Friday, January 31, 2003

From "Sloan Rules", David Farber's delightful little book on Alfred Sloan's career at General Motors, comes this little proof that Lenin was right about the capitalists and the rope.

At the beginning of the Great Depression, Sloan was trying quite hard to push a scheme to sell used cars to the Soviet Union, with financing from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, a new government agency. This posed certain difficulties, as the Bolshevik government was one that the United States didn't even recognize at the time. But Sloan had an in, as he explained to President Hoover's Secretary of Commerce:

In view of the fact, however, that I have a very close friend, Colonel Hugh L. Cooper, who I believe is closer to the "powers that be" in Russia than any other individual and who recently left for four months' stay in Russia, I took the liberty of asking if he would discuss the matter with Mr. Stalin, whom he stays several days with each time he visits Russia, just to see if there was any possibility of it --- all other things being possible.

The response came back cautiously in the affirmative:

Cooper assured Sloan that Stalin would take a reasonable approach to business matters if they were in the Soviet interest. Stalin, Cooper also believed, was remarkably intelligent and "kindly minded", if a bit too "firm and confident that their economic plans are correct".

But the plan fizzled --- for lack of support from the American government, not from the capitalists.

Sloan would take business wherever he found it. In 1941, he was asked to cut ties with pro-Nazi car dealers in South America. He refused, and angrily mused, in a letter to Walter Carpenter of DuPont, that

I told those who have been dealing with me on this matter, that I thought rather than pick on these things which are more or less inconsequential in relation to the total in South America, that somebody might get busy putting in jail, or exporting, some of the Communists who are causing the many labor troubles in this country.

Evidently, he found home grown Communists less to his taste than the genocidal Mr. Stalin. But maybe Communists just look better from a distance...

Pakistan is, at best, balanced on a knife edge. The government is nominally allied with us in our fight with al Qaeda, but its head has a long history as a sponsor of the Islamist rebels in Kashmir, its government and intelligence services effectively created the Taliban, and former Taliban forces are happily ensconced on Pakistani territory, from which they emerge for firefights with American troops near the Afghan-Pakistani border. And there's also the prospect of a war with India over Kashmir. Both sides have nukes, and some of the Pakistani leadership seems to think that using them wouldn't be such a bad idea --- one says, "If I were in charge, I would have already done it."

So, we might well want to do what we can to win sympathizers there --- by, for example, making sure to treat influential Pakistani visitors here as valued and honored guests. Then again, we might not:

Ejaz Haider is an editor with Pakistan's most respected English-language newsweekly and a visiting research scholar at the Brookings Institution, one of Washington's most prominent think tanks. ...

On Tuesday, however, Haider became one of the latest people detained in the government's registration program for temporary foreign visitors when two armed INS agents accosted him on the street and took him into custody.

"We were stunned. I never thought I'd see this in my own country: people grabbed on the street and taken away," said Stephen P. Cohen, head of the Brookings South Asia program for which Haider worked. "If he hadn't come into the building to show the agents some notes, it's not clear we would have known where he was."

As is usual in these cases, Haider was relying on INS assurances that he wasn't in trouble, which played false:

According to the Justice Department, Haider had missed a deadline to check in with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Haider, however, said officials at the State Department and INS had both told him he could ignore the requirement to check back within 40 days of registering upon arrival at Dulles International Airport.

And it can't help that he was in the country to express concern about overzealous enforcement of immigration law. But, things could have been worse:

When he was released Tuesday night, he said he was told to make his own arrangements to return to Washington, but had left his wallet, as instructed, at Brookings. Fortunately, he said, he had a Metro Farecard in one of his pockets. The INS agents dropped him off at the King Street Station.

"The [Pakistani] embassy told me I was very lucky," he said. "They said . . . they had left young men almost in the middle of nowhere." Haider, who has visited the United States six times, said he cannot wait to leave and, if such policies continue, will never come back.

"This is not the United States I used to come to," he said.

If the plan is to piss off our allies and sympathizers, with the general aim of stirring up trouble, it couldn't be working out better.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

Well, he did try to present a case for war in the SOTU. But what a case. Again with the aluminum tubes. Atrios proclaims "complete ethical bankruptcy" --- but that's a little much to say about Colin Powell.

Another explanation --- not original to me --- is that the intelligence analysts who were widely rumored last fall to be under heavy pressure to produce a pro-war case finally knuckled under and gave Rummy what he wanted, and that now the administration's top brass is actually believing intelligence that in truth amounts to little more than their own propaganda.

I wish I could recall where I saw this notion first...

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

One last thought for the day (I think)... when listening to the State of the Union address, it might help to bear in mind the points from Emma's brief but pointed propaganda primer...
The New York Times reports on Dolly Parton's fans' unusual devotion:

Another fan who's known by Ms. Parton and her people is David Schmidli, 33, of Huntsville, Ala. For Mr. Schmidli, who has cerebral palsy, Ms. Parton is quite literally the alpha and omega: his mother, Jo-Ann, 72, teaches him to spell by using words drawn from Ms. Parton's song titles and lyrics. Each day he awakens at 3:30 a.m. to scour the Web for news of Ms. Parton, then feeds his German Shepherd, named Sparkles Dolly Parton, before going to his job as a tester at a computer manufacturing facility. During the holidays, he invites his co-workers home to show them his Christmas tree covered with 400 homemade ornaments, each decorated with Ms. Parton's picture.

Mr. Schmidli also sharpens his dexterity by making needlepoint tissue box covers and fly swatter covers bearing Ms. Parton's image (with angel wings). When he presents these items to her each April at the park's opening day, Mrs. Schmidli says, "She's as kind and as good as she can be."

"She looks down from on high on her float," Mrs. Schmidli said, "and she says, 'I love you, too, David.' "

On which the best comment comes perhaps from Dolly herself:

"A lot of times my fans don't come to see me be me," she said. "They come to see me be them. They come to hear me say what they want to hear, what they'd like to say themselves, or to say about them what they want to believe is true."

Ms. Parton evaluated these illusions in terms that were by turns critical, empathic and pragmatic: "I've often wondered if it's healthy for some of these people to depend on me that much, to where people live through you and don't live their own lives. It's like when people say, `I'm in love,' when they're really in lust. They call so many things love. I spend a lot of time thinking about stuff like that in the wee hours. But I think it's healthier for those people to have something to look forward to than to not. If they've got a show to look forward to or a record to look forward to, it might keep them from doing something bad to themselves or to somebody else. Or give 'em something more to do than just dwelling on themselves so much. I don't know. I just know I love the fans. I appreciate 'em. I love what I do. So I guess we'll all be at it for a long time to come."

So, I blogged last week about Condi Rice's reasons for going to war on Iraq, and Tom Friedman's. How about Dubya's own? Peggy Noonan reports:

Four months ago a friend who had recently met with the president on other business reported to me that in conversation the president had said that he has been having some trouble sleeping, and that when he awakes in the morning the first thing he often thinks is: I wonder if this is the day Saddam will do it.

"Do what exactly?" I asked my friend. He told me he understood the president to be saying that he wonders if this will be the day Saddam launches a terror attack here, on American soil.

I was surprised. We know of the arguments that Saddam is a supporter and encourager of America's terrorist enemies. We know the information that has been made available. But the president has not to my knowledge said in public that he fears Saddam himself will hit us hard on the ground in America, and soon.

Perhaps that's because his own CIA has reported, in public, that given what we know about Saddam Hussein, the only case in which he's likely to do any such thing is amidst a direct attack from the US, creating a "use it or lose it" scenario; otherwise, his sense of self-preservation is enough to keep him in check, and he's too much of a control freak to give WMD to anyone else who might pose a threat --- let alone al-Qaeda, which hates his guts.

There are two ways to read this. One is that Dubya is completely disregarding the judgment of seasoned intelligence professionals about a threat he pulled out of his ass, and bringing the country into a war which could seriously destabilize a volatile and important region for no good reason at all. Which is bad. But the only alternative is that he's deliberately trying to provoke an Iraqi WMD attack, as an excuse, perhaps, to really put the hammer down domestically. And that's even worse. (Enough so that even I don't believe it --- though the headlines now are stuff that I wouldn't have believed a year ago).

Either way, it seems we're at least on the outskirts of Twenty-Fifth Amendment territory, folks:

Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.

But don't expect that from an administration so wedded to the Fuhrerprinzip that the Secretary of Defense tries to tell the Joint Chiefs of Staff that it's not their business to think about strategy.

But then again, perhaps it only seems that way. I'm sure his State of the Union address tonight will have a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything...

(Noonan quote via Tbogg)

By the way, with my junior Senator attracting praise from left Blogistan for his current opposition to Bush foreign policy, let's put that in perspective. Last October, he gave a speech on the floor of Congress which expressed similar sentiments:

In giving the President this authority, I expect him to fulfill the commitments he has made to the American people in recent days--to work with the United Nations Security Council to adopt a new resolution setting out tough and immediate inspection requirements, and to act with our allies at our side if we have to disarm Saddam Hussein by force. If he fails to do so, I will be among the first to speak out.

If we do wind up going to war with Iraq , it is imperative that we do so with others in the international community, unless there is a showing of a grave, imminent--and I emphasize ``imminent''--threat to this country which requires the President to respond in a way that protects our immediate national security needs.

He gave that speech to try to explain his vote for a resolution which authorized Dubya to make war on Iraq whenever he felt like it, without any of those restrictions --- well after Dubya's mendacity on Iraq, as on other matters, had been made clear...

Kerry speech from the Congressional Record, Oct. 9th; available by search from Thomas, though I'm not sure the links it gives you are stable...

Sunday, January 26, 2003

Tomorrow's headlines today. In flash!

In case you're wondering, we win the war, and it really, really sucks.

(via The Agonist)

To attack Iraq? That's the question of the moment. Tom Friedman has pondered the question deeply, and as we've seen, concluded that the best reason to attack Iraq has nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction; instead, we need to give the people there a better government. But he was ambivalent about war. Guess what? He's still ambivalent:

My gut tells me we should continue the troop buildup, continue the inspections and do everything we can for as long as we can to produce either a coup or the sort of evidence that will give us the broadest coalition possible, so we can do the best nation-building job possible.

But if war turns out to be the only option, then war it will have to be ? because I believe that our kids will have a better chance of growing up in a safer world if we help put Iraq on a more progressive path and stimulate some real change in an Arab world that is badly in need of reform. Such a war would indeed be a shock to this region, but, if we do it right, there is a decent chance that it would be shock therapy.

So Friedman, who doesn't believe himself that Saddam's weapons programs are a proper casus belli, nevertheless suggests that we continue the inspections in hopes that they'd provide something we could use to swindle other skeptics. It'll take a while, at this point; essentially all of the administration's specific claims about Iraqi weapons programs are false, from the much touted aluminum tubes which were almost certainly for conventional rockets, to the "new construction" on satellite photos of the former Tuwaitha weapons site, which turns out to be a few odd shacks.

More than that, Friedman is echoing another piece of utter nonsense that has attained credibility through sheer repetition, that "this can't go on forever". When did the inspection regime become more expensive than maintaining a full-scale army of occupation?

The LA Times link is all over, but I got it from Hesiod.

Patriots coach Bill Belichick suggests that Dubya is harking back to the halcyon days of the Reagan administration, in his advice to this Superbowl's winning coach:

You'll go through a typical interview, but this time it'll be on the lawn at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. (I hope the president will remember your name, though.)