Dignity, always dignity That's a maxim that the Bush team has a hard time grasping. You might recall the minor story of a New York fundraiser for John Kerry last month. Celebs cracked jokes, some a bit ribald, at Bush's expense, Kerry called the assembly "the heart and soul of America," Whoopi Goldberg got fired by Slimfast, and so on.
It was, as I said, a month ago. Yesterday I got this email:
As I write, there are 96 days until an historic election, and the campaigns are hitting full-swing. In recent days, I've been in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Iowa and Missouri. Everywhere I go, the crowds are big, the enthusiasm is high, the signs are good -- we are on our way to victory.
My opponent has been spending some time with his base as well -- most recently, he attended a gala with his Hollywood friends. Evidently, things got a little out of hand. My name came up a few times. And now the Senator refuses to release a tape of that whole enchanted evening. Could be that his friends, whom he said conveyed the "heart and soul of America," actually embarrassed themselves and the candidate.
I'm glad to count you -- the real "Heart and Soul of America" -- among my friends. I'm hoping you'll help me out again in these final days with a contribution of $1000, $500, $250, $100, or even $50.
Emphasis in the original. The President of the United States parroting such a stale talking point, instead of leaving it to his grubbier surrogates. It's not the cheapness of the shot, campaigns are full of those; it's that he's using it himself after all this time.
Shorter Will Saletan (on Barack Obama's keynote)
Barack Obama isn't really black.
If you don't uncritically support free trade, you're a racist.
If you point out that your opponents are being divisive to the detriment of the country, you're being divisive.
¶ 12:24 PM
"The prince of Prague" That's the headline to a story posted on Salon (and, I gather, in tomorrow's Guardian) about the rise of Gross. It gets worse:
A new breed of dynamic young leader is on the rise in Eastern Europe, and youngest of all is the new premier of the Czech Republic, a 34-year-old former train driver. [...]
The former high-speed train driver on the fast track to the top is renowned for his charm, his persuasiveness, and his talent for being all things to all people. The abuse of his police powers to get the reporter off his tail [the Audi incident] also offered a rare glimpse of the steel and the ruthlessness that has propelled the boyish working-class lawyer into the office of prime minister of the Czech Republic.
A stunningly uncritical article, though there are some negative comments later in the piece from (guess who?) Jiri Pehe.
Czech police collar 10 drunk bus drivers:
A police crackdown on bus traffic in the Czech capital caught 10 drunk bus drivers in a single day, police said Wednesday.
The action Tuesday - the first of its kind here - targeted public transportation, tourist and long-distance buses. Besides catching the 10 drunk drivers, police fined 256 bus drivers for speeding and nine who were unable to present a valid driver's license.
¶ 11:30 AM
Tuesday, July 27, 2004
Acorns don't fall far from the Bush Attacking a politician's family is just wrong. And I'm not attacking the twin daughters of G.W. Bush, Jenna and Barbara.
But I will point out this highlight from their recent online-chat, "Speaking Out for Dad":
Andrea Toth from Canoga Park CA wrote: What foreign leaders or diginitaries have you met?
Barbara and Jenna Bush answered: Yes, Andrea, and that is definitely one of the best things about being the daughters of a President. We have both gotten to meet some extremely intelligent, interesting people. We both met former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, and felt extremely inspired and moved. He is a man who was imprisoned for fighting communism and was the first President of the Czech Republic. He also is an amazing author and playwright and he loves the Rolling Stones! We have also met Tony Blair of Great Britain and Vladimir Putin of Russia - in addition to being highly intelligent and amazing leaders, they both have a great sense of humor!
¶ 5:21 PM
Bust of Benes busted The plaque, anyway.
The ongoing story of this minor controversy captures, in some way, the whole continuing fight between the Czechs and the German expellees. It is at once ridiculous, inconsequential, and yet also, somehow, painful. And it won't go away.
This is the revolution? It's a cliche, one of the oldest: a journo interviews the cab driver who picked him up at the airport.
Now a blogger does it. Ho-fucking-hum.
¶ 2:09 PM
Most journalism about presidential elections sucks. Damn near all of it, in fact.
That's true this year, it was true four years ago, it will be true four years from now. The daily reports in the papers can at least be used to wrap fish; the stuff on the web doesn't even have that much going for it.
Most of it is devoted to the strategy of electoral politics, or how the candidates and their staffs play the game. Since we'll find out who wins in November, this endless inside-baseball crap is pointless unless you've got money riding on the outcome. Once the election is actually decided, and we've paid off or collected our bets, all the reporting on who did win and how is even more useless, unless you actually worked for one of the campaigns and want to check the index of the various campaign tomes to see if you can find your name.
There are only three books on presidential campaigns worth reading, rare exceptions to the general dreariness of election coverage. Tim Crouse's The Boys on the Bus, published thirty years ago, is one of them.
At the Democratic Party's nominating convention now underway in Boston, the press is devoting considerable effort to covering itself. Since there hasn't been any actual news to emerge from a Democratic Convention since 1980 or so, this isn't surprising, but the extent of the attention that the media pays to itself still boggles the mind. There are six reporters for every delegate in Boston; in the Washington Post, the media reporter Howard Kurtz has an unreal four by-lines in today's paper.
That started with Crouse. He did for meta-coverage what Dr. Dre did for West Coast hip-hop. It's a bit hard to believe that Tim Crouse was, in 1972, virtually the only member of the press whose mission was to cover the press.
He wasn't exactly made to feel welcome; one reporter snapped "Goddamn gossip columnist," in Crouse's hearing, and many others avoided him, at least at first. Victor Gold, Vice President Spiro Agnew's press secretary, denied Crouse press credentials:
I don't want the press to be inhibited. I want the press to cover the campaign! I don't want the press to worry about being covered while they cover the campaign!
That is one great difference between then and now. Today, when a major daily sends a reporter to cool his heels while politicians babble on, they are likely to send a second correspondent to watch the first one cooling his heels.
The only aspect of The Boys on the Bus, that feels dated is his occasional pause to introduce terms with which his readers were unfamiliar. "Media event" appears in quotes, as does "pool report," which gets an explanatory footnote.
Little else has changed though, not even the names. When Crouse wrote about the "heavies," the first-string reporters we'd now call "big feet," he listed names that still dominate journalism. Bob Novak, Haynes Johnson, Jules Whitcover, and R. W. "Johnny" Apple are still around. Germond retired only after the last election. Dave Broder is still the Dean of American Political Journalism, whatever that means.
Crouse was almost prophetic in his analysis of these reporters. He describes Novak, one of the pioneers of shouting-head cable punditry, as "increasingly embracing the ideological tenets of the Sun King." His portrait of Johnny Apple, "attacking the basket of sweet rolls on the table," when they spoke, eerily prefigured Apple's eventual sinecure as a food correspndent for the NY Times' Dining section. Jack Schafer's frequent criticism of Apple's journalism is just a running update of Crouse's comprehensive evaluation three decades ago.
Crouse's account of how the campaigns spin the press doesn't need much updating, even though it was written before the rise of the term "spin." The emergence of the twenty four hour news cycle has only made it more so. Boys remains as relevant to understanding American elections as Clausewitz is to understanding war.
One of the services Crouse performs is a history, or autopsy, of campaign journalism. The great revolution was Teddy White's The Making of the President 1960, the first book that presented a presidential campaign as a thrilling story. White's book, or any of the subsequent volumes in what became his franchise, is difficult to read now with a straight face; it was tough to take even in 1968, as Crouse noted. But White's method of presenting the campaign was followed by many others.
The team of Germond and Whitcover produced the definitive accounts of several campaigns; they are, as Twain said of the Book of Mormon, chloroform in print. The title of their 1984 edition, Wake Us When It's Over, describes the mood of the reader at least as well as it captures the mood of the voters. Virtually all books about campaigns are worse, duller, and not as exhaustive.
The great exception is Richard Ben Cramer's What It Takes. A jacket blurb described it as an American Iliad, a tribute to its Homeric length of over a thousand trade-paperback pages, and, perhaps, to its structure. As the Iliad ends before the fall of Troy, Cramer's account of the spectacularly dull 1988 election ends before the conventions.
But if the election that year was dull, Cramer's remarkable account is anything but. It's not just the best book that I've read about an election, it's one of the best works of narrative journalism ever written, up there with Herr's Dispatches and Lenin's Tombby Remnick.
I did not read it until 1998, ten years after the election it covered, when it was recommended to me by David Simon, the accomplished Baltimore journalist and television producer. I couldn't put it down. Considering how forgettable most campaign journalism is, that is sufficiently high praise that I need not say more; I would only descend into hyperbole. Just read it.
Which brings us to Hunter Thompson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail. Tim Crouse was originally sent by Rolling Stone to keep Thompson out of trouble and, in his words, "carry the bail money," while Hunter applied the techniques of gonzo journalism to the 1972 election.
Thompson's account is not the literary acheivement that Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is, but his collected dispatches hold up pretty well. What makes them work, more than his irreverance, wit, or then-innovative approach, is Thompson's genuine anger. Every page asks, "this is democracy?"
An example, quoted by Crouse:
This may be the year when we finally come face to face with ourselves; finally just lay back and say it -- that we are really just a nation of 220 million used car salesmen with all the money we need to buy guns, and no qualms about killing anybody else in the world who tries to make us uncomfortable. The tragedy of all this is that George McGovern, for all his imprecise talk about new politics and "honesty in government," is one of the few men who've run for President of the United States who really understands what a fantastic monument to all the best instincts of the human race this country might have been, if we could have kept it out of the hands of greedy little hustlers like Richard Nixon. McGovern made some stupid mistakes, but in context they seem almost frivolous compared to the things Richard Nixon does every day of his life, on purpose, as a matter of policy and perfect expression of everything he stands for. Jesus! Where will it end? How low do you have to stoop in this country to have to be President.
Strong stuff. It's very difficult to remain that angry and disgusted, even with medication. After Nixon resigned, Thompson's journalism declined even as his legend grew. His screeds on American politicians after Watergate seem forced, as if he's trying to summon a passion that has long since left him. In an unkind moment when Nixon died, I wondered if it might be fitting to bury Thompson alive in Nixon's tomb, so that he might follow his prey into the afterlife as the pharoah's most dedicated chronicler.
Unkind, as I said, but we wouldn't be missing anything if it had happened. I don't know if it's better to burn out that it is to rust, but Generation of Swine, for example, demonstrates that you can do both at the same time.
Thompson is, according to this report, planning to write an account of the 2004 campaign. It's a sad thing when a man feeds off his legend, just as it's not a good thing for any man to be considered a legend in the first place.
Which isn't to say that Thompson should stop writing. He should, however, not attempt to write again what he has already written before, back when he gave a damn. Crouse pretty much left journalism after Boys; Cramer moved on to other topics. Having written important and original books, they realized that sequels to them would be tired and irrelevant. Thompson should follow their example.
For that matter, other journalists, and bloggers, should try to raise the bar beyond this horse-race, new-poll-just-out, Edwards-playing-well-with-white-union-members-in-Indiana crap that will be forgotten by December.
Elections mean something more than the game of politics; journalism should be about more than the game.
¶ 9:17 AM
Give the Waynesboro Record Herald some credit.They got that it's no longer Czechoslovakia in their story on Lutheran missionaries, "Couple feel call to serve people in Czech Republic." Unfortunately, the headline writer wasn't able to make the distinction on exactly where they were called to serve.
Andrea Lindgren spent much of her senior year in college surrounded by a culture that was straight out of a history book.
Pribelce, a tiny village in the Czech Republic she visited frequently, was filled with singing and dancing, wedding celebrations that lasted for at least a day and women clad in folk dresses.
"It's is definitely an interesting place to live," said Lindgren, 22. "It's like walking around Colonial Williamsburg."
But, she's going bring the light to the heathens in Bratislava, not those in the Czech Republic. Or Czechia.
I just can't get over how small-town papers in America regard Eastern Europe as some sort of exotic land that Western culture has only barely touched.
¶ 9:43 AM
Friday, July 23, 2004
He said it We've worked hard to make opportunity available and prosperity real and justice not a word. And I'm here to tell you, we're making good progress.
That's from the White House transcript of President Bush's address to the National Urban League this morning in Detroit.
Bush began his speech by praising his hosts:
... the people involved in the Urban League are dignified, decent American citizens. And I am honored to be in your presence.
Since he made a point of refusing to address the NAACP, what is he saying about the members of that group? Are they not decent Americans?
¶ 1:32 PM
How are Prague and Calcutta alike? Ask Czech students studying Bengali:
“The Metro and the tram remind us of Prague…Also the fact that on Sunday most shops remain closed.”
¶ 1:25 PM
Blogging among the Czech Republic's Roma Stacy Kosko, an American grad student, is doing an internship with the Dzeno Association, a Roma media access group. And she's keeping a blog while she's doing it.
¶ 12:10 PM
God Bless the FOIA And may He confound its enemies! A great piece by Matt Welch on the Freedom of Information Act, and two ambitious advisers to Gerald Ford, whose names you will recognize, who succeeded in limiting its scope.
¶ 9:20 AM
This is not a post about the 9/11 Commission's Report I haven't read it yet, though I intend to this weekend; maybe I'll post something then. (BTW, how can Sullivan say what's the best "instant summary" of a report that he hasn't read?)
But there is one thing that everybody should remember about this commission and its report: the White House actively opposed a full public investigation of the 9/11 attacks.
Kaplan on Berger The best, most thoughtful piece that I've seen so far. I don't agree with all of it:
Breuer's explanation—that the documents got "enmeshed" in his private papers—isn't entirely implausible; certainly it falls within the shadow of a reasonable doubt.
That's a stretch; if not entirely implausible, it's close enough for (non-classified) government work. But the rest of his piece is, I think, a very good summary of what we know so far about this bizarre case, and, most especially, what conclusions we can draw from it:
First, this whole to-do should have no bearing on the presidential campaign; the leaking of the Justice Department investigation reveals a desperation on the part of the White House or the Republican National Committee to enmesh Clinton and Kerry in a cloud of blame just before the release of the 9/11 commission's report.
Second, Sandy Berger should forget about being appointed to a national security post ever again.
In the unlikely event that you want more on this, see this Washington Post article. For my own part, I'm inclined to give anything said by an Archives employee, or even anonymously sourced to the Archives, a great deal of credence; statements from other "government sources", rather less. Berger has very little credibility with me.
That said, the socks story strikes me, just off the top of my head, as garbled speculation that's being played up. The Post story, which tries to match up the contradictory accounts of Berger's visits to the Archives, paint a picture of deferential government employees who were not willing to act on their suspicions until they had concrete evidence of Berger's culpability.
¶ 7:39 AM
In other news, The Prague Monitor links to this story on a poll claiming that Czechs consider the European Parliament elections in June the most important recent event. One half of those surveyed considered the EP elections "important."
Perhaps they do, but only one out of three Czech voters turned out for the election itself.
UPDATE: Doug Arellanes has a nice post on how Gross told Pavel Telicka, the current EU Commissioner, he was being fired: SMS.
¶ 7:18 AM
Wednesday, July 21, 2004
What did the English language do to them? I'm not aware of any one in the White House who is aware of anyone who's aware that the President ever was aware of having made such a comment.
The man who said that is payed money by the American people.
¶ 2:26 PM
Apologies... ...for the length of the previous post on Berger; I actually know something about reserch at the National Archives, and this is one of the few times that it's relevant to something happening in Greater Blogistan.
For all I know, this whole thing will be little remembred even a month from now. God knows, I sympathize who doesn't feel like following it. I wish to assure my handful of readers that there probably won't be another post of such tedious length on one news story again. I'll be back to my usually short posts later today or tomorrow.
¶ 1:49 PM
More Berger I don't want to keep kicking this, but his defenders, or in this case, his lawyer, make it worse everytime they open their mouths.
This is from a CNN interview with Sandy Berger's attorney, Lanny Breuer (via Josh Marshall; you'll have to scroll through the transcript to get to the interview).
Blitzer: But Sandy Berger knew the rules when he went there. He's not just anyone. He's not an academic. He's a former national security adviser. A, he knew you don't take documents out of the National Archives, and, B, he knew if you took notes you have to get clearance to get permission to remove those notes from those rooms. BREUER: Well, see -- let's first talk, Wolf, about the notes. The notes have just never been an issue in this case. The Department of Justice has told me those notes have not been an issue in this case. He took notes and the reason he took notes was Sandy had read and reviewed thousands upon thousands of documents. I'm not sure there's another American of Sandy's stature who spent more time selflessly reviewing documents so that he could answer all of the questions of the 9/11 commission. BLITZER: Let's talk about those notes for a second. Did he take notes -- did he take those notes from the room without authorization? BREUER: He took notes and he did take them out. It's a violation of the Archives procedure. He took those notes. From the very beginning, he openly took the notes. He was allowed to take notes. And then he took the notes with him. He put them in his coat pocket and in his pants pocket...
Was he allowed to take notes? There was actually some question about it; as Marshall noted earlier:
I would imagine [the restrictions] are quite strict and that you're not allowed to just take such notes with you except under the most limited of circumstances, if at all. Obviously, if you can write down the contents of classified documents and then take your notes with you then basically you're taking the document itself -- since the issue is not the physical document but its contents. Again, though, I simply don't know.
In the regular reading rooms at College Park, the inspection of notes is to make sure that nothing is smuggled out; they are not vetted for content since everything that researchers can see without a filing a FOIAR is open. I see no reason to doubt that Berger was allowed to take notes, if only because Breur's assertion that he was doing so in the open is so easily checkable.
Was he limited in what notes he was allowed to take? I have no idea whether he was or not, but it's not implausible that he would have been allowed to make limited, descriptive notes. Something like, "Memo X is key," or "note differences between second draft and final version."
Just an aid to his memory in advance of testifying.
If this is the case, then he violated Archive policy, but this aspect of the case against him amounts to nothing. He just put a notecard in his pocket, perhaps just to save the hassle of having all of his documents inspected-- it can take some annoying minutes if you've got a lot to be checked. It would also be just a technical violation of Archive policy if he had the right to take unlimited notes, but not criminal or malevolent. Archive jaywalking really.
BLITZER: He knew this was not authorized. BREUER: Well, he knew it was a violation of Archives procedure. It's not against the law. No one has suggested to him it's against the law. The Department of Justice has not been concerned with it. And indeed, Wolf, in October, when the Archives contacted him, Sandy Berger returned those notes even though he wasn't asked for those notes.
OK, so far so good. He took some notes on a notecard or something and pocketed them.
BLITZER: I know Sandy Berger. You know Sandy Berger. Why would he violate Archives procedure? BREUER: Because there's something more important than Archives procedure and that's the hard work of the 9/11 commission. Sandy Berger knew that he was going to be asked questions about what happened in the early '90s and mid '90s and that the 9/11 commission and the families of those victims had a right to know what happened.
That's an almost Bush-esque evasion, but let's ignore it:
BLITZER: Why didn't he ask for authorization, for permission? They would have given him permission to take that out of there. BREUER: Wolf, we've admitted and Sandy has acknowledged from the beginning it was a mistake of judgment. There is no surprise here. We've acknowledged that mistake in judgment in October. And everyone... B LITZER: Did he panic? Is that it? BREUER: It wasn't panic at all. It wasn't considered to him that big a deal to take the notes. Clearly, the Department of Justice, in every discussion they've had with me, have made it clear that that was not a focus of this matter.
I'm still puzzled by the choice of language, that it wasn't a problem "to take the notes." If Berger did indeed have permission to take, that is, write notes, then the issue is whether or not he got them checked when he left. It's a strange and confusing way to formulate what is, in Breuer's telling, a simple and minor mistake.
The possibility is that he took more detailed notes that went beyond what was allowed, and he pocketed them to evade having them inspected. This is far more serious; a breach of security rather than a breach of procedure.
It's also pure speculation on my part, so we'll move on to the question of the documents that he took with him:
BLITZER: All right. The notes are one thing. Much more serious is the classified document. This is a highly sensitive document. I don't know what -- if it's code word or top secret or a compartmental, secure -- whatever the classification is, he knew he should not take that document out of that room. BREUER: Well, let's talk about that document. That's a document that Dick Clarke authored because Sandy Berger asked him to do it. BLITZER: Dick Clarke was the White House counterterrorism czar, if you will. BREUER: Exactly. And at the time of the millennium in 2000, if you remember, there were lots of threats about terrorism. And the White House and the United States addressed those concerns. And most people look at the time of January 1, 2000 as a time that we can be proud of. We thwarted terrorist cells. Berger was the national security adviser and he was very proud of what they did. But he didn't just rest on his laurels. He said to Clarke, "I want you to take a hard look. Tell us what we did right and tell us what we didn't do right." And to Clarke's credit, he did it. To Berger's credit he asked him to do it. Now with respect to what this document is about, it is widely known. Its existence is widely known. It's written about in books and in magazines.
Please note that Beuer appears to have no intention of answering this question:
BLITZER: So why did he have to take it out of that room? BREUER: That he did it inadvertently. BLITZER: What is inadvertently? BREUER: Let me tell you what happened.
Anytime you're ready.
BREUER:...Sandy Berger had been reviewing thousands and thousands of pages of classified documents. He did it so that he could give informed answers to the 9/11 commission. And so the very documents that have formed the basis of their report could be produced. He did that by himself because no one else could do it or would do it. So he has a table. He's working openly. There are Archives people there and there are thousands of documents. And in the course of his review it was clear to everyone he had a leather portfolio. He brought it in openly. The Archives people knew it. And anyone who has works with Sandy knows he always has that leather portfolio and there were lots of business papers that have nothing at all to do with this commission. And perhaps, Wolf, there was too much informality by Sandy and maybe too much informality by the Archives people. But at some point when he leaves, the memorandum got caught with his business papers and he walked out. It was inadvertent. He admitted the mistake...
This is where it gets really strange. As I wrote yesterday, and as anyone at all familiar with the Archives' procedures knows, you're not allowed to bring in anything to carry documents, or any unchecked papers that might get confused with Archive documents. It absolutely amazes me that this basic restriction, which I have never seen broken in the public reading rooms, would be so casually violated in a secure room. I have no explanation; the only thing I can think of is that people with high security clearances do not face that restriction, though that makes no sense as policy.
But, since this is something that will be checked, let's assume that Berger was allowed to bring in the portfolio.
Why the hell did he open it? He is, in his own lawyer's description, hunched over this mass of top-secret material, diligently preparing his testimony. Why does he have his "lots of business papers that have nothing at all to do with this commission," out in the first place?
It should be noted that this image of thousands of documents spread out on a table is very different from usual practice at the Archives, at least in the public rooms. There the rule is that only one document box may be open at a time, and only one folder at a time can be removed from that box. It's a simple and necessary rule to prevent files getting misplaced, which is almost as bad as files getting lost.
If the secure reading room where Berger did his research let him have files spread out all over a table, with his portfolio open and his personal papers also spread out, then it went beyond laxity to utter negligence. If Berger, or Beuer, is correct, many people need to be fired.
In Beuer's account, taking the documents was the equivalant of walking out of a coffee shop with somebody else's newspaper. I don't believe this is possible, but even if you do, Berger's subsequent actions become even harder to explain.
The leather portfolio, with his business papers. If he carries it with him all the time, it must be presumed to hold important papers that he will look at regularly in the course of the day or week or whatever. It's not like somebody's glove compartment or a woman's purse or my own bag, which get emptied once every six months or so.
BEUER: Well, what happened here was that he took the copies that got somehow entangled with his other documents. He didn't realize it. [...]
He's a workaholic. He's a great patriot. He's selfless but he's not the most organized people. He was reviewing by himself thousands of documents at the request of the government. He was doing it alone. It was hard work. And at some point in the course of the days, that document got enmeshed. Those documents got enmeshed. All of the documents Sandy Berger looked at were secure, were code word. The notion that this is the only one is ridiculous. It was not more sensitive than the other documents and he had been reviewing documents for three days for many hours.
Again, how did he not notice that there was a highly classified document in his everyday work papers? How did he come to have those everyday work documents out in the secure reading room? They were important enough that he carried them around regularly, but not so important that he ever looked at them and found them over the three month period that he was visiting the Archives. Somehow, however, he was able to remove the code-word material from that portfolio without noticing that he had it until the Archives noticed it and then he found the documents in his files.
Sandy Berger, criminal There is, quite simply, no other way to describe the actions of the former Clinton aide in removing documents from the National Archives:
A national security adviser to former US President Bill Clinton is being investigated for removing classified documents from the National Archives.
Samuel Berger has admitted inadvertently taking copies of a classified memo while preparing to testify to the 9/11 inquiry this year. He said he deeply regretted "the sloppiness involved". [...]
Mr Berger testified in March before the bipartisan commission examining all aspects of the 11 September 2001 attacks.
As Mr Clinton's national security adviser, he was questioned about the Clinton administration's response to the al-Qaeda threat. In preparation for his testimony, he reviewed thousands of pages of classified terrorism and security documents in a secure reading room at the National Archives in Washington.
It was during this work, according to Mr Berger and his lawyers, that he removed notes he had made about the anti-terror papers he consulted. He also inadvertently took copies of actual documents.
He returned them all, but some copies of an 1999 intelligence report on terrorist plots to disrupt millennium celebrations are still missing. Mr Berger believes he may have inadvertently discarded them.
His excuse is pathetic; so ridiculous, in fact, as to be almost proof of malevolence. It is impossible to inadvertently remove documents from the National Archives' reading rooms. You're not allowed to bring notebooks or papers into the reading rooms; notes are taken on index cards or single sheets of paper provided by the Archives. Any documents that you do bring in with you to aid in your research have to be stamped at the front desk. Anything you take out has to be stamped "declassified." To photocopy anything, even nonclassified documents, you have to get an ok; every photocopy has "COPY: Reproducd at the National Archives" clearly stamped on it.
And, everything you bring out with you, every copy, form, notecard, and any notes you make, is checked as you leave.
Those are the public rooms. Berger used a private, secure reading room, presumably because of the sensitive nature of the material he was covering and his own security clearance. The security measures taken in secure rooms are, however, more stringent; no photocopiers, for instance, though he was allowed, according to some sources, to take a leather portfolio with him.
I can't imagine how they let him take a portfolio in with him, but maybe the rules at the secure rooms are really lax.
It's possible to steal documents, as Berger did. It is impossible to have done so through mere "sloppiness." It's a deliberate act.
The reason for these protocols, and there are similar ones in place at every archive and rare documents center, is to make sure that the records themselves, the documenary history of the country, will be available to historians, journalists, and, not least, to ordinary citizens. To have them available requires the Archives to, uhm, have them.
Why did Berger do it? The most "innocent" explanation I can think of is simple arrogance on Berger's part. Laws are for citizens; former high officials who trod the earth like princes need not trrouble themselves with rules designed for lesser men. Perhaps his long experience with highly classified documents has made him careless in dealing with them.
That's the best excuse I can think of for Berger, though it does the man no credit.
Another possible explanation, the most obvious reason to lift documents from the archives, is that Berger was trying to hide something. The right-wing press is running with it, of course; They'd be willing to believe that he snagged the real Vince Foster autopsy. This appears to be mere speculation though, without substance. It's not clear from news reports what documents didn't make it to the Commission.
It has been suggested by David Gergen that this is a well-timed leak to distract from the release Thursday of the final 9/11 Commission Report.
If that's the case, Berger played into their hands. But the old saw, "it's worse than a crime, it's a mistake," doesn't apply here. It's a crime, and it deserves to be condemned on its own terms, not just for any embarrassment it causes the Democrats.
OK, I've calmed down a little bit, and given it some more thought, but I still don't understand it.
Josh Marshall posted about it last night, and he doesn't understand it either:
...Berger has spent his career in and out of the national security bureaucracy and must know the dos and don'ts of custody of classified materials like the back of his hand. So I don't know what he could have been thinking. [...]
I'm going to reserve judgment until I know more of the facts and the rules governing this particular situation. But on the face of it, it does seem, as I said, inexplicable. And these are the sorts of incidents that, quite apart from criminal prosecution, rightly or wrongly, often end any future possibility of government service.
And, in a post today, Marshall argues that the news of the investigation was leaked to distract from the 9/11 Commission report, but:
That doesn't mean Berger doesn't have any explaining to do. The two points are not exclusive of each other.
I should note that Andrew Sullivan weighs in, and also references Marshall. My own thoughts, written before I read theirs, are pretty similar to theirs; Sullivan describes himself as "gob-smacked," while Marshall uses "inexplicable."
But here's how the Sullied One describes Marshall:
JOSH SPINS BERGER: Even the loyal Democrat can't find an explanation for Sandy Berger's shenanigans. But he still thinks the story is a function of Republican dirty tricks.
Remember, they agree. You can read Marshall's posts (like the man says, "always click on the link") and it's difficult to describe them as spinning anything. The suspicious timing of the leak is, of course, suspicious, but Sullivan doesn't deny that or give any reason to doubt it.
Long-time Sullivanalogists are familiar with his frequent demonstration of what psychologists call "projection":
The individual perceives in others the motive he denies having himself. Thus the cheat is sure that everyone else is dishonest. The would-be adulterer accuses his wife of infidelity.
Sullivan's first instinct if he were defending one of his own, Bush say, would be to spin. He assumes everyone else must be doing the same thing all of the time.
What will Bush do if he wins? A good question:
As he campaigned around the country last week, President Bush asked voters to give him another four years to make the nation "safer and stronger and better." But with the election less than four months away, one of the biggest mysteries surrounding the president's campaign is what he would actually do if he wins a second term.
It makes a certain amount of sense to run against an incumbent, as Kerry is doing. "Because he's not him" is usually one of the best arguments any challenger has. That the president is reduced to running as "not Kerry" says a great deal.
¶ 11:56 AM
Another legal victory for trademarked horse-piss A European Union office has rejected Czech brewer Budejovicky Budvar's efforts to block Anheuser-Busch's registration for "Bud" in entertainment and marketing services, A-B said Monday. [...]
If upheld on appeal, the company would get registration for "Bud" for all marketing services in the European Union, it said.
¶ 11:29 AM
I don't know how I feel about Benes, or the expulsions. Or, to be more precise, I have many conflicting feelings on those subjects. But I do know that Czech politcal leadership should mean more than vulgar nationalism, and that Czech nationalism should mean more than "fuck the Germans."
In this corner... Micky Kaus and Andrew Sullivan. And in the other corner, the challengers, Sebastian and Steve Smith! (cheers)
The issue is whether the Democrats got a bounce from the addition of Edwards to the ticket. Guess who wins?
Bobby Fischer is being detained in Japan, and apparently faces extraditon to the US to face criminal charges for violating the embargo on Serbia. Read this lengthy piece on Fischer's "pathetic endgame" for more.
Third Party Infantilism, cont'd This time from the Libertarians at their nominating convention. Gee, I hope the Leftorium has enough space to hold everybody.
¶ 6:34 AM
Thursday, July 15, 2004
Bush on the stump It's rather long,and there's absolutely nothing new in it, but take a minute to read this transcript of Bush in Fond Du Lac, Wisconsin. It'll give you some idea of what Bush is like on the campaign trail in front of his crowd, in a way that excerpts and his television appearances don't.
¶ 4:34 PM
Pig in a trunk A woman in Florida faces charges for putting a pig in the trunk of her car when she rode to offer up the creature as bait to lure an escaped tiger.
I've always said Carl Hiaasen's books should be classified as non-fiction, but never mind that now.
Here's what happened. A former actor, Steve Sipek, who had fallen in love with big cats while starring as Tarzan in low-budget movies, kept some of them as pets in his suburban home. One of them, Bobo, a 600 lb. tiger, escaped and was shot and killed by a Florida wildlife officer after 26 hours on the loose.
While Sipek refers to Bobo's demise as "murder," that's exactly what guns, and governments for that matter, are for: killing huge animals that have great big teeth.
But this is where it gets strange:
Linda Meredith, of Loxahatchee, put the pig in the trunk of her car and drove to the neighborhood where officials were searching for the tiger shortly after she heard of its escape.
Meredith asked officers to grab the hind legs of the pig, named Baby, or twist its ears so it would squeal and attract the tiger.
An interesting philosophical problem for animal rights activists: is it moral to sacrifice one animal to save the life of another, much cooler animal? What would Solomon, or Peter Singer, do?
But, the officers declined the chance to make Bobo an offering of Baby. Instead, and this is where it gets really strange, they decided to charge Ms. Meredith with animal cruelty:
Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control Director Dianne Sauve said Meredith will be cited for transporting the pig in her trunk.
"I was appalled," Sauve said. "Carrying an animal in a trunk in 90-degree heat, where it's probably 140 degrees inside, is not acceptable."
Suave said she planned to meet with county sheriff's officials Thursday to determine specific charges.
Meredith said the trunk of her Cadillac is air conditioned, and she was planning to eat the pig when it is full grown.
Rational people can, I think, disagree on the rights that animals have, and on how they should be treated in this society. Personally, I think that the main right our four-legged friends have is to be sliced thin and piled high on a kaiser roll, but that's just me.
Even I, however, am deeply troubled by some of the gruesome practices of factory farming. It's possible to perform any act of cruelty in the context of industrial agriculture, but not to drive what is, in essence, a snack, in the trunk of a Caddy. Even if it's air-conditioned.
What type of Charlotte's Web crap is this?
A friend of mine, Mark Voyce, used to wonder about some of the paradoxes of our laws regarding animal cruelty. You can kill a chicken, dismember its corpse, cook it and eat it. You just can't fuck a chicken. That's against the law. At least if it's alive. You can, without fear of legal retribution, attempt sexual congress with a bucket of hot wings. If that's your thing.
Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, I had a modest proposal to make, a suggestion about how we might come to some understanding of the basic reality that we eat dead animals. All slaughterhouses should have windows, big clear ones, on the killing rooms. They should also be, by law, near population centers.
If we can stomach, literally, the process that puts food on the table, fine. Ideally, some humane reforms on the industry might result. Maybe not. If we can't abide killing for food, then let's live on nuts and berries.
But let's not kid ourselves that we live in a petting zoo where meat somehow, we don't know how, winds up wrapped in plastic at the supermarket.
¶ 1:25 PM
Andrew Sullivan pulls a Cheney:
ALLAWI ON SADDAM: He insists that the old dictator had contacts with al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations. Someone tell the New York Times.
In the story he links to ("always click on the link" tm Sullywatch) Allawi stresses Hussein's involvement with Abu Nidal and, in a blast from the past, Carlos the Jackal; he gives no evidence. Someone tell Sullivan that Allawi isn't the best source on this; remember that memo that had Atta training in Baghdad? The one that had Abu Nidal acting as a mentor to the ringleader of the 9/11 attacks? Sullivan fell for it then, too:
ABU NIDAL AND MOHAMMED ATTA: Is there a link? [...]
Who knows what we will eventually find? I predict: evidence that will make this war seem even more justified than ever. Maureen Dowd must be relieved she's on vacation.
Happy Bastille Day! While it may still be too soon to tell how the French Revolution actually came out, any excuse to drink good wine and toast our oldest ally is welcome, particularly in these times.
And, at the risk of being considered a Franco-basher, I might as well use this post to note that La Marseillaise has the most bloodthirsty lyrics of any national anthem:
Arise you children of our motherland,
Oh now is here our glorious day !
Over us the bloodstained banner
Of tyranny holds sway !
Of tyranny holds sway !
Oh, do you hear there in our fields
The roar of those fierce fighting men ?
Who came right here into our midst
To slaughter sons, wives and kin.
To arms, oh citizens !
Form up in serried ranks !
March on, march on !
And drench our fields
With their tainted blood !
Supreme devotion to our Motherland,
Guides and sustains avenging hands.
Liberty, oh dearest Liberty,
Come fight with your shielding bands,
Come fight with your shielding bands !
Beneath our banner come, oh Victory,
Run at your soul-stirring cry.
Oh come, come see your foes now die,
Witness your pride and our glory.
To arms, etc..
Into the fight we too shall enter,
When our fathers are dead and gone,
We shall find their bones laid down to rest,
With the fame of their glories won,
With the fame of their glories won !
Oh, to survive them care we not,
Glad are we to share their grave,
Great honor is to be our lot
To follow or to venge our brave.
To arms, etc..
The ferocity of La Marseillaise doesn't seem to square with the reputation of the French as, to use Jonah Goldberg's phrase, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys." But that reputation is, of course, over-stated. France's capitulation in the Second World War is its great shame, but that shame can't extended to every generation. Certainly, those of us who have, through accidents of history, managed to avoid finding out how we'd act if our country was occupied should not be so quick to judge the French. I'd like to think that if, say, Canada's hordes stream across the 49th parallel, I'd be in the resistance, even at the cost of my life. For that matter, I'd like to think that Goldberg, Andrew Sullivan, Roger Simon, and everyone who ever posted a comment on Free Republic about French cowardice would fight to the last against a foreign invader. I merely point out that none us have had to do so.
The despot's heel is on thy shore,
His torch is at thy temple door,
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
If you must know, "the patriotic gore" flecked Baltimore's streets when locals rioted against federal troops in the early days of the Civil War. It is one of the reasons Baltimore earned the nickname, "Mobtown."
¶ 11:30 AM
Off to O-strava, Czechoslovakia As regular visitors to this site may know, it's something of a hobby of mine to find truly awfulAmericanjournalism about the Czech Republic. Or, as it's sometimes still referred to in the worst examples, Czechoslovakia.
This one goes into the Hall of Fame. The Henderson, Kentucky Gleaner has a story on a local young woman going to Czechia to teach English (the link is here, but be warned that there's a long and cumbersome registration process).
You didn't know that teaching English in the Czech Republic was newsworthy? That just goes to show what you don't know about Henderson.
But it gets better. She's not going to the Czech Republic...
If next year finds some residents of Ostrava, Czechoslovakia, speaking English with a trace of an American southern accent, there'll be good reason for that broadening of syllables.
Their English teacher, after all, will hail from this gateway to the South.
That's Margaret Ridley, a member of the Henderson County High Class of 2000 who graduated from Birmingham's Samford University this spring and found a challenging way of spending what she calls her "gap year" between college and graduate school.
For nearly a year she'll be teaching at the Fishnet Language School in the Czech city where oil derricks dot the skyline and mining is a major part of the economy. Margaret will be working with individuals who have a basic -- though formal -- grasp of English but need to learn the more relaxed conversational approach.
The brown-eyed daughter of Dorsey and Glenn Ridley will be living on a modest Czech salary and sharing an apartment with three other young women, including another Samford graduate and a Czech-speaking American who is only one generation removed from Czechoslovakia. That fluency, Margaret predicts, is going to come in very handy.
Fortunately, she won't have to rely on that alone:
At this point Margaret speaks none of the Czech language, but a five-week preparation period in California starting next week will change that status. "I'll get a crash course in Czech and learn the basics," she said, noting that it's "one of the more difficult languages." She and others who are serving through the sponsoring Christian agency, Educational Services International, also will have a baptism in the Czech culture.
On Aug. 22, they will fly as a group to Prague, and from there Margaret will journey to Ostrava, which is five hours from the Czech capital. "I've been calling it O-strava," she said, "but its Os-trava. I'll get the pronunciation down before I get there."
We can only hope. Her sponsor, Educational Serices International, has a website on its "ministry":
Serving God in Central Europe takes a big heart. With ESI's encouraging staff, comprehensive training and reasonable support-raising levels, you CAN serve God in Central Europe.
¶ 9:00 AM
CLARIFICATION: It has come to the editor's attention that the [Lexington, Kentucky] Herald-Leader neglected to cover the civil rights movement. We regret the omission.
A Southern newspaper looks at how it reported, or failed to, a profound change in America. Quite worth a look.
(via Amy Langfield)
¶ 8:34 AM
"An infantile disorder" That's what Brad DeLong called the leftism of Barbara Ehrenreich for, among other things, supporting Nader in 2000. A post at Crooked Timber makes an eloquent defense of third-parties and angrily denies the infantilism charge.
Allow me to say, "Is too!"
Just one question for third-party activists, whose ranks include some of my closest friends: Who has more influence, the Greens on the Democratic Party, or the Christian Right on the Republicans?
Recall Bush's remarks on Saturday before you answer.
¶ 1:23 PM
Remember Makiya? If Kundera was right when he wrote that, "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting," what are we to make of the struggle of Kanan Makiya to build an archive documenting Saddam Hussein's crimes? Modeled on the Russian group, Memorial, the US government was supportive. At first.
Hayes grasps at straws How would the leading proponent of "the connection" between Iraq and Al Qaeda deal with the report from the Senate Intelligence committee that, again, found no connection?
We didn't have long to wait. Hayes lays into statements by the committee that are "not merely hypocritical--they're inaccurate."
What does Hayes consider an inaccurate statement? This:
Not until September 2003, a half-year after the start of the Iraq War, did the President state in clear, unequivocal terms the Intelligence Community position that [sic] was no evidence supporting such a link between Iraq and the murderous acts of al Qaeda on September 11th.
What is Hayes' response, his proof, that this statement is misleading?
On January 31, 2003, some six weeks before the war, reporters from Newsweek asked President Bush if Iraq was involved in the September 11 attacks:
Bush, asked Friday about a 9-11 connection to Saddam, admitted, "I cannot make that claim."
I guess it depends on what the meaning of the words "clear" and "unequivocal."
¶ 10:01 AM
Klaus, film critic I've avoided posting about Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 because everyone else has; my own decidedly mixed two-bits worth of opinions on it aren't worth two-bits. But I can't resist pointing to the views of the esteemed Vaclav Klaus, the only president the Czech Republic has:
The message of this film is very weak and propagandistic," Klaus said. "We were used to such messages in the communist days. Everybody has open eyes and can understand that this is propaganda. It was a weak film that tells us nothing new."
Klaus refused to answer questions on whether he supported U.S. President George W. Bush in the war in Iraq, despite the fact that the Czech Republic has supported the war.
A tip to my right-wing friends: don't run with this.
If the WMD aren't in Iraq... Most of the world-- including the Bush administration, the US Senate, hell, even Andrew Sullivan-- has taken the absence of chemical weapons or the means to produce them in Iraq as an indication that the pre-war intelligence was a little off. Michael Ledeen is made of sterner stuff. I won't deal with all of his treatise, leaving that to others, but one of his conclusions is sure to make its way around the right-wing horn:
Let's say that there were WMDs. Then, in the disgracefully long period between Afghanistan and Iraq, Saddam, knowing he was gonna be overrun, exported some (mostly to Syria and Iran), destroyed some, and hid some.
That's my story, and I'm sticking with it for the time being.
Grant, for the sake of argument, that this story is true. Two things follow:
The WMD were not a threat to us; Hussein declined to use them against our forces even in his most desperate hours.
The stated purpose of the Iraq war was to prevent Hussein from spreading WMD; it failed.
Even in Ledeen's world, the war was a mistake.
¶ 8:45 AM
Saturday, July 10, 2004
Microfilm sucks If the Bush administration said the dog had eaten their homework, you'd be right to wonder if they had a dog. So it's not surprising that "Rose Mary Woods" was the first name to spring to some discerning minds when it was revealed that payroll records that could confirm Bush's National Guard service have gone missing.
I am not able to provide complete copies of President Bush's payroll records for his National Guard service," [Pentagon Freedom of Information Officer C.Y.] Talbott said. He said this was because of "the inadvertent destruction of microfilm containing certain National Guard payroll records."
The records for "numerous service members" were damaged in 1996 and 1997 while officials tried to salvage deteriorating microfilm payroll records.
I can understand the skepticism, but I actually buy it. Microfilm sucks. Information can be hard to read, and almost impossible to find. At its best, it's a pain to use; at its worst, as in this case, microfilm does not even succeed in storing information.
Nicholson Baker wrote a book arguing against microfilming called Double Fold:
Since the 1950s, our country's libraries have followed a policy of "destroying to preserve": They have methodically dismantled their collections of original bound newspapers, cut up hundreds of thousands of so-called brittle books, and replaced them with microfilmed copies -- copies that are difficult to read, lack all the color and quality of the original paper and illustrations, and deteriorate with age. Half a century on, the results of this policy are jarringly apparent: There are no longer any complete editions remaining of most of America's great newspapers. The loss to historians and future generations is inestimable.
Baker's case is perhaps overstated, though that's not necessarily a flaw in a polemic. He insists that all paper records be kept in their paper forms, which isn't likely to happen for many reasons, of which cost is only one.
That said, historians centuries from now will curse when their research forces them to deal with microfilmed records. Pay records, inter-office memos and the like will probably never be stored in the original format, but now, all too often, it's as if London Calling was only available on eight-track. That just shouldn't be. One can only pray that this evolutionary dead-end of records management will fall, soon, to a more advanced and reliable technology.
¶ 12:19 PM
Simone Ledeen's resume Paul Krugman wrote in his NY Times column a while back
If the occupiers often seemed oblivious to reality, one reason was that many jobs at the C.P.A. went to people whose qualifications seemed to lie mainly in their personal and political connections — people like Simone Ledeen...
Roger Simon went, it's fair to say, a little crazy, calling Krugman's questioning of her qualifications, "egregious character assassination."
Simone Ledeen defended herself in the comments section at Simon's blog, and has now done so again for NRO. So, how qualified is she?
Times readers are entitled to the real story, however. People were hired based on professional experience and abilities, not cronyism. The Pentagon had a website up for many months to recruit volunteers for both Iraq and Afghanistan. In my case, I have an MBA, spent a year in post-Communist Eastern Europe at a newly privatized publishing house, and have worked at an economic consulting firm and a venture-capital group.
That's it? You couldn't throw a bagel at some ex-pat hangouts in Prague without hitting two or three similar resumes. And you wouldn't want them to play any significant role in rebuilding a war-torn country under military occupation either.
Maybe it was the interview?
Ledeen's journey to Baghdad began two weeks earlier when she received an e-mail out of the blue from the Pentagon's White House liaison office. The Sept. 16 message informed her that the occupation government in Iraq needed employees to prepare for an international conference. "This is an amazing opportunity to move forward on the global war on terror," the e-mail read.
For Ledeen, the offer seemed like fate. One of her family friends had been killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and it had affected her family deeply. Without hesitation, she responded "Sure" to the e-mail and waited -- for an interview, a background check or some other follow-up. Apparently none was necessary. A week later, she got a second e-mail telling her to look for a packet in the mail regarding her move to Baghdad.
¶ 10:36 AM
Thursday, July 08, 2004
Greg Easterbrook isn't always wrong. It's just that when he's right, it tends to be really obvious:
There may be a simple, overlooked, and incredibly basic reason why the fighting in Iraq refuses to end: Namely, there was never a surrender. Saddam Hussein's government never formally capitulated. Individual Iraqi leaders such as Tariq Aziz turned themselves over to United States forces, but the government itself signed no surrender or even any armistice. Top Iraqi officials either fled or went into hiding. They did not, officially, give up. Nor did Iraq's military officially give up.
By "overlooked" he means that he didn't think of it. A lot of other people did, including, ahem, me:
When, exactly, did the Iraqi government surrender? The Japanese emperor ordered his people to stop fighting, without which we could not have taken control of the main islands with such relative ease. The German government, or what was left of it, surrendred unconditionally after Hitler's suicide. In both cases, it would have been a violation of orders, a breach of duty, to fight the occupation forces.
In Iraq, the government did not surrender...
Why do they say that?
Although U.S. military analysts disagree over the exact size, dozens of regional cells, often led by tribal sheiks and inspired by Sunni Muslim imams, can call upon part-time fighters to boost forces to as high as 20,000 — an estimate reflected in the insurgency's continued strength after U.S. forces killed as many as 4,000 in April alone.
But wait-- there's more:
The [anonymous military] official and others told The Associated Press the guerrillas have enough popular support among nationalist Iraqis angered by the presence of U.S. troops that they cannot be militarily defeated.
And still more:
Many in the U.S. intelligence community have been making similar points, but have encountered political opposition from the Bush administration, a State Department official in Washington said, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
Civilian analysts generally agreed, saying U.S. and Iraqi officials have long overemphasized the roles of foreign fighters and Muslim extremists.
Mineralni voda Radio Prague reports:
After a meeting with Mr Gross, the leader of the Communists, Miroslav Grebenicek, said his party would not be prepared to support the three-party coalition the acting chairman of the Social Democrats is hoping to put together. Mr Grebenicek said the only thing he had been offered during Thursday's meeting was mineral water.
Matt Welch explains what he tried not to do in Bucharest There are few terms in my profession more derisive than “parachute journalism,” as anyone who has worked in the local English-language press in the former East Bloc can tell you. There we’d be, toiling week after week for faraway newspapers with obscure names, only to watch in envious horror as expense-account reporters (like, oh, Jane Perlez of The New York Times) would plop in, dust off some four-year-old warhorse of a story (Dissident Writers Struggle To Find New Audience, Gypsies Face New Enemy of Racism, Socialist Party Victory Sparks Fear That Communism May Return, etc.), interview the exact same George Soros-funded sociologists and charming alcoholic essayists, insert an unforgivable cliché or two (“Marx and Engels have been replaced by Marks & Spencer,” “Prague is the Left Bank of the ‘90s”), and then head back to their unfathomably incomparable lives in Vienna or New York. When any of us were given similar opportunities, of course, we’d lunge at the money and produce only slightly differing variations on the same themes. (A month or two after I wrote a biting column on the sins of famous parachutists who had done the “Young Americans in Prague” story – the BBC World Service approached me to host and produce a 20-minute special on that exact same topic, and much to my surprise I found myself interviewing almost entirely the same usual suspects.)
¶ 11:31 AM
Wednesday, July 07, 2004
Falluja: what now? Hell if I know. This article by Dexter Filkins in the NY Times is the latest in the American press:
American and Iraqi officials say that a decision in April to pull back American forces from Falluja inadvertently created a safe haven for terrorists and insurgents there. But officials are reluctant to send American troops back into the city for fear of touching off another uprising.
The officials say they are unsure how to proceed, but agree they merely postponed the problem when the Americans halted an attack in April, brokering a deal to keep Americans out of Falluja and allow local Iraqis to police the city instead.
Iraqi and American officials say they would prefer to re-enter the city with a sizable force of Iraqi soldiers, perhaps backed up by Americans. But they concede that an Iraqi force capable of mounting an effective assault on Falluja, a city of 250,000 people, is months or even years away.
As a result, the Americans and the new Iraqi government are faced with a growing danger that - as long as they adhere to the agreement to stay out of the city - they are nearly powerless to confront.
"There is no question that Falluja is a safe haven," said Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, until last week the head of all military forces in the country. "At some point it is going to have to be dealt with."
The problem is that dealing with this town by means of an infantry assault will be, to say the very least, problematic. See this article from Fred Kaplan. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Iraqis will die if we storm the city.
What then must be done? I repeat, I have no answers here.
¶ 6:56 PM
Anti-Slav bias through the ages A taste of the shaky sources, and of the scepticism, of Western historians may be drawn from the following description of the Slavs, which was compiled, with some poetic license, "from the evidence of Procopius and of the Emperor Mauritius":
The Sclavonians used one common language (it was harsh and irregular) and were known by the resemblance of their form which deviated from the swarthy Tartar and approached, without attaining, the lofty stature and fair complexion of the German. Four thousand six hundred villages were scattered over the provinces of Russia and Poland, and their huts were hastily built of rough timber...We may, not perhaps without flattery, compare them to the architecture of the beaver...
Raze Pigtown? Jesse Walker weighs in on a proposal to build a new racetrack near downtown Baltimore that would obliterate the neighborhood of Pigtown.
Pigtown's name, according to local lore, originated when pigs were led through its streets to Baltimore slaughterhouses. That no longer happens, but the neighborhood wouldn't be much worse if it did.
Still, the racetrack is, even by the standards of Maryland, profoundly stupid. The only way to understand real-estate developement in Baltimore is to play Monopoly while drunk and coked up with other players who are drunk and coked-up. While everybody cheats.
¶ 11:57 AM
Drowned in his own prose A fountain was dedicated yesterday in London's Hyde Park to Princess Diana, seven years after she died in a car accident in Paris.
Now that's a simple sentence that tells you pretty much everything you need to know on the subject. The Baltimore Sun's Todd Richissin wasn't content to just write something like that. His lede:
Prince Charles was in Hyde Park yesterday, and so was Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by Princes William and Harry.
And though Princess Diana -- the woman whose life they came to honor -- has been dead seven years, all the intrigue, controversy and admiration that marked her life and has continued in her death were also present in the park.
Where did the intrigue, controversy, and admiration sit? Was the dais crowded? Richissin doesn't say. But he does go on to describe the memorial fountain itself:
On a sunny London afternoon, the queen yesterday dedicated Diana's memorial, an unremarkable but elegant oval stream of water -- bubbling, turbulent, flowing and resting -- meant to acknowledge the stages of life and the sudden death of the kindergarten teacher-turned-princess, remembered fondly here as bringing the monarchy to the people.
"Bubbling, turbulent, flowing and resting"-- it's difficult to see how the water did all that and still remained "unremarkable."
¶ 11:29 AM
Cheney doesn't put up The commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said yesterday that it has had access to the same information on alleged ties between al Qaeda and Iraq as Vice President Cheney, who suggested last month that the panel may not have been privy to all available intelligence when it found limited links between the two. [...]
"After examining available transcripts of the Vice President's public remarks, the 9-11 Commission believes it has access to the same information the Vice President has seen regarding contacts between al Qaeda and Iraq prior to the 9-11 attacks," Kean and Hamilton said in their statement yesterday.
So what does Cheney say now? I could give you a million tries and you would never come close to this bizarre response from his mouthepiece:
Cheney spokesman Kevin Kellems said the vice president welcomed the commission's statement because it "puts to rest a non-story."
"As we've said all along, the administration provided the commission with unprecedented access to sensitive information so they could perform their mission," Kellems said. "The vice president critiqued some press coverage of the staff report. He did not criticize the commission's work."
"Careful what you wish for..." is such a cliche that I'm hesitant to use it. Moreover, you'd think it unnecessary to have to remind sane people that death squads are not something to wish for.
Spencer Ackerman, who should know better, notes this report of shadowy militias threatening to kill terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and comments:
Normally I'm against militias. For Zarqawi, I'm happy to make an exception.
Intstapundit links to this with a satisfied "heh" while Andrew Sullivan discerns yet another "silver lining":
...Iraqis themselves will now do the job. The silver lining of the U.S. failure to pacify Iraq just widened a little.
As much as I'd like to see al-Zarqawi dead, this is utter nonsense. Death squads-- a more accurate term than "militias"-- are beyond the control of anything like an accounbtable government. Their arrival does not signal resistance to bloody chaos so much as the inability of a legitimate government to protect its citizens.
An instructive example is Colombia's battle with Pablo Escobar. As Mark Bowden documented in his book, Killing Pablo, Escobar's defeat saved Colombia from narco-terrorism, but at great cost to Colombian democracy.
Two masked men robbed a famous five-star hotel in a western Czech spa resort early Wednesday, tying the receptionist to a table before they fled, police said.
The armed men stole more than $26,800 from the safe of the Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, 69 miles west of Prague, police spokesman Jiri Soukup said.
Despicable:"Czech man's week in a cage" "It is like a cage in a zoo. Like a small prison."
Thirty-year-old Michel Celetka described his week locked in a caged bed in a psychiatric clinic in Brno, his home town.
The cage was one and half metres high and two metres long; covered by dense netting attached to metal bars, and padlocked at the top on one side.
Kerry picked Edwards yesterday, as you might have heard. And I don't care.
The decision was made for the same reason that all decisions are made by a presidential campaign: to win. It's just that this decision isn't relevant to the outcome, as pretty much everybody knows.
Nobody in these United States not related by blood or marriage to the veep has ever voted for a ticket because of the name on the bottom half. At least not since 1960, anyway.
I'll watch the VP debate, of course, and I'd love to see Dick Cheney cut to shreds. But even a smooth trial lawyer like Edwards can't possibly be more devestating than Bentsen was when he tore Dan Quayle a new one in 1988. Quayle never quite recovered from his deer-in-the-headlights-moment, but the Bush-Quayle ticket won anyway.
This isn't to say that the pick isn't news, only that it isn't particularly important news. It is the only news out there, though, at least in the horse race sense, so it gets saturation coverage from the press, which doesn't have anything else to say about the horse race. Sadly, they can't figure out a way to cover the election except as a horse race.
¶ 6:56 AM
Monday, July 05, 2004
"Bigwood helps Prague experience an American past time" The sport of baseball has provided Clearview Regional High School graduate Mick Bigwood with many opportunites, one of which most recently sent him to Prague in the Czech Republic, an exotic country overflowing with history.
When he made the trip, it was with the American International Sports Tours, which sends teams from different sports to tournaments around the world. Bigwood pitched for the baseball team, as it participated in Prague Baseball Week, a round robin wood-bat tournament, held from June 20-26. [...]
While the kids were in awe of the baseball players, the players experienced the wonder and awe of Prague.
"We walked around the city, we went to a Jewish Concentration Camp, saw some World War II stuff. There were castles all over. It's a beautiful country.
"It was hard to get used to the food over there, it wasn't that good. At the field, they had hamburgers, but it could've been horse meat. We ate at McDonald's a lot."
If he'd just picked up some crystal on his trip to that exotic land, I think Bigwood would be the very form of the American tourist.
¶ 8:56 AM
Friday, July 02, 2004
Lame Mr. Plotz, this is not, in fact, a good joke. It's not even close, not even by the standards of election horse-race journalism.
I've always been skeptical of Joshua Marshall's frequent complaint about the implicit view in political discussions that, as he puts it, "non-white voters somehow aren't quite real voters."
Plotz, in a piece that attempts to determine how Tennessee might vote based on chats with Tennessee voters, never once mentions blacks as potential voters.
¶ 2:44 PM
At some point, you have to decide which is more important-- your dignity or your job. Jon Ward went with the job. That money he blew on j-school went to good use.
¶ 12:39 PM
A Reverse Potemkin:
After U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited one of the best-maintained refugee camps in this war-rattled region of western Sudan yesterday, he climbed back into a Land Cruiser and headed down a bumpy desert road.
He was scheduled to tour a scene of even greater desperation in what has been called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world, this time a camp that has not received any international aid.
But when his convoy arrived at the settlement, the 3,000 people who had been living there Wednesday afternoon were gone. Instead, there was only a muddy field with a few soldiers stepping through the muck.
In a move that befuddled U.N. officials, the Sudanese villagers in the camp were moved overnight and in the morning, said Jan Egeland, the U.N. undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs. They were loaded into government trucks "apparently to be dumped," he said, at the gates of the already overcrowded Abu Shouk camp, 12 miles away, where 40,000 people live in a stretch of open desert. A U.N. team confirmed that the villagers had been moved to Abu Shouk.
¶ 11:08 AM
Benes on a pedestal Great piece in the Prague Post on a hotel in Cesky Krumlov that placed a bust of Edvard Benes in its lobby, and got predictable, and not entirely unjustified, protests from Sudeten German groups.
The Czech view:
The owner of the five-star Ruze (Rose) Hotel, World War II veteran Jan Horal, 81, denies the monument is a nationalist gesture. He refuses to take down the bust, saying bluntly that he will not "kiss German asses."
Horal said the bust, put up in May to mark the 120th anniversary of Benes's birth, is a tribute to a man who "was the commander in chief of my generation during the fight for freedom."
The German view:
Gerhard Zeihsel, a representative of the Sudeten German Landsmannschaft group in Austria, which opposes the Benes Decrees and wants redress for expellees, said the bust is profoundly offensive.
"For us it's as if someone put up a statue of Adolf Hitler in Austria," Zeihsel said.
Again, my sympathy for the expellee claims, which is considerable, is sorely tested by their rhetoric.