in deployment are equally nonsensical, since no one has suggested where those troops should come from. As long as the current Administration remains, the chance of foreign troops making a meaningful contribution (ie, ine full division) is virtually nil.

cause and effect

from Newsweek: Cheney's long path to war

Cheney has been susceptible to �cherry-picking,� embracing those snippets of intelligence that support his dark prognosis while discarding others that don�t. He is widely regarded in the intelligence community as an outlier, as a man who always goes for the worst-case �scenario and sometimes overlooks less alarming or at least ambiguous signs. Top intelligence officials reject the suggestion that Cheney has somehow bullied lower-level CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency analysts into telling him what he wants to hear. But they do describe the Office of the Vice President, with its large and assertive staff, as a kind of free-floating power base that at times brushes aside the normal policymaking machinery under national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. On the road to war, Cheney in effect created a parallel government that became the real power center.

It's an important article, a landmark one (and has been posted to the UNMEDIA list). The essential point here is NOT that Cheney is a lying, master manipulator, but that he has a specific world view that acts as a powerful filter on the information he receives - or even asks for.

The Administration has paid a price in credibility for its attempt to "sell" the war instead of doing what it should have done - make an honest case. A new poll finds:

A growing majority of Americans now has doubts about President Bush's justification for attacking Iraq, but a declining majority still believes it was the right decision, according to a poll released Thursday.

When questioned further, more than one-fourth of the 57 percent who said invading Iraq was right concede that they are not sure it was the best course for the country but support Bush's decision "because he is president." Only 42 percent said the war was the "best thing for America to do."

Despite the growing belief that the president either stretched the truth or knowingly presented false information to justify the war, 77 percent of those surveyed believe the United States has an obligation to continue the job of rebuilding Iraq. That support has slipped, however, from 86 percent in May, just after Bush declared an end to major conflict.
On the decision to attack, those believing it was the right thing to do dropped from 68 percent in May to 57 percent, while the "wrong decision" view grew from 22 to 38 percent.

The declining belief that the war was right might be linked to the growing feeling that Bush was not quite truthful in his reasons for the conflict.

Large majorities of those surveyed said Bush sold the war on the grounds that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMD), was supporting the al Qaeda terrorist ring and was an imminent threat to the United States. But a total of 72 percent believe the administration presented evidence on WMD it knew was false or "stretched the truth." That total is 60 percent for the claimed link to al Qaeda.

As a result, 56 percent of those surveyed said they "sometimes have doubts" about things Bush says, while 42 percent believe the president is "honest and frank."

The fundamental problem is that "the president and his staff are willfully and consistently ignoring facts that are inconvenient to them, and endangering the security of the United States by doing so." (Kevin Drum)


In Asia We Trust

What does the word "debt" mean? Simply, it means you owe money. But to whom?

Voila, the Fed's objectives are achieved: overnight credits are converted into 30-year mortgage money, Wall Street is enriched, and the economy fattened at yet another banquet of borrowed prosperity.

But none of this would be possible without the steady, secretive support of the Fed's own creditors, who appear determined to purchase the entire U.S. national debt, if that's what's needed to keep America's consumption party going.

We should particularly thank the Big Three -- the Bank of Japan, the People's Bank of China (mainland), and the Central Bank of China (Taiwan). Collectively, these three institutions have become America's sugar daddy, making it possible for the Fed to continue feeding the bond market on cheap credit.

By purchasing the excess dollar liabilities generated by the huge U.S. trade deficit, the Big Three help stave off the kind of dramatic dollar decline that could destabilize the U.S. financial markets and force a painful structural adjustment in the U.S. economy -- away from consumption-led growth and towards an export-led debt workout.

As a fringe benefit, the Big Three take all those unwanted dollars and invest them in U.S. Treasuries and other fixed-income securities -- including mortage securities. So doing, they not only subsidize the U.S. Treasury, but also the big federal mortgage agencies, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
In fact, looking at the Fed's latest numbers, I see its "custodial" holdings of bonds actually owned by foreign central banks have now passed the $1 trillion mark -- an increase of almost 25% since this time last year.

The Fed's own bond portfolio, by contrast, is worth less than $660 billion -- and the entire left-hand side of the balance sheet (net reserve credit) totals just $722 billion.

Read the rest of Billmon's analysis for more details. And he doesn't even address the national security aspect of letting China subsidize our economic growth and recovery. Ah, the good old conservative values of self-reliance...


GOP: borrow and spend (and spend and spend ...)

Via the Washington Post, Government Outgrows Cap Set by President (Discretionary Spending Up 12.5% in Fiscal '03) :

Confounding President Bush's pledges to rein in government growth, federal discretionary spending expanded by 12.5 percent in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, capping a two-year bulge that saw the government grow by more than 27 percent, according to preliminary spending figures from congressional budget panels.

The sudden rise in spending subject to Congress's annual discretion stands in marked contrast to the 1990s, when such discretionary spending rose an average of 2.4 percent a year. Not since 1980 and 1981 has federal spending risen at a similar clip. Before those two years, spending increases of this magnitude occurred at the height of the Vietnam War, 1966 to 1968.
Much of the increase was driven by war in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as homeland security spending after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But spending has risen on domestic programs such as transportation and agriculture, as well. Total federal spending -- including non-discretionary entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- reached $2.16 trillion in 2003, a 7.3 percent boost, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

White House officials have said the president's 4 percent annual growth cap was never supposed to curtail "one-time" spending requests, such as natural disaster aid or wars. But even if such emergency spending measures are removed, spending jumped last year by 7.9 percent, Hoagland said.

The GOP: Party of Big Government. Contrast this with Howard Dean's record in Vermont, where he turned deficits into surpluses and shrank government.

corporate tax evasion

A March 2002 study by Mihir A. Desai, Associate Professor of Finance at the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University, concluded:

In 1988, less than 62 cents of each dollar of shareholder profit turned up on tax returns, down from 84 cents in 1996, Professor Desai said. Untaxed corporate profits totaled $247 billion in 1998, Professor Desai found, but deductions for stock options and other known legitimate deductions explained only about $88 billion of this amount.

His study suggests that in 1998 $155 billion or so of corporate profits were hidden from the I.R.S. in tax shelters, costing the government as much as $54 billion in taxes. That figure is more than five times the $10 billion cost of abusive tax shelters cited by in 1999 by Lawrence H. Summers, who as Treasury secretary then started a campaign to crack down on tax avoidance and evasion by large companies.

That was in 1998. Enron happened several years after, suggesting the problem has worsened, not improved, since then. Hardly a surprise, of course, given the fiscal ideology of the current Administration.

comment spam

it's an increasing problem on MT blogs - I've read far too many reports like Bill's and Byron's recently. There is a MT plugin available, but I don't see how that would stop a spammer with a non-static IP.

Personally I plan to stick to Blogger forever. The fact that Google now owns the company excites me, I'm eager to see what new features they innovate. And I'm fine with using Enetation or Haloscan for my comment system, since they seem to be immune to comment spam for now (though Enetation is famously unsteady at times).

Here's my ideal comment system.

- required registration. Add a password field with email verification to make sure that commentators are valid. Email validation, not IP address, is the true guarantor of identity, and adding the registration step also does filter out the riff raff (not that there's a problem on UNMEDIA, of course. I often wish I had more comments here). Registration also simplifies user management issues like banning.

- data should be stored as an SQL database. There are only a few fields in the table, after all: username, email, website, Full Name, and Comment Body Text. With the SQL backend, there should be a query facility built into the interface so that you can do complex searches through the comments easily. This would also facilitate cool sidebar features like "Most popular commentators" and "Latest N posts on Topic Z"

- Automatic import of the parent blog post into the comment system, so that it doubles as a blog backup. After all, the same fields exist for blog posts as they do for comments. The database should work with teh Blogger API so that the Publish button can also directly import a blog post into the comment system as a top-level entry.

- Discussion forum view - since the parent blog post is stored in the system also, the entire thread - post and subsequent comments - are identical to the discussion forum paradigm of a thread post and replies. The comment system should allow you to query for a given blog post and return that post and attached replies formatted in the classic forum interface.

- Standard blog post view - all the comments attached to a given blog post should be accesible through a single iframe within the blog post itself - a single line of HTML provides the full comment history as a scrolling subwindow without the need for a pop up.

Think I'll submit these ideas to the Blogger Dev folks...

UPDATE: It's hit Jonathan, too.



Bush has yet to attend a single funeral for the soldiers who have died in Iraq, because he lacks the courage to face people such as Melissa Givens.

this post is jihad II

Tacitus looks upon the violence in Saudi Arabia between the Royals and the monster they have reared with a far more jaundiced eye than do Arash or Dan Darling[1] (the latter two analyses, taken together, are essential and definitive). Tacitus argues in the comments:

Jihad is wrong, sickles. The definition you mention as "extremist" is, in fact, the generally-accepted definition of jihad throughout Islamic thought and history.

It's a minority who subscribe to the "peaceful" definition of jihad. They're trying to "reclaim" the term, by redefining it with a meaning never suggested until the 19th century. Frankly, they might as well try to reclaim "lebensraum."

Tacitus is wrong.

Muhammad SAW never fought an offensive war. The abuse of the term jihad did start with the Caliphs 1 - 3, and was restored to its rightful meaning and implementation under Ali ibn Talib AS (4th Caliph and the true Imam of the Shi'a).

Religious concepts are not as mutable as linguistic words. They are absolutes. Tomorrow if the word "baptize" were to gain widespread acceptance as slang for "fornicate", it would be no less irrelevant to the actual meaning of the concept. As long as a sole Catholic remained performing baptism in the true sense, the truth of the word would be eternal.

But Tacitus is wrong to argue that the majority of the world's muslims believe that jihad means an offensive war waged against innocents (ie, hirabah). The majority of the world's muslims do not engage in violence and respond to Bin Laden's amply-broadcast and distributed calls to hirabah via satellite television and the internet. The Arab street did not rise. The Holocaust - a large-scale, systematic genocide of a specific religious group - has not been repeated in history. If Tacitus was right, the world would be a blood bath on a scale as you can not imagine - just look at the Hajj and imagine that sole dedication of purpose turned towards a violent end.

And Tacitus is even wrong to assert that to moderate muslims like myself, jihad has a purely peaceful definition. In fact jihad does permit violence - in defensive measures. The best analogy to this aspect of jihad is "Jacksonian" warfare - don't start war, but when attacked, win. Then show mercy and make sure your enemy sees the wisdom in being your friend. If they don't get it, though, educate them on what it means to be your enemy.

This is the lesser jihad. A greater jihad is that of the tounge, whereby you speak out against evil and defend yourself and the faith through argument.

The greatest jihad, however, is that of pious action - by simply living in accordance with Islamic teachings. In so doing, you act as an example of the faith to others. This jihad is the greatest jihad because it is also the most difficult.

All of these aspects of jihad were elucidated by the Prophet SAW, are described in the Qur'an, and were further explained by Ali AS. This definition of jihad therefore dates from the 7th century, not the 19th.

Compendiums of false hadith such as the complete works of Bukhari are the only source of hadith that are used to justify hirabah. Bill Allison provides some excerpts from Farid Esack's The Qur'an: A Short Introduction, that describes the hadith manufacturing industry in detail:

With Sunnah now equated with the sunnah of Muhammad and elevated to the level of a source of religio-legal authority, and with Hadith established as the only means to authenticate Sunnah, the various disputants attempted to justify their views and to strip their opponents of legitimacy on the basis of Hadith. This contributed to the emergence of both a corpus of Hadith literature and an entire science around it, much of it based on the growing informal hadith manufacturing industry.
Brown notes that the "extent of the forgery was dramatic. Forgers became active even during the life of Muhammad, in spite of the warning that whoever spreads lies about him would burn in hell. In the Caliphate of 'Umar, the problem became so serious that he prohibited transmission of hadith altogether. Forgery only increased under the Umayyads, the first dynasty of Islam that reigned from 661 until 750. They considered hadith a means of propping up their rule and actively circulated traditions against 'Ali in favor of Mu'awiyah [ibn Abi Sufyan (d. 680), the founder of the dynasty]. The Abbasids [who succeeded them] followed the same pattern, circulating Prophetic hadith which predicted the reign of each successive ruler. Moreover, religious and ethnic conflicts further contributed to the forgery of hadith. The Zanadiqah (those who professed Islam while holding Manichean ideas, as we are told by the heresiographers), for example, are reported to have circulated 12,000 fabricated traditions. The degree of the problem can be seen from the testimony of the muhaddithum themselves. Bukhari, for example, selected 9,000 traditions out of 700,000."

A majority of muslims do indeed honor Bukhari as legitimate, but still do not rise in jihad against their non-muslim neighbors. It is only a small subset indeed that take the false hadith and twist them further into their contorted arguments.

The greatest jihad has been waged every day by the vast majority of muslims in their daily lives, which far outstrips the hirabah of the terrorists and despots, who would try to invoke it to lend their political causes false legitimacy.

[1] Dan pulls no punches and demonstrates how the Saudis have largely been doing nothing, and how even right now noted financiers of Al-Qaeda remain free. But that there has been a shift in the Saudi royals' thinking, there can be little doubt. Whether the Saudis make a different cost-benefit calculation remains to be seen.

The DuToitification of the Western Conservative

Until now I've refrained from commenting on the misogynistic essay of Kim duToit lamenting the "pussification" of the American male. Now, "Winston Smith" of The Philosoraptor blog has made any such effort on my part utterly obsolete.

I rarely post a single link and say go read this right now in full. But sometimes you come across an argument so awe-inspiriringly bad ass that you can only shake your head in mute appreciative silence.

Go read this right now in full.

I can't resist excerpting, but go read it in full right now. Seriously.

What duToit�s essay proves is that the more important problem we face is the duToitification of the Western conservative. Conservatism is currently the Colossus of American politics. Extremist conservatives control the Presidency and both houses of Congress, and conservatives exercise virtually unchallenged control of the political agenda; conservatives control their own massive network of media outlets (talk radio, Fox news, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, etc.); they have convinced most other media outlets to shift their message to the right by relentlessly repeating the �liberal bias� mantra; they have established a massive and incredibly well-funded network of think-tanks and institutions to develop, distribute, and defend their message; and they have underway a long-term plan to take control of the judiciary. Never in my lifetime has one end of the political spectrum so dominated American public life. And yet, even given their almost unchallenged hegemony, they just can�t seem to stop their damn whining. To make this all even more insufferable, their whining often has a bizarre, self-reflexive nature. What they whine about is the fact that they are too masculine, too stoical, too heroic for this imagined age of liberalism. Picture one of those movies in which, through time-lapse photography, a character seems to physically regress farther and farther through less and less highly-evolved forms�but in this case, the character simultaneously becomes emotionally more dainty and easily offended until what remains is a kind of effete caveman. A Neanderthal crybaby. This process of political devolution and moral sissification is the duToitification of the Western conservative.


Lost in the Confederate flag flap is the simple fact that Dean is ahead of his time when it comes to liberals' attitudes towards the South. Dean's statements implicitly endorsed the idea that the Confederate flag is a symbol of culture, outside the context of racism, to many in the South. Most liberal critics (and even many Dean supporters) have argued that the Confederate flag is a racist symbol - this largely misses the point.

People flying the Confederate flag AS a racist flag are indeed, racists. But that's not the symbolism intended by most confederate flag wavers. An example by analogy: To many muslims, the American flag is a symbol of oppression, colonialism, dictatorship, abuse, etc. But that doesnt deter me from flying it with pride. This is because the same symbol can come to mean different things to different people. Symbols are by definition contextual.

Remember that while the Civil War was indeed about slavery (Southern high school teachings about the War of Northern Aggression aside), the sum total of Southern culture was much vaster than the single issue of keeping slaves. Dixie is a real culture and a real heritage, of which slavery is a black stain upon. But the stain does not define the dress (ahem).

Any intellectually honest liberal MUST respect the fact that Southerners love and are proud of their heritage *as a whole* - and understand that for Southerners, the vast majority treat the question of "is racism bad" as a resounding DUH. And are rightfully as offended by the implication of being asked explicitly as we are when accused of hating America because we dissent.

As an aside, I make NO such arguments in favor of the swastika as a cultural symbol. The swastika has no social value to German culture, it represents nothing but a single evil. Whatever symbolism the swastika possessed prior to the Holocaust and Nazi Germany has been obliterated for all time by the magnitude of that evil. You can tell an intellectually dishonest Southerner, in fact, by asking them if their support for teh Stars and Bars is like a modern-day German's support for the swastika. If they answer yes, you have a bona-fide racist ass on your hands. The only correct answer is no.


Shadow Presidency

The White House wants to shut down Central London for three days for the President's visit:

White House security demands covering President George Bush's controversial state visit to Britain have provoked a serious row with Scotland Yard.

American officials want a virtual three-day shutdown of central London in a bid to foil disruption of the visit by anti-war protestors. They are demanding that police ban all marches and seal off the city centre.

But senior Yard officers say the powers requested by US security chiefs would be unprecedented on British soil. While the Met wants to prevent violence, it is sensitive to accusations of trying to curtail legitimate protest.
Secrecy surrounds his itinerary during the trip, which starts on 19 November. He will stay at Buckingham Palace and his staff want The Mall, Whitehall and part of the City closed. Besides provoking a civil liberties backlash, the Met fears such a move would cause traffic chaos and incur huge loss of business across the capital.
Met Commissioner Sir John Stevens said his force was facing "a very tough" time over the visit, which will see the biggest security operation ever mounted in Britain.

He told the Breakfast with Frost show a balance had to be struck between the President's safety and protestors' right to make their voices heard.

"We are on the highest alert that we have ever worked at," he said. "We are working two-and-a-half times harder than we did at the very height of the Irish terror campaign."

I'm even more convinced than ever that the President is not in control of his Administration. The efforts to which his coterie goes to isolate him from any dissent or even the slightest whiff of criticism is astounding. Jacob Weisberg notes in Slate that the lack of postwar planning in Iraq is a good example:

An even more important question is how the Bush administration failed to prepare for what it knew was coming. How did the world's greatest military power plan the invasion of a country without also planning its occupation?

David Rieff's Nov. 2 article in the New York Times Magazine offers pieces of an answer. The neoconservative Iraq hawks inside the Pentagon�Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and Douglas Feith�thought our troops would be welcomed as liberators and that the Iraqi National Congress could run the country for us (a view Gideon Rose demolished in Slate back in April). Wolfowitz, in particular, was known for his view that fixing Iraq would provoke a reverse-domino effect of democratization throughout the Middle East. Those who bought into this wishful thinking didn't want to hear about the potential problems.
The result was that a few charismatic, outside-the-box thinkers were able to bamboozle the president into mistaking their roll of the dice for a mature judgment. No wise old head (where was Brent Scowcroft when we needed him?) took the president aside to explain that winning a debate in the Cabinet room isn't the same thing as having a sensible policy. (Bush's tax cuts are another example of a similar phenomenon, driven by a different set of ideologues: the supply-siders.)

Back during the 2000 campaign, George Will and others argued that presidential intelligence didn't matter. This notion was reinforced after Sept. 11, when it became fashionable to argue that Bush's "moral clarity" was preferable to the ability to comprehend many sides of a complicated issue. In fact, presidential intelligence does matter. The intellectual qualities Bush lacks�historical knowledge, interest in the details of policy, and substantive (as opposed to political) judgment�might well have prevented the quagmire we're facing in Iraq right now. A more engaged president�one who understood, for instance, the difference between the Sunnis and the Shiites�surely would have asked about Plan B.

And via Josh Marshall, the latest Newsweek piece on how we were sold the war points out that Cheney is a force unto himself within the administration:

Cheney has long been regarded as a Washington wise man. He has a dry, deliberate manner; a penetrating, if somewhat wintry, wit, and a historian�s long-view sensibility. He is far to the right politically, but in no way wild-eyed; in private conversation he seems moderate, thoughtful, cautious. Yet when it comes to terrorist plots, he seems to have given credence to the views of some fairly flaky ideologues and charlatans.
Nonetheless, it appears that Cheney has been susceptible to �cherry-picking,� embracing those snippets of intelligence that support his dark prognosis while discarding others that don�t. He is widely regarded in the intelligence community as an outlier, as a man who always goes for the worst-case �scenario and sometimes overlooks less alarming or at least ambiguous signs. Top intelligence officials reject the suggestion that Cheney has somehow bullied lower-level CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency analysts into telling him what he wants to hear. But they do describe the Office of the Vice President, with its large and assertive staff, as a kind of free-floating power base that at times brushes aside the normal policymaking machinery under national-security adviser Condoleezza Rice. On the road to war, Cheney in effect created a parallel government that became the real power center.

Newsweek is playing catch-up to Marshall - see his earlier stories, about the myth of Republican competence and the havoc that Cheney wreaks, unchecked within the Administration.

So we have a weak President who lets various factions (neocons, Cheney, social conservatives, and the political wing) impose policy and he lacks the gravitas to actually bring them to heel. Consider that the political wing, which arguably has the most influence since their goal is to re-elect in 2004, has seen the Iraq war as a liability to the point that conservative and liberal critics alike are taking seriously the idea that Bush might cut and run from Iraq:

The immediate danger is that the American mission in Iraq may be the first and most dire casualty of this administration's parsimony. In these pages a few weeks ago, Lewis Lehrman felicitously observed, "prudence counsels that to desire the Bush Doctrine is to desire the indispensable means to make it effective." So far, the Pentagon has shown little interest in developing and deploying the indispensable means to make the Bush Doctrine effective. The stunning victory in the war to remove Saddam has been followed by an almost equally stunning lack of seriousness about winning the peace, despite the vital importance of creating a stable, secure, and democratic Iraq. That is what the Bush Doctrine of "regime change" means, or should mean: Not blowing out the bad regime and then leaving others to pick up the pieces, but staying long enough to ensure that a good regime can take its place.

But for that to happen, we need to defeat the increasingly dangerous Baathist and international terrorist groups operating in Iraq. There aren't enough American troops there today to conduct the kind of counterterrorist and counterinsurgency strategy that is needed. In an effort to compensate, the administration has pursued one illusory quick fix after another. First there was the illusion--now dispelled--that international troops would come in and substitute for American forces. With U.S. troops scheduled to rotate out of Iraq in March, Pentagon planners counted on the introduction of two new international divisions. This expectation was fanciful, as we pointed out two months ago. It was unlikely that many foreign forces were ever going to participate in the aftermath of a war their governments did not favor.
The president has publicly dedicated his administration to keeping U.S. forces in place as long as necessary to build a democratic Iraq. It would be helpful if the Pentagon implemented a strategy consistent with the president's stated goals. Or we can cross our fingers and just hope it all works out. But that's an irresponsible risk to take. Failing in Iraq would be a strategic calamity worse than America's retreat from Vietnam 30 years ago. As Senator John McCain put it this week, the only acceptable exit strategy is victory. The president calls our effort in Iraq "a massive and difficult undertaking." It is that, and it is also a necessary and admirable one. The question is whether Bush will see to it that his Pentagon does what it takes to make that undertaking succeed.

That's Bill Kristol writing in the Weekly Standard, mind you, explicitly asking whether Bush will do what it takes to succeed. Note that ALL the major Democratic candidates - who opposed and supported war alike - have consistently said that now we must stay the course in Iraq. Other bloggers who have noted this are Matthew Yglesias, Glenn Reynolds, Armed Liberal, Tacitus, and Kevin Drum - all of whom supported the war. And Al Gore, no dove on Iraq himself, made the point this weekend that the Administration appears more interested in the illusion of security for political expediency rather than actually making hard choices to guarantee that security.

And things ARE going badly in Iraq. That much is clear from the increasingly erratic decisionmaking of the front line. The recent AP article evoked disturbing memories of military reprisal tactics[1] we haven't seen since the 1960s:

An Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed Friday � apparently shot down by insurgents � killing all six U.S. soldiers aboard and capping the bloodiest seven days in Iraq for Americans since the fall of Baghdad.

In retaliation, American troops backed by Bradley fighting vehicles swept through Iraqi neighborhoods before dawn Saturday, blasting houses suspected of being insurgent hideouts with machine guns and heavy weapons fire.

"This is to remind the town that we have teeth and claws and we will use them," said Lt. Col. Steven Russell, commander of the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment...

Late Friday, U.S. troops fired mortars and a U.S. jets dropped at least three 500-pound bombs around the crash site, rattling windows over a wide area in an apparent show of force.

Billmon and Tacitus are in agreement that machine-gunning houses of suspects and conducting tactical airstrikes just to let the locals know who's boss is not a strategy, it's desperation.

and do such tactics work? No - from the Washington POst:

None of the U.S. tactics in Thuluiya has worked. In June, the town was the target of a massive helicopter and tank sweep as troops raided houses in a search for Hussein sympathizers. Of more than 400 detainees netted in the raid, called Operation Peninsula Strike, two remain in custody, according to Iraqi police.

When U.S. commanders took a softer approach, funding repairs to schools and the police station and recruiting local policemen to provide security, attacks continued. A father killed a son who had informed on behalf of the Americans. Attacks on U.S. soldiers at a bridge prompted the Americans to bulldoze a swath of date palms and fruit trees along a major roadway. U.S. troops carried out sporadic raids; eight Thuluiya residents have been detained in the past two weeks, residents say.

Efforts to get Iraqis to handle security in town foundered under a wave of mistrust. The police have been all but sidelined. "The Americans don't have confidence in us," said one officer, who declined to give his name for fear of getting fired. "They think we know who is doing the attacks but are not telling them."

The officer and his comrades said U.S. commanders no longer meet with local leaders in town but invite them to their base at a large airfield north of the town. Since a wave of car bombings last month in Baghdad, no U.S. official has visited the police station, they said. "The Americans are afraid," the officer said.

The bottom line is that things are a mess, and its because the President has not been strong enough to make decisions on what is best for teh country. With Iraq, with the economy, with the relationship of the Executive Branch with the Legislative (including accountability and oversight), and in civil liberties, the Administration has routinely allowed the ideolouges to come in with easy fix solutions based on politicized intelligence and pandering to the powerful interests who are needed for 2004.

[1] Another AP story reveals that the soldiers are getting radicalized towards the population (including debasing the honorary title hajji as an epithet for Iraqis, body searches of women by male Coalition troops, insulting the Qur'an, cutting down date palms, and many other incidents). Given the lack of postwar planning and the extreme under-manned status of the troops, the decision-making process has moved downwards to the level of individual soldiers. Therefore this kind of aggressive behavior and over-reaction is not surprising. The soldiers aren't bad people, but they are under enormous stress, and they are forced to see the average Iraqis solely as a threat. This makes their main mission of winning the peace essentially impossible. It's a cycle of violence that they are trapped in and it will approach the IDF/PA type of interacton as the situation worsens.