Friday, April 25, 2003

So, it's all over the blogsphere, following Atrios, that Republicans have now fessed up to misleading the public about their motives for going to war -- never mind that it was also a staple of Republican thought a few years ago that it was an impeachable offense for Clinton to lie about his sex life.

Old news, folks. Henry Hyde, one of the impeachment "managers" (i.e., prosecutors) in the Lewinsky mess, had put himself on record a few years earlier than that applying a looser standard to Reagan's liars in the Iran/Contra affair:

As a ranking Republican on the Iran-contra committee in 1987, Hyde had this to say at the time about the massive lawbreaking within the Reagan White House: "All of us, at some time, confront conflicts between rights and duties, between choices that are evil and less evil, and one hardly exhausts moral indignation by labeling every untruth and every deception an outrage."

By the way, this explodes a distinction some Republicans draw between Clinton's lies about his sex life, and, say, the adulterous Hyde's own. Clinton's lies were heinous, they say, because he lied under oath. Well, so did Oliver North....

With all Dubya's current and proposed tax cuts for the rich, the government still has to get money from someplace. What to do? What to do?

How about demanding detailed, exhaustive proof that all those lucky duckies in the working poor actually deserve their Earned Income Tax Credit -- not with their tax returns, but well in advance?

The new measures, which are expected to be published for public comment shortly, are scheduled to begin in July, when the first 45,000 taxpayers who fit into a "high-error category" will be asked to submit proof of their eligibility within six months. The program will accelerate to two million taxpayers in 2004. Eventually some four million "high error" claimants -- a fifth of the 19 million who now claim the tax credit -- will be required to submit advance proof of their eligibility. ...

Only a few types of evidence will be acceptable to the I.R.S., and some are documents that will be difficult or impossible for people to get within the six-month deadline. To prove their relationships to children, for example, they are expected to produce marriage certificates, in some cases for other people's marriages; for marriages that took place abroad; and in a few cases for marriages of great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents.

Even American weddings may be hard to document adequately in less than six months. The State of California, for example, warns on its Web site that it may take "up to two to three years" to issue copies of marriage certificates, "due to budgetary constraints." The State of Ohio does not even issue copies of marriage certificates, only "marriage abstracts," which are not certified documents and take six months to obtain in any case. ...

Claimants in a "high error" category -- effectively, everyone taking care of a child other than the child's own mother -- will have to prove that the child was not only related, but also living with them, using either school records which may be unavailable, or an affadavit from a landlord (not a building superintendent).

This move has attracted some criticism:

...some tax experts criticize the higher burden of proof as unfair and a wasteful allocation of scarce I.R.S. enforcement dollars. They say that corporations, business owners, investors and partnerships deprive the government of many times what the working poor ever could -- through both illegal means and legal shelters -- yet these taxpayers face no demands to prove the validity of their claims in advance with certified records and sworn affidavits.

Others warn that the proposed I.R.S. rules will set a standard of proof so high that it will be difficult, and in some cases impossible, for honest taxpayers to meet it. As a result, some people entitled to the tax credit will no longer receive it. And those who do manage to file successful claims will almost certainly have to pay commercial tax preparers more for helping them with the extra paperwork.

But they're missing the point. They're adjusting the tax code to reduce incentive for people to be poor, so that instead, they will choose to be rich. Suze Orman can tell you all about it...

Thursday, April 24, 2003

On yesterday's Law and Order, we had yet another case where the DAs had an open-and-shut case which they vacated when crusading DA Serena Southerlyn, checking up on one last little detail (completely irrelevant to the case against the actual defendant) figured out that someone else was the real killer. On Law and Order, this seems to be happening now once every few weeks.

Meanwhile, in Tulia, TX, it took years of activism to start to overturn dozens of convictions based entirely on the uncorroborated and laughable testimony of one rogue cop.

It's possible that real New York DAs are as punctilious as the Law and Order crew. But given recent developments in the Central Park jogger case, where coerced confessions let the real attacker go free for years, I feel entitled to some doubt.

Who cares? It's only a TV show.

But it's TV shows like this which give a whole lot of Americans these days their ideas about how the justice system works...

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

An odd bit that struck me in that well-blogged interview with Senator Rick Santorum. He seems to think the right to privacy is a "lifestyle":

SANTORUM: .... Again, it goes back to this moral relativism, which is very accepting of a variety of different lifestyles. And if you make the case that if you can do whatever you want to do, as long as it's in the privacy of your own home, this "right to privacy," then why be surprised that people are doing things that are deviant within their own home? If you say, there is no deviant as long as it's private, as long as it's consensual, then don't be surprised what you get. You're going to get a lot of things that you're sending signals that as long as you do it privately and consensually, we don't really care what you do. And that leads to a culture that is not one that is nurturing and necessarily healthy. I would make the argument in areas where you have that as an accepted lifestyle, don't be surprised that you get more of it.

AP: The right to privacy lifestyle?

SANTORUM: The right to privacy lifestyle.

So the right to be secure in private activities conducted in your home isn't a fundamental bulwark of liberty enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. It's just a lifestyle choice. And, he thinks, a bad one.

This is the same interview in which Santorum also equated homosexuality with bestiality ("man on dog" sex), while at the same time minimizing the recent Catholic Church scandals by denying that children or rape were involved.

Before the invasion of Iraq, one of the neocon arguments in favor of invading was that a US takeover there would contribute, in some mysterious, unspecified way, to solving the Palestinian issue.

Now, Tom Friedman is arguing that we desperately need to broker a solution to the Palestinian issue because that will contribute to settling things down in Iraq. And, unusually for Friedman these days, he even has an argument that makes sense: right now, the US is perceived by most Arabs as working hand in glove with Ariel Sharon. And they aren't even sure who's the hand and who's the glove. So long as that persists, anyone who claims to be our ally will have a share of that taint.

So, not only has the invasion saddled us with an urgent new problem, in trying to manage the seething stew of politics in Iraq (where the Pentagon and the Iranian mullahs are trying to prop up their proxy factions, each with its own army, two hostile Kurdish factions are jockeying for position in the north, two hostile Shiite factions are jockeying for position in the South, and cadres of the former Baath regime lurk in the background, down but not out), it has also made an intractable old problem more urgent.

Nice going, guys.

Tuesday, April 22, 2003

Hawks on the net are touting the current talks with North Korea as evidence that their war in Iraq really is helping to contain threats elsewhere. It's a limited success at best -- the US could have had bilateral talks at any time, and as Josh Marshall points out, the current talks involve only the Chinese, and them more as hosts than participants.

The hawks have some dissent from an unusual quarter: Donald Rumsfeld, who doesn't think it's a good idea to be talking with the Koreans no matter what is happening in Iraq. In a secret memo apparently obtained by the Daily Telegraph, he apparently argues for regime change, via a DenBestian policy of stepping up sanctions until the Korean regime collapses of its own weight. That report is seconded by The Nelson Report, a newsletter for Washington's Asia policy hands, which also notes that when Rumsfeld couldn't get the talks canceled, he tried to sabotage them again by putting hawk John Bolton in charge of the delegation.

Stepped-up conflict, inevitably leading to war, is the first resort for these guys. They actively try to suppress the alternatives.

By the way, the really significant change in the North Korean situation, as I noted a few weeks ago, is that the Chinese started dropping hints that they might restrict or cut off oil to the North Koreans if the nuclear situation stayed hot -- and they were doing that while the American army was looking overextended in Iraq, so it wasn't a reaction to Saddam's quick collapse, which happened later. Though it may have had something to do with the US State Department's subsequent decision not to protest China's human rights record to the UN Human Rights Commission, for the first time in years...

More on the evil French:

France's intelligence services attempted to build closer links to Saddam's secret service during the build-up to war last year, documents from the bombed Iraqi intelligence HQ in Baghdad obtained by The Telegraph reveal.

Aw, drattit. I'm misquoting the Telegraph again. This time, their reporter, who is shuffling through papers looted from the Iraqi intelligence HQ, has stumbled on papers implicating Germany, not France. Sorry about the typo.

This may resonate a bit with those of us who remember that Germany was the early leader in resistance to the war push -- the current Chancellor, Schröder, ran on an explicitly anti-war platform, and France actually joined German opposition.

But in the sphere of European diplomacy, and commentary thereabouts, none of that is expected to deter Dubya or his acolytes from their laserlike focus on the eeeeeevil French.

Update: Just heard on the BBC that the German official named in the documents is denying everything and threatening a libel suit.

Monday, April 21, 2003

So let me get this straight. On the one hand, Americans are expecting to get out of Iraq quickly:

"I don't think it has to be expensive, and I don't think it has to be lengthy," a senior administration official said of the postwar plan. "Americans do everything fairly quickly."


Even officials at the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid, the umbrella group headed by retired Gen. Jay Garner that will lead the postwar effort, said they expect to measure their time in Iraq in "months, not years," though Garner suggested in an interview Saturday that the United States would persevere until democracy is established.

But on the other hand, quoting the same article:

Treasury Department officials are ... thinking big, hoping to encourage the adoption of a codified system of property rights and a rule of law for business operations, a transparent system of budgeting and taxation, the promotion of an entrepreneurial economy and, ultimately, the privatization of centrally planned state enterprises.

John B. Taylor, the undersecretary of the Treasury for international affairs, said the department hopes to create "a well-functioning market economy that is growing, creating jobs and is promising a future" for the Iraqi people. He said the course Treasury would like to set "most importantly undoes the changes of the last 25 years," recreating the conditions that existed before Saddam Hussein's central planning and three costly wars.

Surely these are matters which a democratic government, should we choose to actually establish one, would decide for itself. But then again, the Pentagon's own plans seem to dictate future Iraqi policy, well past when they expect American rule to be over:

American military officials, in interviews this week, spoke of maintaining perhaps four bases in Iraq that could be used in the future: one at the international airport just outside Baghdad; another at Tallil, near Nasiriya in the south; the third at an isolated airstrip called H-1 in the western desert, along the old oil pipeline that runs to Jordan; and the last at the Bashur air field in the Kurdish north.

That story goes on to quote "officials" as saying that "access is all that is required" -- but doesn't explain why they think they can "require" anything of the future sovereign government of Iraq at all.

Of course, there is a way to square this circle -- the Americans really do expect an extended occupation, one which would allow them to dictate everything from the school curriculum to the cell phone network, but they don't expect to pay for it; instead, they expect it to be run by a nominally independant authority, run by ideologically reliable satraps nominated by America, but paid for out of Iraq's own oil revenue. Or, as undersecretary Taylor puts it:

Taylor said that [his free-market] ambition does not conflict with the Pentagon's rapid timetable, because defense officials envision a phased withdrawal from Iraq. The functions that Treasury is leading may be among the last governance efforts transferred to the interim authority, he said.

So, we transfer the responsibility of paying for the government back to the Iraqis first, and transfer the responsibility of deciding what it will do last. And in the meantime, we get to decide policy while having our colony protectorate pay for it. Brilliant!

Of course, in purely financial terms, this plan might well be a disappointment; returning to the original WaPo article:

Iraq experts warned that the administration could not count on Iraqi oil to foot the bill. James Dobbins, a former assistant secretary of state who directs the International Security and Defense Policy Center at Rand Corp., said Iraq's current production capacity of 2 million barrels of oil a day is enough to cover humanitarian relief under the United Nations' oil-for-food program and to pay war reparations to Kuwait and Iran that are not likely to be forgiven. Concerted foreign investment could raise production to 3.5 million barrels a day, Iraq's historic high, but that would take as long as five years, he said.

But even if that plan did make financial sense, it still wouldn't go down well with the Iraqis themselves, as the recent spate of demonstrations shows. But hey, who gave them a vote?

Meanwhile, there's a really peculiar sideshow going on with the acolytes of Ahmed Chalabi, the neocon pet Iraqi exile who the Pentagon flew into the country, with a few hundred handpicked followers, as the hard fighting was winding down. One of Chalabi's cronies, having declared himself "governor of Baghdad", claiming to have been "elected" at a meeting of which no one knows anything, is already apponting an OPEC delegation, so sure is he of his power. Even Jay Garner demurs, refusing to recognize the "governor." Meanwhile, Chalabi himself, who I just heard interviewed on the BBC, is more circumspect, claiming not to be a candidate for anything, though at the same time he is amazingly willing to speak ex cathedra about what "the Iraqi people" desire and believe...

Update: Rumsfeld has now denied the portions of the New York Times report that talk about permanent basing arrangements -- but the press reports I've read don't have him denying that the US might try to "require" that it have "access"...

Steven den Beste is somewhat perplexed by French resistance towards America's war in Iraq. But after pondering the matter deeply, he has finally managed to come up with a plausible explanation -- it might, he thinks, have something to do with the large and growing number of Muslims who vote in French elections.

What's astonishing about this piece is that even though the idea is completely reasonable, he still makes it sound like a crackpot conspiracy theory...

On ESPN, Jim Caple reports on the audition of Mohammed Said al-Sahaf, the former Iraqi information minister, as a part-time substitute for Yankees radio announcer John Sterling, producing a transcript which may leave Yankee fans unable to tell the difference.

Mind you, here in Boston, we've been known to be mildly critical of our own radio announcers.

But there is a difference.

One day last year, on a trip to New York, I happened to tune into a Yankee broadcast of a tight game in which the manager, with one out and men on second and third, had intentionally walked a man. Sterling and his then-partner (I believe Michael Kay) noted that they'd never seen this happen with men on first and third, though you end up with the bases loaded either way. What followed was an extended discussion of why managers act like this, which reached no definite conclusions, instead having segued into a strange discussion of the unknowable ineffability of baseball tradition.

In the same situation, the Red Sox announcers would have just said that the manager was putting a man on first to set up the double play, perhaps quickly noting in passing that it would make no sense to do that if a man was already on first, before getting into a discussion of possible pitching substitutions...

Edited for clarity...