Hogan's Alley

Friday, December 30, 2005

Justice Opens Probe On Intelligence Leaks

Now the stakes are getting higher. AP reports that DOJ has opened an inquiry at the request of the NSA. You will recall that just such a request by CIA in l'affaire Plame led to an investigation then the appointment of a special prosecutor and subpoenas to reporters.

The Plame matter was piddling in comparison with the leak of intelligence agencies methods and means to the enemy. As a White House spokesman says, "The leaking of classified information is a serious issue. The fact is that al-Qaida's playbook is not printed on Page One and when America's is, it has serious ramifications".

Let the games begin. Anyone want to bet that the press in general has zero interest in following horrible leaks that did not originate in the White House. They believe that no secrecy in the United States is defensible, except when any critic of the Administration is arguably harmed by the leak.

Who Is Blowing The CIA's Operations? The CIA

Following up on this mornings piece in the Washington Post, Capt. Ed makes a persuasive case, based on the text of the WAPO story, that people inside the CIA are leaking the current raft of stories partly in opposition to Porter Goss' housecleaning and in order to speak out against the Agency as it has morphed in the post-9/11 world.

WAPO In A Snit Over Failure Of Its Revelations About Intelligence Gathering To Government To A Halt

The Washington Post today issues a piece for which the news, as expressed in its headline "Covert CIA Program Withstands New Furor", is solely that the earth inside the beltway has not shook since they told us that the US Government was using aggressive intelligence gathering techniques in its search for terrorists. The article reads like someone in the newsroom said, "Hey guys, maybe people just missed this story when the Times started it, which should have kicked off a move towards impeaching Bush. Maybe in all the pre-holiday rush they were just too busy. Let's do another front page piece." Advised by reporters that they had no really new information, our friendly editor directed that they rehash the prior reports and add that there is no sign that these efforts to protect America have diminished in any way. Maybe America will get it this time.

Message to the editors at the Post, this is not Watergate. It is not a cheap burglary done for crass political advantage and run out of the White House. It is a matter of national security in a new age in which those who seek to harm us do not fly the flag of any nation and conduct their business entirely in secret. Americans do remember. They remember the fall of the WTC and they can easily imagine any number of equally horrid tricks being hatched in Islamist circles. Yes we will have some hearings and possibly some activities will be placed under the sanction of the courts, but these will be matters of fine tuning. The central effort should and must continue.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

An Important Assessment Of The Role Of Yasir Arafat

In today's NY Times David Brooks nominates three essays for his quirky "Sidney Awards". Leaving the silly name aside, this is Brooks' annual attempt to highlight the year's important political essays in the print media. A noble undertaking.

For those of you blocked from Brooks' essay by the Times' Select wall, please check out one of the essays he notes, David Samuels, "In A Ruined Country" which is now available for a short time to non-subscribers at the Atlantic Monthly website.

Arafat was at once the major enabler and primary stumbling block to peace in the Middle East. In case anyone continued to blame the Israelis for the ongoing strife after Barak gave Arafat practically everything he had ever publicly requested in a peace plan, Samuels' in-depth reporting makes his theft, incompetence and promotion of violence clear. It's a must-read.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Letterman Restraining Order Lifted

Thanks to Ann Althouse for the reference to CNN's report of a New Mexico State judge vacating his insane Temporary Restraining Order foolishly issued last week.

Dave was not really harmed by this episode. It was clear to everyone who heard this story that the woman in question was not well. In case there were any doubts, Snopes.com has the lengthy document she submitted in support of her request for a TRO.

The real harm done by this foolish and/or lazy judge, Santa Fe District Court Judge Daniel Sanchez, was to the woman in question. Now she has had to withstand the prying of the media into her life and mental illness. What a shame.

Friday, December 23, 2005

FEMA Changes Doomed To Fail According To Brownie

The Washington Post has published a lengthy and very thorough look at the restructuring of FEMA and other Department of Homeland Security offices over the years leading up to Katrina. The facinating thing about the piece is the Michael Brown, the now-disgraced former head of FEMA, predicted in numerous internal memo long before this year, that this reorganization would render FEMA ineffective and unable to respond when necessary.

Brown's tragedy is that he was ineffective at working with his peers and was perceived as a man focused on empire building. This episode proves once again that leadership, either in or out of government, consists of developing a reputation as a person who is credible and wise and in not being seen as an asshole, which was part of Brown's problem. He was right, but who he was made other incapable of hearing his advice. Read the whole piece. It will be required reading at schools of public administration.

T'was The Night Before Christmas - Brooklyn Version

Several years ago the very funny Rob Bartlett, the perenial contributor to the Imus In The Morning Show, developed a recurring character. His name was Sal Monella, a Brooklyn guy who would comment on current affairs. One year, at Christmas time, he wrote and performed a parody of Clement Moore's "Night Before Christmas". I remember hearing it that first time live. It was hillarious and brilliantly delivered. It became a classic and Bartlett would reprise it at the Holiday season.

I received a copy today in a chain email. Here it is. It deserves to be read in your best Brooklyneese.

Sal Monella's 'A Child's Christmas in Brooklyn'
Rob Bartlett

Twas the night before Christmas in Sheepshead Bay
The kids was asleep, waitin' for the big day
The Stockings were hung by the furnace with care
In hopes that by morning, they would all still be there

Me and gal were gettin' ready for bed
I wore pajamas she had rollers on her head
When up on the roof, I heard this big crash
Thought it was a burglar, I was gonna kick ass

Went out on the fire escape, looked up in the sky,
And what did I see? This freakin' fat guy
With a red suit and boots that came up to his knees
In the moonlight he looked just like Dom Deluise

He had this big sled pulled by these reindeer
He called one of them 'Dancer' so I assumed he was queer
As he crept off the roof it became clear to me
That this guy was lookin' to steal my TV

Cos' over his shoulder he had a big sack
He came down the stairs, while I planned my attack
I waited a second, 'till the time it seemed ripe
And smacked him in the head...badda bing wit a pipe

He fell to the floor wit a groan and a thud
I was kinda surprised I didn't see blood
Instead he rolled over looked me right in the eye
When I saw who I hit I nearly started to cry

I said 'Ay yo, Santa, I'm sorry, aright?'
"Not for nuthin'" he said, "but this just ain't my night"
"I got lost in the Bronx, I ran over some nuns...
"Had a near miss by Kennedy...Rudolph's got the runs
"I'm out all freakin' night and I'm bustin' my hump
"But I can't continue now, not with this bump
"So do me a favor and be a real pal...take over for me, you be Santa Claus, Sal"

I said "I'm from Brooklyn...I ain't right for the part"
But he told me that Santa Claus... 'Comes from the heart'.
He made me an offer I couldn't refuse: Stop at every house...except for the Jews
I got in the boots and stepped onto the sleigh
Wondering why reindeers all smelled that way

That night I was Santa bringin' kids joy and bliss
And if you don't believe me, then yo' jingle this
Since then I been wit him every year in the cold
Ridin' shotgun with Santa...cos' he's fat and he's old

I'm his number one helper I been deputized
So on this Christmas Eve, don't you be surprised
If you hear a voice say really loud and abrupt
'Merry Christmas to all...thanks a lot...shut up'.

UPDATE: A recording of Rob performing this piece is available at his website. The above version proves to be a slightly sanitized one.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Apparently Anyone Can Get A Temporary Restraining Order In Some Courts

The NY Times briefly notes the following:

Lawyers for David Letterman have gone to court in New Mexico to quash a restraining order obtained by a Santa Fe woman who said he had used code words to indicate he wanted to marry her and train her to be a co-host, The Associated Press reported. The temporary restraining order was granted to Colleen Nestler, who alleged that Mr. Letterman had forced her to go bankrupt and inflicted "mental cruelty" and "sleep deprivation" on her since 1994. She asked that Mr. Letterman, who tapes his "Late Show" in New York, stay at least three yards from her and not "think of me, and release me from his mental harassment and hammering." In a motion filed on Mr. Letterman's behalf, Pat Rogers, an Albuquerque lawyer, wrote, "Celebrities deserve protection of their reputation and legal rights when the occasional fan becomes dangerous or deluded." Saying that the restraining order is without merit, Mr. Letterman's lawyers asked District Court Judge Daniel Sanchez to quash it. A hearing on the request for a permanent restraining order was set for Jan. 12.

Would this fool of a judge have issued a TRO if someone came into court and alleged that Martians or the CIA were sending thoughts into their head? What a moron.

By the way, what is it about David Letterman that draws these insane obsessions from the benighted? Remember the woman who claimed to be his wife and would break into his house with some regularity? Maybe David does have the ability to cloud men's minds.

Hitchens, Joyous Scrooge

Christopher Hitchens has issued his, hopefully, annual rant against the excesses of the season. Check it out if the Fox News "War On Christmas" nonsense gives you the willies.

Here's an example:

Not long after I'd swallowed this bitter pill, I was invited onto Scarborough Country on MSNBC to debate the proposition that reindeer were an ancient symbol of Christianity and thus deserving of First Amendment protection, if not indeed of mandatory display at every mall in the land. I am told that nobody watches that show anymore—certainly I heard from almost nobody who had seen it—so I must tell you that the view taken by the host was that coniferous trees were also a symbol of Christianity, and that the Founding Fathers had endorsed this proposition. From his cue cards, he even quoted a few vaguely deistic sentences from Benjamin Franklin and George Washington, neither of them remotely Christian in tone. When I pointed out the latter, and added that Christmas trees, yule logs, and all the rest were symbols of the winter solstice "holidays" before any birth had been registered in the greater Bethlehem area, I was greeted by a storm of abuse, as if I had broken into the studio instead of having been entreated to come by Scarborough's increasingly desperate staff. And when I added that it wasn't very Tiny Tim-like to invite a seasonal guest and then tell him to shut up, I was told that I was henceforth stricken from the Scarborough Rolodex. The ultimate threat: no room at the Bigmouth Inn.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Photoblogging 2: The Ponte Vecchio, Florence

3Rower Under Ponte Vecchio, Florence
Originally uploaded by jphimself.

Here's another of that trip. A rower passing under the beautiful and unique Ponte Vecchio.

Again, the rest of the photos from this trip can be viewed at my Flickr website.

Photoblogging: The Alhambra

4Courtyard In The Alhambra, Granada Spain
Originally uploaded by jphimself.

I thought I'd take my first shot at photoblogging. This is a shot of an interior courtyard in the Alhambra Palace, Granada, Spain.

The rest of the photos can be viewed at my Flickr website.

The Captain Takes A Dimmer View

Captain Ed takes on the Times, the Washington Post and, to a lesser degree, the LA Times for ignoring the Iraqi election on their editorial pages.

Surveillance Without Warrants

As to the substance of the Times' story about the NSA's surveillance of thousands of people without warrants, could they find no one in over a year who would provide any statement of a rationale supporting such actions? The story has many views attributed, usually anonymously, to critics of the activity, but none supporting it. The only paragraphs that comes close to providing such an rationale are at the very end of this long story and read:

The next year, Justice Department lawyers disclosed their thinking on the issue of warrantless wiretaps in national security cases in a little-noticed brief in an unrelated court case. In that 2002 brief, the government said that "the Constitution vests in the President inherent authority to conduct warrantless intelligence surveillance (electronic or otherwise) of foreign powers or their agents, and Congress cannot by statute extinguish that constitutional authority."

Administration officials were also encouraged by a November 2002 appeals court decision in an unrelated matter. The decision by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review, which sided with the administration in dismantling a bureaucratic "wall" limiting cooperation between prosecutors and intelligence officers, cited "the president's inherent constitutional authority to conduct warrantless foreign intelligence surveillance."

But the same court suggested that national security interests should not be grounds "to jettison the Fourth Amendment requirements" protecting the rights of Americans against undue searches. The dividing line, the court acknowledged, "is a very difficult one to administer."

Given the unprecedented nature of international terrorism and the proven dangers shown by 9/11 and the attacks in Britain and Spain, aggressive surveillance of terrorist cells is surely essential to preventing attacks. At the same time, we can't maintain our status as a free people if the government can willy nilly monitor our conversations and email with no oversight by another branch, either the courts or Congress. From this perspective the release of this report is an essential first step in the argument that will follow in public and in the courts to leaven the government's power, while maintaining our ability to protect ourselves.

The Good Election News From Iraq Off The Scope Already

It was striking this morning that the morning news programs, in the little space they allow for hard news, featured the Times' story about the warrantless surveillance by the NSA in side the country. Putting aside for the moment that issue, it is incredible how quickly the media seem in dire need of another story that they can use to beat the Administration and how quickly they are ready to abandon any semblance of good news for the White House.

The timing of the Times' story is particularly revealing, I think. As they note, they sat on this story at the request of the White House.

The White House asked The New York Times not to publish this article, arguing that it could jeopardize continuing investigations and alert would-be terrorists that they might be under scrutiny. After meeting with senior administration officials to hear their concerns, the newspaper delayed publication for a year to conduct additional reporting. Some information that administration officials argued could be useful to terrorists has been omitted.

What the Times doesn't say is whether today's printing of the report is exactly one year after the agreement to withhold the story. Is this just an unfortunate coincidence for the Administration or did some conscious or purely instinctive process at the Times lead them to decide to drop this story on the White House? Did their internal meters that measure reports containing positive news in general trigger the need for an antidote after the sickly sweet spin given to the election news from Iraq across the MSM?

I am not one of those who believe that this kind of press behavior is specifically directed against the current Administration only, or against Republicans in general. Rather, I think that this is the instinctual and intellectually justified perspective of the media on their role. Never again will we see the cheerleading by the press that was common during WWII or the worshipful reporting on the Kennedy Administration. In our post-Watergate world the ambitions of those in the press run toward finding the story that will bring down another President. Those who think this is purely an anti-Republican pursuit need only remember the constant drumbeat of scandal directed at President Clinton.

Since I don't believe there are any political holy men capable of leading the whole nation in one direction, I think we will never again see a time in America where we admire and respect our political leaders. The 24/7 news cycle, the need to constantly feed it, and reporters' and producers' dreams of fame and fortune assure a constant flow of reports of the emperor's lack of royal clothing.

I'm not sure this purely a good thing.

Ice Storm Survived

I awoke this morning to the sight of the cable box's clock on and running. No power loss. It is pouring outside, but the roads seem wet and well sanded.

King Kong

Before emerging to an ice-coated world and creeping home in second gear most of the way, I went to see King Kong tonight. What a totally engaging and brilliant film it is. The effects are extraordinary. Kong and the various prehistoric beasties on Skull Island were one thing, but the images of New York in the Thirties just made my jaw drop.

Yes the story still has some silliness in it and this version's Ann Darrow, Naomi Watts, does seem to care for Kong just a bit too much, but this film is full of a feeling of real dread and horror that the prior two versions just couldn't pull off with their primitive special effects and inferior scripts.

It's a must see.

Ice Storm Blogging

I felt the need to post at least one serious note in the early morning hours of Friday as the ice piles up on the streets and trees outside. We are not expected to rise above freezing until the morning. Plenty of time for sufficient ice to build up on branches and take out electricity lines as they fall.

I'm trying to finish some essential computer tasks before battening down the house for the powerless hours ahead. Here's hoping it's not for too long a time.

John Burns On The Election Day Mood In Sunni Areas

John Burns, the NY Times' and perhaps the media's most trustworthy reporter in Iraq has a brilliant piece on their website. Key quote:

Adhamiya, on the east bank of the Tigris River, only a 10-minute drive from the heart of Baghdad, has been so much in the insurgents' grip that American military helicopters have avoided flying overhead for most of the past 33 months. But as whole families gathered to walk neighborhood streets on the way to the polls, and with turnouts at some voting centers surpassing 60 percent barely halfway through the voting day, Sunnis -young, old and in-between, prosperous and middle-class and unemployed, merchants and tribal sheiks and schoolteachers - seemed to relish the chance to take part.

As to the future:

Another thing many Sunnis seemed to agree on was the possibility of a reconciliation between the Americans and the Sunnis, and a distancing of the Sunnis from some of the Al Qaeda-linked insurgent groups. Many were critical of American troops, saying, as Mr. Saleh did, that "they came as liberators, but stayed on as occupiers." But pressed on the question of an American troop withdrawal, most seemed cautious, favoring a gradual drawdown.

"Let's have stability, and then the Americans can go home," said Mr. Sattar, the store owner. Told that this sounded similar to President Bush's formula for a troop withdrawal, he replied: "Then Bush has said it correctly".

Why the difference from the bulk of reporting on the attitudes of Sunni's?

The freewheeling opinions among the Sunnis were hard, at times, to square with the hard-line views widely expressed to reporters on previous trips to Adhamiya, and with the inflexible attitudes common there when Mr. Hussein was still in power. The difference this time appeared to be less a matter of conversion than freedom from threat - the very thing that Ali, the schoolboy, hinted at when he celebrated having a day with his friends when they did not have to worry about the gunfire or bombs that had been common in Adhamiya.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Mood Of Iraqis Is Positive

ABC News and Time have just released a random poll of 1,711 Iraqis conducted by Oxford Research International. Considering the constancy of the horrors reported on our nightly news, where if it bleeds it leads, the people seem to believe things are getting better. Key quote:

An ABC News poll in Iraq, conducted with Time magazine and other media partners, includes some remarkable results: Despite the daily violence there, most living conditions are rated positively, seven in 10 Iraqis say their own lives are going well, and nearly two-thirds expect things to improve in the year ahead.

Surprisingly, given the insurgents' attacks on Iraqi civilians, more than six in 10 Iraqis feel very safe in their own neighborhoods, up sharply from just 40 percent in a poll in June 2004. And 61 percent say local security is good — up from 49 percent in the first ABC News poll in Iraq in February 2004.

Nonetheless, nationally, security is seen as the most pressing problem by far; 57 percent identify it as the country's top priority. Economic improvements are helping the public mood.

Average household incomes have soared by 60 percent in the last 20 months (to $263 a month), 70 percent of Iraqis rate their own economic situation positively, and consumer goods are sweeping the country. In early 2004, 6 percent of Iraqi households had cell phones; now it's 62 percent. Ownership of satellite dishes has nearly tripled, and many more families now own air conditioners (58 percent, up from 44 percent), cars, washing machines and kitchen appliances.

There are positive political signs as well. Three-quarters of Iraqis express confidence in the national elections being held this week, 70 percent approve of the new constitution, and 70 percent — including most people in Sunni and Shiite areas alike — want Iraq to remain a unified country.

Interest in politics has soared.

Preference for a democratic political structure has advanced, to 57 percent of Iraqis, while support for an Islamic state has lost ground, to 14 percent (the rest, 26 percent, chiefly in Sunni Arab areas, favor a "single strong leader.")

Whatever the current problems, 69 percent of Iraqis expect things for the country overall to improve in the next year — a remarkable level of optimism in light of the continuing violence there. However, in a sign of the many challenges ahead, this optimism is far lower in Sunni Arab-dominated provinces, where just 35 percent are optimistic about the country's future.

There are negatives, to wit:

Fewer than half, 46 percent, say the country is better off now than it was before the war. And half of Iraqis now say it was wrong for U.S.-led forces to invade in spring 2003, up from 39 percent in 2004.

The number of Iraqis who say things are going well in their country overall is just 44 percent, far fewer than the 71 percent who say their own lives are going well. Fifty-two percent instead say the country is doing badly.

There's other evidence of the United States' increasing unpopularity: Two-thirds now oppose the presence of U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq, 14 points higher than in February 2004. Nearly six in 10 disapprove of how the United States has operated in Iraq since the war, and most of them disapprove strongly. And nearly half of Iraqis would like to see U.S. forces leave soon.

Specifically, 26 percent of Iraqis say U.S. and other coalition forces should "leave now" and another 19 percent say they should go after the government chosen in this week's election takes office; that adds to 45 percent. Roughly the other half says coalition forces should remain until security is restored (31 percent), until Iraqi security forces can operate independently (16 percent), or longer (5 percent).

Still, as Capt. Ed points out, this is far below the claims of a prior questionable poll, used by Congressman Murtha, that 80% of Iraqis want us out immediately. This was, was it not, the cornerstone of his justification for urging immediate withdrawal.

But want us out they do, two-thirds of them, by some date in the future, but half are willing to wait until the new government is in and Iraqi forces can handle their own security.

So all the world is in agreement. The United States should withdraw from Iraq. Alert the media.

This has been the intent of this government all along, paranoid musings to the contrary notwithstanding. The real debate inside the United States is between Republicans who want to declare victory at any cost, and Democrats who want to declare defeat so they can blame it on Bush and gain political advantage. To be sure, the voices in both parties are not uniform and there are pro-war Dems and anti-war Reps. It is, however, becoming clear that smoke is much preferred to light in this debate. Smoke and heat is what sells media advertising. So expect more of the same.

Smack the Penguin

Thanks to Ann Althouse for leading us to another fun time wasting website. A well timed second click of the mouse will sent the "Pengu", as it is called in this German site, flying. Like in baseball, swing too soon and the Penguin grounds to a halt quickly. Swing too early and he's a fly ball, with a fun ending.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

Happy Holidays! The Christmas Controversy

The religious right is in high dugeon over the alleged de-Christianization of the Christmas holiday. The leading complainant is Bill O'Reilly, whose metier is to rile up the population with selected outrages. See for example his re-write of Clement Moore's "T'was The Night Before Christmas".

Today in Memorandum there is a link to a particularly stupid piece of tripe by one Burt Prelutsky at a site called Townhall.com. Prelutsky, who says he is Jewish, is offended by what he perceives as an anti-Christian movement that is replacing anti-Semitism. His main assertion is that America is a "Christian nation" in that:

How is it, one well might ask, that in a Christian nation this is happening? And in case you find that designation objectionable, would you deny that India is a Hindu country, that Pakistan is Muslim, that Poland is Catholic? That doesn’t mean those nations are theocracies. But when the overwhelming majority of a country’s population is of one religion, and roughly 90% of Americans happen to be one sort of Christian or another, only a damn fool would deny the obvious.
I hate to bring facts into a juicy emotional discussion, but it has been a long time since the United States was a place in which 90% of the population described themselves as Christian. See for example this national survey by the City University of New York called the American Religious Identification Study which was done in 1990 and again in 2001. Their data shows that:

As is readily apparent from the first Exhibit below, the major changes between the results of the 1990 survey and the current survey are:

a. the proportion of the population that can be classified as Christian has declined from eighty-six in 1990 to seventy-seven percent in 2001;
b. although the number of adults who classify themselves in non-Christian religious groups has increased from about 5.8 million to about 7.7 million, the proportion of non-Christians has increased only by a very small amount - from 3.3 % to about 3.7 %;
c. the greatest increase in absolute as well as in percentage terms has been among those adults who do not subscribe to any religious identification; their number has more than doubled from 14.3 million in 1990 to 29.4 million in 2001; their proportion has grown from just eight percent of the total in 1990 to over fourteen percent in 2001;
d. there has also been a substantial increase in the number of adults who refused to reply to the question about their religious preference, from about four million or two percent in 1990 to more than eleven million or over five percent in 2001.
Emphasis added by me. The key data and the entire study is available here.

So we are a 77% Christian nation. Still a healthy majority you might say. True, but in a democratic society doesn't respect for significant minorities still play a part in our civic life?

Further, the national numbers are an average. I have no doubt that in, say, South Carolina the percentage of Christians rises to very near 100. I also know, as a lifelong resident of the metro New York area, that the percentage of Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Confucians, Buddists, Sikhs, celebrants of Kwaanza and areligious people encountered every day is close to, if not above 50%.

In such a diverse region simple politeness and common decency require the generalized greeting of, "Happy Holidays." For businesses, public agencies and politicians in such areas it would be foolish to alienate large segments of the population by focusing only on Christmas.

Get over it Christmas Kvetches. Have a Happy Holiday season!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Canadian No Confidence Motion, Why It Matters To Americans

Capt. Ed at Captain's Quarters has been all over the Adscam scandal that led to the fall of the Liberal government of Paul Martin. Today he has an excellent piece decrying the absence of coverage by US media and laying out why these events should matter to us. Key quote:

Canada’s relevance, despite the American media’s judgment, will only grow more significant as Islamofascist terror remains focused on the US and China grows into a more traditional opponent on the international stage. Before this week, the last time the Canadian government got much mention at all was when they started negotiating with Beijing on a sweetheart oil deal that eventually fell through. Most Americans probably don’t realize that the US imports more crude from Canada than Saudi Arabia, running neck and neck with Mexico for top honors. Their proven oil reserves come second only to Saudi Arabia in the global market. Shouldn’t the stability and direction of the Canadian government concern Americans on this key issue alone?

How about border policy? Much attention got paid to the latest speech by George Bush on protecting the southern border and on illegal immigration. However, Canada and the US share the largest undefended national border system in the world – and we need an active partnership with Ottawa to keep Islamists from exploiting that system. That means we need to influence Canadian immigration policy, or at least stay aware of the direction in which their governments take it to ensure that terrorists cannot easily enter either country, and transit in either direction to hit North American targets. The issue gets some mention from Republican hard-liners for whom immigration remains the most important domestic issue, but it doesn’t equate into any interest or reporting on how Canadians feel about border protection.

Sullivan On The Paid Journalism Issue

Sully takes the same position on the paid journalism/propaganda issue raised by the Times. Here he is, right to the point:

So we're spinning the Iraqi press by planting propaganda in its pages? BFD. The only problem with this scheme, it seems to me, is not that somehow it's unethical to use propaganda in wartime, especially in occupied areas where local support is crucial. This is war, as some people still refuse to understand. The problem is that media is now global, the free citizens of Iraq can access information from almost anywhere on earth, and these stories will leak and backfire. We're adjusting to war in a new media universe. We haven't adjusted swiftly enough.

US Planting Paid Articles in Iraqi Press

The NY Time is all a twitter over their discovery that the Defense Department has contracted with a company called The Lincoln Group to write and pay journalists to print articles in Iraqi newspapers. The article is replete with quotes by journalism "experts" who assert that this violates the principles of western journalism.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but Iraq is not the West. Even when and if it emerges as a democracy, it will still be very much part of Arabic culture.

It is also a fact that in time of war, propaganda is an essential part of military operations. Is there any real difference between planted articles and flyers dropped from airplanes? The only acknowledgement of this possibility is buried after the jump:

"I'm not surprised this goes on," said Michael Rubin, who worked in Iraq for the Coalition Provisional Authority in 2003 and 2004. "Informational operations are a part of any military campaign," he added. "Especially in an atmosphere where terrorists and insurgents - replete with oil boom cash - do the same. We need an even playing field, but cannot fight with both hands tied behind our backs."

The implication of Rubin's quote is that pay for play is the coin of the realm in Iraqi journalism. The Times fails to address this point, believing that the US should function at all times and places as if the world were just like us. The argument goes that if we are proposing to be an example to the world we must be purer that Caesar's wife. Any chink in our armor undermines our shining example.

We must compete in the world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Failure to understand this necessity will doom us to lose to those for whom freedom and democratic ideals are anathema.

This issue is not the same as the torture issue. Torture is directly harmful to human beings and counterproductive, since prisoners will lie and dissemble to avoid the pain while growing ever more defiant of the torturer. No person is harmed by propaganda. The error in this plan was in not knowing that 21st Century America every action that is disliked by any individual in government will be leaked to the press. You can take that to the bank. Now the calculus must include a weighing of the possible benefits against the potential embarrassment when, not if, the enterprise is outed in the media. That was not done in this case. Now no one in Iraq will trust a positive story about the progress of the country.

Bush's Plan For Iraq

The 35 page "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" is now available at the White House website. It does seem a comprehensive and thorough approach to the complexities of Iraq today.

It defines the enemy clearly:


  • The enemy in Iraq is a combination of rejectionists, Saddamists, and terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida. These three groups share a common opposition to the elected Iraqi government and to the presence of Coalition forces, but otherwise have separate and to some extent incompatible goals.
    • Rejectionists are the largest group. They are largely Sunni Arabs who have not embraced the shift from Saddam Hussein's Iraq to a democratically governed state. Not all Sunni Arabs fall into this category. But those that do are against a new Iraq in which they are no longer the privileged elite. Most of these rejectionists opposed the new constitution, but many in their ranks are recognizing that opting out of the democratic process has hurt their interests.
      • We judge that over time many in this group will increasingly support a democratic Iraq provided that the federal government protects minority rights and the legitimate interests of all communities.
    • Saddamists and former regime loyalists harbor dreams of reestablishing a Ba'athist dictatorship and have played a lead role in fomenting wider sentiment against the Iraqi government and the Coalition.
      • We judge that few from this group can be won over to support a democratic Iraq, but that this group can be marginalized to the point where it can and will be defeated by Iraqi forces.
    • Terrorists affiliated with or inspired by Al Qaida make up the smallest enemy group but are the most lethal and pose the most immediate threat because (1) they are responsible for the most dramatic atrocities, which kill the most people and function as a recruiting tool for further terrorism and (2) they espouse the extreme goals of Osama Bin Laden -- chaos in Iraq which will allow them to establish a base for toppling Iraq's neighbors and launching attacks outside the region and against the U.S. homeland.
      • The terrorists have identified Iraq as central to their global aspirations. For that reason, terrorists and extremists from all parts of the Middle East and North Africa have found their way to Iraq and made common cause with indigenous religious extremists and former members of Saddam's regime. This group cannot be won over and must be defeated -- killed or captured -- through sustained counterterrorism operations.
    • There are other elements that threaten the democratic process in Iraq, including criminals and Shi'a religious extremists, but we judge that such elements can be handled by Iraqi forces alone and/or assimilated into the political process in the short term.

It defines the desired outcomes clearly:

  • Our strategy involves three integrated tracks -- political, security, and economic -- each with separate objectives, but together helping Iraqis to defeat the terrorists, Saddamists, and rejectionists, and secure a new democratic state in Iraq.

The Political Track
(Isolate, Engage, Build)

    • Objective: To help the Iraqi people forge a broadly supported national compact for democratic government, thereby isolating enemy elements from the broader public.
    • To achieve this objective, we are helping the Iraqi government:
      • Isolate hardened enemy elements from those who can be won over to a peaceful political process by countering false propaganda and demonstrating to the Iraqi people that they have a stake in a viable, democratic Iraq.
      • Engage those outside the political process and invite in those willing to turn away from violence through ever-expanding avenues of peaceful participation.
      • Build stable, pluralistic, and effective national institutions that can protect the interests of all Iraqis, and facilitate Iraq's full integration into the international community.

The Security Track
(Clear, Hold, Build)

    • Objective: To develop the Iraqis' capacity to secure their country while carrying out a campaign to defeat the terrorists and neutralize the insurgency.
    • To achieve this objective, we are helping the Iraqi government:
      • Clear areas of enemy control by remaining on the offensive, killing and capturing enemy fighters and denying them safe-haven.
      • Hold areas freed from enemy control by ensuring that they remain under the control of a peaceful Iraqi government with an adequate Iraqi security force presence.
      • Build Iraqi Security Forces and the capacity of local institutions to deliver services, advance the rule of law, and nurture civil society.

The Economic Track
(Restore, Reform, Build)

    • Objective: To assist the Iraqi government in establishing the foundations for a sound economy with the capacity to deliver essential services.
    • To achieve this objective, we are helping the Iraqi government:
      • Restore Iraq's neglected infrastructure so it can meet increasing demand and the needs of a growing economy.
      • Reform Iraq's economy, which has been shaped by war, dictatorship, and sanctions, so that it can be self-sustaining in the future.
      • Build the capacity of Iraqi institutions to maintain infrastructure, rejoin the international economic community, and improve the general welfare of all Iraqis.
Unspoken in this document are the many wrong turns that have led to much wasted time and many wasted lives along the road to this current understanding. A willingness to acknowledge past mistakes would go a long way toward giving this President the credibility he so sorely lacks.

Creating nations is an extraordinarily complex undertaking. I am certain that the first post-war years in Germany and Japan were replete with mistakes and false starts now long forgotten. The American people can accept that complex undertakings are subject to human error.

It is also true that any admission of past mistakes in our current highly charged political environment would raise an chorus of "I told you so's" from the Democrats. With very few exceptions we are no longer led by statesmen.

Lost: Last Night's Episode

While I'm on the topic of television shows...last night's episode of Lost represents both the best and the worst of the writing for that show.

One of my problems with Lost is the constant stoppage of the forward motion of the main story in order to drop in the backstories of the various passengers. Every week, just when the interesting quirkiness of the island and its realities is developing, along comes the sound effect of something like a plane falling through the air and we are transported back in time to some moment of a character's memory. I have come to dread that sound effect.

Two weeks ago Lost broadcast an episode that told the story of the crash and survival of the passengers from the back piece of the airplane. In one show they beautifully portrayed the course of events that led to the meeting of the two groups and made understandable Ana-Lucia's shooting of Shannon. The hour raced along, fully satisfying my interest in the events unfolding. There were no flashbacks. I would love to have more such episodes.

To bitch about another small point in the plotting of the show, in last night's episode, just after John and Eko piece together the film strip's warning about never trying to use the old Apple computer to try to communicate with anyone, Michael too conveniently decides to try just that.
Don't get me wrong, I loved the idea that Walt might be at the other end of that communication. It just happened too fast.

I wonder if Walt has found a twin computer in the hatch at the other end of the island where Eko found the book?

TV Watch: Has American Idol Become Bigger Than TV?

Clicking through the morning shows this morning I chanced upon Paula Abdul, one of the judges for the American Idol franchise, chatting with Matt Lauer on the Today Show. This struck me as odd. I'm not in the TV business, but I have been a consumer since the first black and white sets were moving into American living rooms. I thought that it was a cardinal rule of broadcast TV that a network will promote only its own shows, never the shows of a competitor. Today is and NBC program. American Idol is on the Fox Network.

American Idol's consistently high ratings, usually at the top of the pile each season, and the numerous spin-offs of similar "talent" shows indicate that this phenomenon may have somehow moved beyond TV as we know it.