Thursday, February 13, 2003

About a year ago, while writing about the libertarian fantasy that private gun ownership can somehow negate the threat of intrusive government activity like TIA and the Patriot II act, I observed:

...let's look at local law enforcement --- say the Rampart scandal at the LAPD. The community they were operating in was heavily armed --- more heavily, in fact, than a lot of the residents would have liked. But even if there had been people standing on the streetcorners in Santa suits, giving out firearms to all and sundry to make sure that everyone had a gun, it wouldn't have improved the behavior of the police.

I didn't think it was worth elaborating that many people who actually live in neighborhoods where guns are widely available (legally or otherwise) would actually prefer them to be less available, or at least kept out of the hands of the crooks. But the point is apparently lost on the Manhattan Libertarian Party. When the New York City Council proposed a ban on toy guns realistic enough to draw a lethal response from a threatened cop, or drug dealer, the libertarians responded by giving out free toy guns, realistic enough to be at least worth a try in an attempted heist, to kids on the street in Harlem. They even called the event "Guns for Tots". Reports I have seen are not specific about the Santa suits.

Needless to say, this form of protest --- handing out objects to children which could get them killed --- has, well, backfired. But libertarians dealing with complaints about their actions still seem to be missing the point...

Wednesday, February 12, 2003

Every once in a while Maureen Dowd hits one out of the park. Like today:

Osama bin Laden came to the rescue of George W. Bush yesterday.

The president and his secretary of state had been huffing and puffing to prove a link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. George Tenet, who presides over a C.I.A. full of skepticism about the tie, did his best for the boss, playing up the link to the Senate.

Ignoring all the blatant Qaeda hooks to Saudi Arabia, Syria, Yemen and Pakistan; ignoring the fact that Osama has never had any use for the drinking, smoking, womanizing, secular Saddam; ignoring the fact that Saddam has no proven record of sharing weapons with Al Qaeda, the Bushies have been hellbent on making the 9/11 connection.

The world wasn't entirely buying that rationale for war.

And then who but Osama himself should pop up on an audio tape, calling on Muslims to fight the U.S. if the "infidels" attack "our brothers in Iraq."

Osama's disdain for Saddam still gleamed through. He barely mentioned the Iraqi leader and seemed to be holding his nose when he gave permission to his Qaeda brethren to fight "the Crusaders" alongside Saddam's Baath Party, "even if we believe and declare that the socialists are apostates," and whether Saddam remains in power or not.

She goes on to make the obvious point that bin Laden is doing this because a war serves his interests (which the rest of our press has struggled to avoid), and also slams the administration for broadcasting the whole tape themselves, potential "coded messages" to sleeper cells and all. But read the whole thing.

Meanwhile, Tom Friedman continues with his current project --- trying to make Steven den Beste look like a deep thinker. He's worried about the state of the Western alliance:

The tension that is now rising within the Western alliance, NATO and the U.N. over how to deal with Iraq is deeply disturbing. It raises fears that the postwar security system, which stabilized the world for 50 years, could come unglued if America intervenes alone in Iraq. At the birth of this security system, Secretary of State Dean Acheson wrote a memoir titled "Present at the Creation." Can we deal with Iraq and still ensure that Secretary of State Colin Powell's memoir is not titled "Present at the Destruction"?

Yes, we can --- if we, the Russians, the Chinese and the French all take a deep breath, understand our common interests and pursue them with a little more common sense and a little less bluster.

But fear not --- he has a solution: the French, Germans, and Russians should agree to a fig-leaf extension on the inspections, and then let Dubya have his little war:

We need a compromise. We need to say to the French, Russians and Chinese that we'll stand down for a few more weeks and give Saddam one last chance to comply with the U.N. disarmament demands --- provided they agree now that if Saddam does not fully comply they will have the U.N. authorize the use of force.

What do the French, let alone the Russians and Chinese, get out of this?

There is no way their preferred outcome, a peaceful solution, can come about unless Saddam is faced with a credible, unified threat of force. The French and others know that, and therefore their refusal to present Saddam with a threat only guarantees U.S. unilateralism and undermines the very U.N. structure that is the best vehicle for their managing U.S. power.

But the disintegration of the evidence in Powell's presentation (NB that was last week; it looks worse now, and the Germans are openly calling Powell on his fibs) shows that the US will have something to present at the end of a few weeks as a case for concealment of weapons --- even if they have to make it up. So what this boils down to for the French is that, if the US doesn't go to war with them, then the US will go to war without them. I can just see them quaking in their boots.

Link to the article on German response was a late addition, from Tom Spencer; also added a bit more MoDo paraphrase.

It seems that John Poindexter's Total Information Awareness program scares even the Republican Congress --- they've voted to restrict its use against Americans, and also demanded to be informed of developments in the program.

So if Poindexter, wants to use the thing against Americans, or to develop it in other ways they don't like, well... he'll just have to lie to Congress.

But he's already been convicted of doing that once, though a technicality kept him from serving time for it. Surely he's learned... if only that you shouldn't fess up.

During the go-go nineties, several top-tier accounting firms got into the business of marketing tax-evasion schemes to the wealthy, which generally used an Enron-esque web of shell companies, trusts, and legal fictions to hide the cash from the taxman. The deal that was offered was simple: instead of paying taxes at a high rate to the government now, you can pay a smaller fee to your friends at Ernst and Young.

Now, these arrangements have come under the baleful eye of IRS enforcement, and they're starting to unravel, with the result that one Sprint exective alone may wind up personally owing more than $100 million in back taxes. And the people who ponied up for these schemes are reacting the way any red-blooded American would --- not by admitting their error, and belatedly ponying up some cash to help maintain the society that has conferred these benefits upon them, but rather by suing the accountants.

The Bush administration, fortunately, does see a problem here. The problem it sees is that these people had to pay large fees to accountants to avoid paying taxes. Which is presumably why they've floated a scheme which would allow the wealthy to shelter their investment income from taxes completely without all those hefty fees.

That's our Dubya --- making it easy for the rich to love their country.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

PLA goes through what Republicans mean by the responsibility era: when bad things happen, Bill Clinton is responsible.
Calpundit hears the Washington Post beating war drums.

He also has an objection to the Franco-Russo-German effort to head off open war by strengthening the inspection regime:

Isn't this basically a military occupation that's completely open ended?

That's as opposed to the proposals of the war party, which, after the war, would just require... oh.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

The folks in the White House are Christians. But there are many kinds of Christians. There's the Martin Luther King variety, which stresses nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and turning the other cheek. Then there's the kind, like John Ashcroft and Nino Scalia, who start from "Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord", take it to mean that vengeance is the State's, as the Lord's agent, and take that to mean that vengeance is theirs, as agents of the State.

And then there's the kind that expects the world to end soon, and doesn't much mind --- the buyers of books like "The Late Great Planet Earth", and more recently, the "Left Behind" series of novels by LaHaye and Jenkins, which can only be described as apocalypse porn. Some of these folks may even think that by trying to bring about the final battle and the second coming, they're doing God's work. It's a theme that's been seen in science fiction now and again, from the TV preacher in Dan Simmons's Carrion Comfort, to the secret society freaks in the Illuminatus trilogy grinding away behind the scenes to "immanentize the eschaton" (which, for those who didn't know, is more than just a card game).

And, as long as even the really respectable bloggers are having their tin foil hat moments, it might be fun to speculate what these folks would be like if they ever came to power. But I'm not sure it's realistic.

They'd have to conceal their agenda, of course. So, while they might speak openly of being Christian, and even nominate ideological soul-mates to scientific advisory panels, they certainly wouldn't run as the "river of blood" party. That line just doesn't get votes. Which would lead to a, perhaps, unusual degree of secrecy in the administration, and even a certain amount of apparent dissembling, as they tried to come up with explanations for, policies aimed at starting a religiously tinged war in the middle east.

Take the Islamist terrorists for example. They want pretty much the same thing that our Christian Millenarians are after. (Each wants a war; after that, both sides are convinced that, as a noted Christian once said, "God will know his own"). But that, shall we say, commonality of interests, won't exactly go over well in domestic politics. So they might find themselves proposing that, in service of a nominal "war against terrorism", the US should proceed by attacking an enemy of the terrorists in Iraq, while nominally allied with reliable sponsors of religious terrorists in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

And of course, on the domestic front, we could reasonably expect a focus on the short term, since, say long-term fiscal prospects for the United States government just don't matter --- it's after the rapture. And might as well help your friends out in the meantime.

But, cute as it is to toss around a scenario like this, as I said, I just don't believe it's realistic, because there's one fatal flaw. The Christian end-of-the-world story already has a role for someone who comes to rule a great military power through dubious means, rules by deceit, and starts a massive war in the middle east for no good reason. And it's not one of the good guys. That isn't a role they'd want for themselves. Is it?