Hogan's Alley

Monday, January 30, 2006

The New Tocqueville? I Don't Think So

Garrison Keillor absolutely evicerates French uber-tourist, Bernard-Henri Levy's purported assay of America called "American Vertigo: Traveling America in the Footsteps of Tocqueville" in Sunday's frontpage of the NY Times Book Review.

Keillor is briliant and the piece is a must read, but I can't resist quoting a few choice lines from his opening:

Any American with a big urge to write a book explaining France to the French should read this book first, to get a sense of the hazards involved. Bernard-Henri Levy is a French writer with a spatter-paint prose style and the grandiosity of a college sophomore; he rambled around this country at the behest of The Atlantic Monthly and now has worked up his notes into a sort of book. It is the classic Freaks, Fatties, Fanatics & Faux Culture Excursion beloved of European journalists for the past 50 years, with stops at Las Vegas to visit a lap-dancing club and a brothel; Beverly Hills; Dealey Plaza in Dallas; Bourbon Street in New Orleans; Graceland; a gun show in Fort Worth; a "partner-swapping club" in San Francisco with a drag queen with mammoth silicone breasts; the Iowa State Fair ("a festival of American kitsch"); Sun City ("gilded apartheid for the old");a stock car race; the Mall of America; Mount Rushmore; a couple of evangelical megachurches; the Mormons of Salt Lake; some Amish; the 2004 national political conventions; Alcatraz - you get the idea. (For some reason he missed the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, the adult video awards, the grave site of Warren G. Harding and the World's Largest Ball of Twine.) You meet Sharon Stone and John Kerry and a woman who once weighed 488 pounds and an obese couple carrying rifles, but there's nobody here whom you recognize. In more than 300 pages, nobody tells a joke. Nobody does much work. Nobody sits and eats and enjoys their food. You've lived all your life in America, never attended a megachurch or a brothel, don't own guns, are non-Amish, and it dawns on you that this is a book about the French. There's no reason for it to exist in English, except as evidence that travel need not be broadening and one should be wary of books with Tocqueville in the title.
(Emphasis added,)

Here's another gem:

He blows a radiator writing about baseball - "this sport that contributes to establishing people's identities and that has truly become part of their civic and patriotic religion, which is baseball" - and when, visiting Cooperstown ("this new Nazareth"), he finds out that Commissioner Bud Selig once laid a wreath at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington, where Abner Doubleday is also buried, Levy goes out of his mind. An event important only to Selig and his immediate family becomes, to Levy, an official proclamation "before the eyes of America and the world" of Abner as "the pope of the national religion . . . that day not just the town but the entire United States joined in a celebration that had the twofold merit of associating the national pastime with the traditional rural values that Fenimore Cooper's town embodies and also with the patriotic grandeur that the name Doubleday bears." Uh, actually not. Negatory on "pope" and "national" and "entire" and "most" and "embodies" and "Doubleday."

As I began reading the piece I was confused because on Friday I had caught the end of Charlie Rose's interview with Levy, in which Rose seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the bons mots being dropped by M. Levy. The following from Keillor's review may explain, "He worships Woody Allen and Charlie Rose in terms that would make Donald Trump cringe with embarrassment."

Sunday, January 08, 2006

James Risen On Meet The Press

I'm watching Tim Russert's interview of James Risen, the NY Times writer who first reported the NSA was monitoring calls with overseas persons involved with terrorist activities. He has just published a book, called "State of War" about intelligence operations in the Bush Administration.

Russert questioned him about several revelations he makes in the book, some involving what he concedes may be ongoing intelligence operations and tactics. In each instance he asserts that he has not behaved treasonously because he was reported some form of a screw up or possible violation of law, which the public has an overriding need to know about in a free society.

Most strikingly, when Russert asked him why the NY Times held his story about phone call monitoring for over a year, when the story was complete in October of 2004, he refuses to answer. It is apparently not in the public's interest to understand why the newspaper of record in our society, the apex of our first amendment freedoms, chose to hold a story for, as Russert put it (and Risen didn't disagree), for either political or national security reasons.

This leads me to ask the question: is there any information kept secret by the government that Risen, or the press in general, would think should not be revealed? It seems the answer is no. The only functional test would seem to be whether inside sources, presumably two is the minimum required number, in some way disagree with the policy or practice in question. It is only in such circumstances that reporters are going to be approached by sources. Thus, secrecy will only apply when and if no more than one single person in an agency has any problem with a policy, has no axes to grind based on personal issues or is not seeking self aggrandizement.

Anyone who has worked in any organization will know that there is always some level of griping or disagreement with almost every policy and action of the organization. Therefore, someone will always be wanting to report what they consider mistaken behavior by our government and reporters will believe that displaying possible error to the people is their obligation and calling.

There is no longer such a thing in our society as a government secret. In a recent editorial the NY Times asserted their belief that any reporting of "wistleblower" allegations is a sacred obligation. If I were managing a federal agency, especially in the intelligence area, I would operate as if any secret known to more than a dozen people will become public information and that the concept of illegal release of official secrets no longer exists. The liberal elite in America have now declared the performance of spy work difficult, if not impossible, to do. This at a time when the competent performance of intelligence is already widely regarded as a joke.

If these are the new rules of the game, then the other central players in our public life, including the fourth estate, must all be required to operate in an open and public way. A "no comment" from the press about the details of their operations and choices is no longer acceptable.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Study: Better Body Armor Would Have Prevented 80% Of Marine Deaths In Iraq

According to a Pentagon report obtained by the NY Times, based on a study of 93 Marines who died in Iraq between March 2003 and June 2005, 80% of those who died would not have died if they were issued the improved body armor that has been available since 2003 but not purchased by the military. The article does note that since the issuance of the report the Marines have begun issuing this armor and the Army is studying the exact size of the armor it wants to purchase.

Nothing in the article specifies why the 93 Marine deaths were chosen for the study, although the clear presumption of the piece is that these deaths were in every way typical. Let's think this through. If these deaths were in most ways like most of the total of over 2000 deaths suffered so far in Iraq, then the implication is that only 400 or so of our soldiers should have been lost.

This strikes me as highly suspect. So many kids have died as the result of IED's blowing up the vehicles they were riding in and would have been less likely to have benefited from upper body armor. The force of and IED explosion comes from below. Perhaps Marines are more frequently killed in firefights in which they are hit by bullets fired at their upper bodies. Plainly more information is needed before any conclusion can be drawn.

The saving of any lives is worth the expense of improved armor and every effort should be made to learn from these postmortem studies to save as many soldiers as possible. At the same time, let's not let this become yet another exaggerated cudgel used by the left to beat up the Pentagon.

Saddam Was Training Terrorists

According to a piece by Stephen Hayes in the Weekly Standard, from 1999 to 2002 8,000 terrorists, mostly from northern Africa were trained at three camps in Iraq. This information has come to light from captured documents in the possession of American intelligence agencies. Hayes claims that the content and existence of these documents has been confirmed by eleven government officials.

As those who have opposed the war have said again and again, there is no evidence that Saddam had any involvement in the 9/11 attacks, but this seems clear proof that he was a significant player in training and supporting world Islamic terrorism. His hands were not clean.

Where Abramoff's Money Went

Capital Eye has posted a complete list of all members of Congress who received contributions from Abramoff, either personal contributions or via the PAC he controlled. Amounts received and party membership is shown. Tip of the hat to Andrew Sullivan.

Although there are many Democrats listed, Republicans seem to have a slight edge in the raw number of Representatives and Senators who received his beneficence. It is interesting to note that Republican Cong. Ney of Ohio, who has already received special mention in the Abramoff indictment, received $31,500. For a point of comparison, Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington received $40,980. Clearly the simple amount of money donated is not all there is to this matter, but this list leads me to wonder why most of the reporting on this issue paints this as a Republican problem only.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

After Sharon The Deluge?

By all accounts the stroke that has hospitalized Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has ended his political career if not his life. This has occurred just as Sharon's newly formed Kadima party was poised for victory in the upcoming March 28 elections. Deputy Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, who is said to be philosophically very close to Sharon, has taken over operation of the government. The question for the future is whether he or any other polititian can sustain a third way in Israeli politics and be a forceful negotiator with the Palestinians.

Sharon's career was unique. He was the hated "Butcher of Shabra and Shatilla", the Palestinian refugee camps Sharon's Army invaded in 1982. He was the leader of Likud whose visit to the grounds of the Dome of the Rock in 2000 single handedly set off the Intifada. Yet it was Sharon's election to the office of Prime Minister that was practically handed to him when Yasir Arafat rejected then PM Barak's generous offer for a two state settlement. Lastly, it was Sharon who forced his nation to return control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority and was moving to repeat the process in the West Bank.

Sharon may have been the only Israeli with the gravitas to move this seemingly endless process towards some conclusion. I hope I am wrong.

Are Fears Of Terrorism Exaggerated? Where's The Proof?

Glenn Greenwald at the blog, Hullabaloo, proposes that the left side of the blogosphere must demonstrate to Americans that terrorism is not the problem that it is cracked up to be by the Administration. Only then will people see that the true dangers facing them come from Bush and company. Key quote:

And literally for four years, this is what Americans have heard over and over and over from their Government – that we face a mortal and incomparably powerful enemy on the precipice of destroying us, and only the most extreme measures taken by our Government can save us. We are a nation engaged in a War of Civilizations whose very existence is in imminent jeopardy. All of those plans for the future, dreams for your children, career aspirations, life goals – it’s all subordinate, it’s all for naught, unless, first and foremost, we stand loyally behind George Bush as he invokes extreme and unprecedented measures necessary to protect us from this extreme and unprecedented threat.

It is that deeply irrational, fear-driven view of the world which has to be undermined in order to make headway in convincing Americans that this Administration is engaged in intolerable excesses and abuses of its power. The argument which needs to be made is the one that we have seen starting to arise in the blogosphere and elsewhere: that living in irrational fear of terrorists and sacrificing our liberties and all of our other national goals in their name is the approach of hysterics and cowards, not of a strong, courageous and resolute nation.

Greenwald thinks that he and colleaguesgues have struck on something here that is striking fear into the hearts of the opposition. It is an interesting concept. There is really nothing external to worry about. As stated by John Kerry, whom he quotes, "We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they’re a nuisance."

If you expect, as I did, that Greenwald will provide evidence for placing al Qaeda into proper perspective you will be sadly disappointed. All this piece does, as in the quote above, is to exaggerate the views of those of us concerned about terrorism and to posit, without one shred of proof, that a minimalist view of the danger is appropriate. Not one shred. Only time will tell, but this tactic reminds me most of Neville Chamberlain's equally unsubstantiated claim that Mr. Hitler could be reasoned with. Very civilized and very dumb.

In the face of facts such as 9/11, Madrid and London surely some evidence is required that proves there is no serious danger, some definition of "nuisance" that presumably sets an acceptable death toll, etc. On the facts, it would appear that the only argument Greenwald and friends could reasonably make is that short of a nuclear or biological mass attack, the destruction of a few buildings and a few thousand people is just the cost of doing business in the modern world and far from justification fordiminutionution of the full array of civil rights arrayed in the Constitution.

But they don't even have the balls to make that argument. All they provide is derision of an exaggerated version of the views of the other side.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Iran Reported Clearly On Its Way To Nuclear Bomb

According to that bastion of Bush bashers, the Guardian, an intelligence assessment being used to brief European ministers states that Iran is clearly trying to develop a nuclear bomb and the means of delivering it as far as Europe. Key quote:

The 55-page intelligence assessment, dated July 1 2005, draws upon material gathered by British, French, German and Belgian agencies, and has been used to brief European government ministers and to warn leading industrialists of the need for vigilance when exporting equipment or expertise to so-called rogue states.

It concludes that Syria and Pakistan have also been buying technology and chemicals needed to develop rocket programmes and to enrich uranium. It outlines the role played by Russia in the escalating Middle East arms build-up, and examines the part that dozens of Chinese front companies have played in North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

But it is the detailed assessment of Iran's nuclear purchasing programme that will most alarm western leaders, who have long refused to believe Tehran's insistence that it is not interested in developing nuclear weapons and is trying only to develop nuclear power for electricity. Governments in the west and elsewhere have also been dismayed by recent pronouncements from the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has said that Holocaust denial is a "scientific debate" and that Israel should be "wiped off the map".

The leak of the intelligence report may signal a growing frustration at Iran's refusal to bow to western demands that it abandon its programme to produce fuel for a Russian-built nuclear reactor due to come on stream this year.

The assessment declares that Iran has developed an extensive web of front companies, official bodies, academic institutes and middlemen dedicated to obtaining - in western Europe and in the former Soviet Union - the expertise, training, and equipment for nuclear programmes, missile development, and biological and chemical weapons arsenals.

This is very scary stuff, but will Europe be able to do anything effective to stop Iran? I fear the answer is no. The European elites have put themselves in a box with their opposition to American adventures in the middle east. Ironically, the only hope may be that a democratic Iraq spreads a fervor for freedom and liberalism to its neighbor that leads to a popular demand for a new government in Iran. This dream of the neocons and nightmare of the left may be all that is left to play in this high stakes game. If this fails, we may yet have to take on the much tougher military task of intervention in Iran, but given the current atmosphere it will take the actual explosion of a bomb to embolden any western government to take action. I would not be buying real estate in Israel just now, which makes the Israelis the most likely ones to act to prevent the Iranians from doing what their president says they want to do, destroy the State of Israel.

Wonkette As Authorette

Congratulations appear to be due to Ana Marie Cox of Wonkette fame for the success of her new novel, "Dog Days". In an appearance this morning in the Imus In The Morning show, Imus reported that her book will receive a rave review by Christopher Buckley in next Sunday's NY Times Book Review. Imus was also trying to hype interest in the book, Cox's comical take on a recent presidential election, for a movie deal.

As has also been announced, Cox will be leaving her post as the principle writer of the Wonkette blog. It is impossible to imagine the blog without her delicious lasciviousness. It just won't be the same.

Terrorists And High Tech, The Next Front?

The New York Times has a report this morning of the arrest of an Islamic militant for the murder of a scholar during an attack last week at the Indian Institute of Science, the country's premier science and technology institution. Key quote:

The police were put on high alert in a number of cities, installing checkpoints and searching people and cars in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Madras, all flourishing cities where hundreds of outsourcing companies offer services to Western clients.

The measures taken in Hyderabad coincided with a visit to the city by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to open the Indian Science Congress, the country's biggest meeting of scientists and scholars.

Wire reports quoted Mr. Singh as saying that terrorists were singling out India's research institutes because of the country's growing technical and scientific prowess. "The symbols and temples of our knowledge society are today being targeted by terrorists," Mr. Singh told scientists at the conference.

For those who think all would be well if only George Bush could be made to go away, here is more evidence that these fundamentalist fanatics will oppose, in the most violent way, any one who stands for progress, enlightenment and modernity. They want nothing less than to restore much of the world to the conditions of the 12th century.

Horrible Twist Ends Mine Tragedy

My heart goes out to the families of the 12 West Virginia miners lost in an accident. The tragedy was cruelly compounded when word spread that all 12 had been found alive. The families short-lived joy was to be crushed three hours later when officials confirmed that only one man had been found alive. He is in critical condition at a hospital in Morgantown, WV.

The news media, as well as the families, believed the initial, albeit shaky reports. Most of the print headlines across the country this morning celebrate the miracle that was not to be.

How did this mistaken report happen? The best information I have heard was on MSNBC this morning, which reported that the communication lines between the mine rescue team and the above ground control center were essentially and open line. Someone misunderstood a communication about the discovery of 12 men of unknown condition as an assertion that the men were alive and that mistake spread like wildfire throughout the hopeful community.

The air this morning is understandably filled with recriminations and the desire to find someone to hold accountable for this terrible error. I fear we will find that only our human fallibility is responsible.

As to the more, in the end, crucial questions about how the accident occurred, the condition of the mine at the time and possible additional safety measures that can be mandated, perhaps some positive resolution will emerge with time.

Old Timer Bowl Ends In Triple Overtime

As much as I generally dislike the endless series of meaningless and uninteresting college football bowl games that liter the New Year's season, last night's Orange Bowl game between Joe Paterno's Penn State and Bobby Bowden's Florida State had seemed one of the real ones. As it turned out, it was a pip. The game ended at 1:00 AM Eastern time on a field goal by Penn State kicker, Kevin Kelly, in the third overtime period. As ESPN says, it was one for the ages, and I missed it. I fell asleep at 11:45.

Two of the oldest coaches in the college game battled it out for more than four hours. It is almost enough to make me rethink my hatred of the current BCS world of scores of bowl games that mean nothing to anyone but the schools involved and the few who make a buck from each annual event. Almost but not quite. If there were a real NCAA Division I Football Championship I believe games like last night's would occur more frequently in the rounds leading up to the final game. Just like in basketball, the tournament would be full of exciting games, each one a do or die event for the teams involved. Instead we have coaches fitfully trying to hype their kids up for any post season bowl appearance that no one else cares about.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

New Liberal Urban Myth: Woman Taken Off Life Support Due To Lack Of Funds

Steven Landsburg in Slate decries, via the cynic's presumption that compassion has nothing to do with economic considerations and large institutions, "reports" that a woman, Tirhas Habtegiris (sic), was taken off life support at the Baylor Regional Medical Center in Plano, TX because of her and her family's inability to pay and lack of medical insurance. Landsburg echoes the moral posturing of Yucatanman at Daily Kos in this matter.

This story so deliciously fits the biases and presumptions of the left that neither of them apparently bothered to wonder whether the story is true. Googling the woman's name returns only two news stories on the matter, both by local TV stations in the area. The facts are that the woman was taken off support and died a few minutes later. She had abdominal cancer which had spread to her lungs. The report of the local CBS outlet plainly states that although members of her family believed this would not have happened if she had insurance, outside experts view the matter has having nothing to do with available funds:

But a Dallas attorney who worked on the law said money has nothing to do with it and only clinical matters are considered.

Dr. Allan Shulkin, who specializes in pulmonary and critical care medicine at another Dallas hospital, supports the law.

"Sometimes applying technology when there is no other opportunity for recovery is wrong not because it i’s expensive, but because it prolongs suffering," he said.

In this matter I prefer to rely on the input of experts rather than the perspective of understandably distraught family members. Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of medical economics knows that in all states hospitals are required to provide treatment regardless of the ability of the patient to pay. All hospitals have staff available to secure Medicaid funding if the person is eligible. Further, all hospital bills paid by private persons and insurance companies include a surcharge that is meant to cover the costs of "indigent" patients.

I know this doesn't fit the neat image, relished by many on the left, of a cold, cruel America where the poor are treated like dirt. Truth is often inconvenient.

Has Murtha Lost It?

Someone close to Rep. John Murtha would be well advised to assist him in getting a check up from the neck up, as Imus says. Reuters is reporting that on tonight's Nightline show Murtha will declare that he would not join the military today, presumably because of what he sees as the wrongness of our efforts in Iraq.

Let me try to understand this. Murtha, who served in the Vietnam War, which only had the flimsiest and abstract of connections to the self-interest of the United States, was worth his service. Iraq, which lets us project our power in to the home region of the people who actually attacked us and killed thousands of our fellow citizens. Yes, I know Saddam had no direct connection to the 9/11 murderers, but no Vietnamese ever killed even one American on our soil.

The war in Vietnam could simply not have been prosecuted without the existence of the draft. So far our young people have been willing to come forward in sufficient numbers to sustain the effort in Iraq. If in ten years, as I suspect, we have seen a fundamental transformation in that sorry region which turns potential future terrorists into productive citizens of their newly liberated societies, the young soldiers will have been prove right. The old, still fighting the political battles of a former war will have been proven wrong.

Abramoff About To Spill The Beans

The NY Times reports that Jack Abramoff, the Washington lobbyist (already a synonym for scumbag) has finalized a plea agreement with Federal prosecutors and has been fully cooperating in providing information for two years. The Times reports that, "Now, after more than two years of investigations, prosecutors have developed a list of at least a dozen lawmakers, congressional aides and lobbyists whose work appears suspect and who are now at the core of the case."

The bartenders around K Street must me raking in the money and antidepressants must be flying off the shelves of local pharmacies. Although the times reports that only two Federal cases involving Abramoff are in play, I bet, and hope, that enough billable hours are being spent in lawyers offices in pre-indictment consultation to significantly increase the income tax coffers of the District in 2006.

Of course the cynic in me recalls the pronouncement of, I think, C. Wright Mills the sociologist and guide to the Power Elite, who noted that public scandals and handwringing are a routine part of the process that allows the general public to feel that things are now fine, while allowing the real players to resume business as usual once the public's interest wanes.

Finally A Smart Distribution Of Anti-Terror Funds

The Department of Homeland Security has finally stopped the waste of millions of dollars in Federal anti-terrorism monies that occurred when funds were given to every congressional district for political reasons. No longer will police departments in Idaho and Wyoming be able to buy all kinds of neat cop equipment on the Federal dime. Perhaps the cities where everyone understands the next attack is most likely to take place will now be better prepared when in occurs.

According to the story in the Times, 35 cities will receive the bulk of the $765 million available for funding new requests. Eleven other cities will still be able to request "sustainment funding" of previously funded programs.

I don't, of course, know if the new Director of DHS is responsible for making this rational decision, but he did make the announcement and will have to take the heat from our brave politicians in Alaska, Iowa, New Mexico, etc. Good for him.