Friday, May 02, 2003

John Podhoretz stands in awe of Dubya's speech yesterday:

It was a three-hanky speech. The setting, the rhetoric and the resolute and proud faces of those who serve this nation surely caused tears to spring to the eyes of literally tens of millions of Americans.

It was a significant speech as well. That's nothing new: Since 9/11 the president has delivered at least three addresses of world-historical import.

Lincoln opined at Gettysburg that "The world will little note, nor long remember, what we say here." Dubya's drones take a longer, rambling address on the boat named for Lincoln, and immediately proclaim it to have "world-historical import." It seems wiser to let history tell the tale...

Dubya's crew announces good news:

There were 199 international terrorist attacks during 2002. That represents a significant drop from the previous year ? 44% fewer attacks. In fact, it is the lowest level of terrorism in more than 30 years. The last time the annual total fell below 200 attacks was in 1969, shortly after the advent of modern terrorism. This is a remarkable achievement.

Dubya's enlightened policies must have really cut down on unprovoked atrocities against civilians, eh? Because that's what terrorism is, right? Not quite:

There are several reasons for the decrease. First, there was a sharp drop in the number of oil pipeline bombings in Colombia. There were 41 such attacks last year, down from 178 the year before.

So, more than half of the reduction in total "terrorist incidents" -- 137 out of 199 -- is accounted for by th ereduction of attacks on this one pipeline.

The "terrorists" in this case were the FARC -- a Colombian rebel army which controls a significant chunk of the country, and which earned its "terrorist" stripes as much by industrial sabotage and drug running as by atrocities against civilians.

It's correct to attribute this drop to US policy, by the way -- Dubya funded a brigade of Colombian troops with US money to protect the pipeline (owned by a US oil company, Occidental). But calling the result a reduction in terrorist attacks just underscores how much Dubya's "war on terror" is really a war on anyone who Dubya, at a whim, declares to be a terrorist.

(via Road to Surfdom)

And speaking of progress on the war on terror, real terror, and Dubya's response to it, exactly why is he so afraid of releasing that 9/11 report?

More: Calpundit grades Dubya's peformance, issuing an incomplete on terror and a failing grade on WMD.

A few weeks ago, I noted a surprise (to me, at any rate) about the war in Iraq:

the conflict was not doomed to turn the cities into meat-grinder urban battlefields, à la Stalingrad. The post-mortems on that will be interesting reads.

I still haven't read much about why exactly the dug-in Republican Guard city divisions dried up and blew away. It doesn't seem to be because the Americans have some special tricks for scattering determined, dug-in opposition, witness the problems they've had later on just dealing with unruly crowds. Well, now comes Henry Liu to offer this explanation, amid other interesting observations:

The "victory" appeared to be less than honorable, achieved mainly through treason on the part of the enemy high command induced by bribes. The Battle of Baghdad was no Iwo Jima or Stalingrad. It appeared that the massive precision bombing did not destroy the Iraqi army as much as treason facilitated through the uninterrupted linkage between the Iraqi high command and its former handlers in the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon Special Section. If these conspiracy theories are valid, then the question arises whether the intensive bombings of Baghdad and other cities, with tragic collateral damage of sizable civilian casualty, were militarily necessary, and whether the chaos after the fall of Baghdad was part of the war plan. ...

Le Monde, the French daily, reported that Maher Sufyan, commander of the Republican Guard, reached an agreement to cease resistance in exchange for money and postwar protection for himself and his top officers. Maher Sufyan is not included in the infamous "deck of cards" identifying the most wanted officials in the Saddam Hussein government. Iraq's information minister, Mohammed Saeed Al Sahaf, its foreign minister, Naji Sabri, and the minister of health, Oumid Medhat Mubarak, are also not included on the list. Vladimir Titirenko, the Russian ambassador to Iraq, told NTV upon returning to Moscow: "I am confident that the Iraqi generals entered into secret deals with the Americans to refrain from resistance in exchange for sparing their lives."

Not all of these folks may be cooperating -- American forces just don't seem to care about al-Sahhaf, as I noted below -- but the case of Sufyan is interesting, to say the least. And it also fits with the well-reported oddity that for most of the time of the Baghdad bombing raids, the bombers seemed to be deliberately avoiding the civilian phone network -- almost as if they needed it to talk to somebody. (And the less well-reported fact that bribe-induced side switching was critical to the apparent quick win in Afghanistan -- I say apparent because we have plenty of unfinished business there, but that's another rant).

Of course, as Liu goes on to note, this strategy may not work against leadership elsewhere which is capable of inspiring loyalty. Which may make it of limited use elsewhere...

A little more news from Boston:

Massachusetts is one of a very few states which appoint judges for life. It's kinda hard to get kicked off the bench in Massachusetts.

Consider, for instance, the case of Judge Maria Lopez. The furor started when Lopez sentenced a child molestor to house arrest and probation for kidnapping a little boy and making him perform a sex act with a screwdriver held to his neck. She told the prosecutors that transsexuals were "not violent people", and shouted them down in open court when they tried to remind her that this one was. Then, when the sentence became controversial, she tried to start a whispering campaign against the victim; then, when investigations into her conduct started, she lied about that. Under oath.

And the retired judge who was assigned to rule on the case, and has written a 234-page report acknowledging pretty much all of that, thinks that pattern of acts -- particularly the lies under oath -- merits strong sanction. He thinks she should take a few months to think things over, and apologize. But if she does, she can stay on the bench.

It's kinda hard to get kicked off the bench in Massachusetts.

Thursday, May 01, 2003

A bit of a rerun:

In 1770, Boston was under occupation by about 700 British regulars, who had been brought in by the lawful government of the time to maintain order. On March 5, outside the Customs House, a soldier got into a scuffle with an apprentice, who ran off --- and returned with a mob. The soldier called for relief. As it arrived, the mob got increasingly threatening, pelting the soldiers with whatever was handy, mostly snow and ice, and daring them to fire back, which they did (perhaps not hearing the orders of their commander, who was shouting "Don't fire! Don't fire!" in the tumult). Three colonials died immediately, two later on.

By public demand, stoked by radical propaganda, the soldiers were put on trial --- but under the circumstances, even a jury of colonials would not convict. First the commander, then most of the soldiers, were acquitted on all charges; the radicals got only two token convictions for manslaughter, for which the soldiers were branded on the thumbs and released. Some credit for that is probably due to the able work of the defense attorney, John Adams (yes, that John Adams), but much of it reflects the simple fact that the soldiers, at the time of the confrontation, were under attack.

The event has gone down in history as "the Boston Massacre", due largely to the propaganda efforts of some of the local radicals -- like the local silversmith with ties to secretive, radical organizations, who started selling prints of "the Bloody Massacre perpetrated in King Street", showing a distorted view in which the troops were formed into an ordered line, firing under orders into a crowd which was doing nothing to offend, and inserting a "butcher" shop in the background lest anybody miss the point.

I originally brought this up in connection with the claimed Israeli massacre at Jenin, but it's just as apropos to the current fracas in the Iraqi city of Falluja, which has so far seen thirteen Iraqi dead. It's worth noting that American troops claim that in the initial conflict, they were facing not just stones, but bullets, though those claims are hotly disputed. They are clearly facing more now -- they've been hit with a grenade attack -- but then again, the locals might say, that was only after the fifteen dead.

However, if you believe in the Tom Friedman "win friends and spread democracy" argument for the war, then what matters to your goal is less what actually happened, then what the people of the region believe. And the distorting lens of the Arab media -- like the ones already trying to hire the former Iraqi Information minister -- may be even more damaging to the cause than, say, Paul Revere's amateur printing press.

Then again, if the purpose of the war was just to convince the rest of the Arab world that we are some baaaaaad ass muhthafukkas, and nobody better pick a fight, then the events in Falluja are no trouble. No trouble at all.

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Lo, how the mighty have fallen. It seems the former Iraqi Information Minister can't get arrested in Baghdad these days.

Really, he can't:

Former Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf is attempting to surrender to US forces, according to a London-based Arabic newspaper. But Al-Sharq al-Awsat says the Americans have refused to arrest Mr Sahhaf - who became a familiar face during the war with his upbeat assessments of Iraqi military "successes" - because he does not appear on their "most wanted" list of 55 former regime officials.

Via the Whiskey Bar. Which is, once again, lest we forget, named after a song by Brecht and Weill...

Update: Then again, this guy may face some unique problems in negotiating a surrender:

al-Sahhaf rep: I'm trying to negotiate the surrender of a former high government official.

US liaison officer: OK, who?

al-Sahhaf rep: Mohammed Said al-Sahhaf, the information minister.

US liaison officer: And what would he like to do?

al-Sahhaf rep: Turn himself in to the American troops in Baghdad.

US liaison officer: I'm sorry, but that won't be possible.

al-Sahhaf rep: Why not?

US liaison officer: Because there are no American troops in Baghdad! Never!

al-Sahhaf rep: What do you mean? They're all over the place.

US liaison officer: No, they all killed themselves! They lie dead at the city gates!

al-Sahhaf rep: Look, I'm not joking here.

US liaison officer: Neither am I. There are no American troops in Baghdad.

al-Sahhaf rep: What about you?

US liaison officer: Me?

al-Sahhaf rep: You are an American troop, yes?

US liaison officer: And proud of it.

al-Sahhaf rep: So, there are American troops in Baghdad.

US liaison officer: There are no American troops in Baghdad. Never!

al-Sahhaf rep: Come on, you're here!

US liaison officer: No I'm not.

And so forth...

Remember the heady days of the stock market bubble, when it seemed that everyone on Wall Street thought that just about every stock was going up, up, up? Well, here's why it seemed like that:

In a newly disclosed tactic, Morgan Stanley and four other brokerage firms paid rivals that agreed to publish positive reports on companies whose shares Morgan and others issued to the public. This practice made it appear that a throng of believers were recommending these companies' shares.

From 1999 through 2001, for example, Morgan Stanley paid about $2.7 million to approximately 25 other investment banks for these so-called research guarantees, regulators said. Nevertheless, the firm boasted in its annual report to shareholders that it had come through investigations of analyst conflicts of interest with its "reputation for integrity" maintained.

And as for the people who thought they were now canny investors, tuning in to new financial realities:

As an analyst at Lehman Brothers told an institutional investor in an e-mail message, "well, ratings and price targets are fairly meaningless anyway," later adding, "but, yes, the `little guy' who isn't smart about the nuances may get misled, such is the nature of my business."

These tactics came to light as part of a settlement with financial regulators about the Wall Street firms' marketing tactics, and poor compliance generally with rules concerning required disclosures and insider trading.

In libertopia, of course, things would be different. There would be no regulations, no case, no settlement, and no disclosure of the tactics -- and the big banks would be able to screw investors indefinitely.

Monday, April 28, 2003

Every so often, something comes out better than I could have possibly expected:

Tom 'n' Lalla
You are The Years Of Tom And Lalla. You are a thing
of immense joy and happiness. All should
worship before you. On the negative side,
you're a bit too clever for your own good.

Which Doctor Who Season Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Update (and I'll bet you never thought you'd see an update on one of these items):

Every so often, reality sucks.

A few months ago, I was wondering why Dubya's EPA secretary, Christie Whitman, bothered to stay in office, despite her independant wealth, and snubs and humliations from Dubya's inner circle. The benefits are becoming more apparent:

Environmental Protection Agency criminal agents are being diverted from their normal investigative work to provide security and drivers for agency chief Christie Whitman -- and getting long lists of do's and don'ts to keep her happy.

EPA AGENTS assigned to investigate environmental crimes have at times been ordered to perform more personal tasks, such as returning a rental car for Whitman's husband after a trip or sitting at a table until the administrator arrived for a restaurant reservation, according to interviews with several EPA senior managers.

The lists of do's and don'ts instruct agents who chauffeur the EPA administrator to ensure they rent only a Lincoln Town Car, tune the radio to smooth jazz or classical music and set the volume low, and keep an eye out for a Starbucks coffee shop or Barnes & Noble book store.

One guy detailed to hold a restaurant table was an agent whose ordinary job involves investigating environmental crimes, at $100,000 a year.

Of course, having personnel do little favors like this for Whitman allows her to get to know them, which can be a good thing. But evidently, within limits:

[A memo] told agents to limit their chitchat. "Expect Governor Whitman to ask you how you are doing. This is not an opening to tell Governor Whitman your life story, your hobbies, your most interesting cases ... or what is wrong with the Bush administration."
Posted upon reflection, after Saturday night's Ute Lemper concert at the Berklee School of Music, the following fair warning:

The front row seats are not necessarily the best in the house.

"You chose that seat," she said. "Every choice has its consequences." And given what the occupant had suffered, I have rarely been more pleased to be seated in the mezzanine.

Those of us who didn't die of embarrassment actually got to enjoy a really good concert, featuring, among other things, a rendition of the Doors' Whiskey Bar song at least as genuine as the reformed "Doors" had on offer a day or two earlier. There was also plenty of Brecht and Weill, some in the original German, and the Joni Mitchell encores were quite a surprise.

Correction, since two people have called me on it: the "Whiskey Bar" song is Brecht and Weill -- the Doors were just covering it, and Lemper has more of a claim on it than either the real or faux Doors. I was just testing you guys. Just testing. Yeah, that's the ticket...

I'm a bit pressed for time to find something new to gripe about this morning, so here's something old, which I didn't have time for a few weeks ago:

On February 14, a Florida Appeals court ruled there is absolutely nothing illegal about lying, concealing or distorting information by a major press organization. The court reversed the $425,000 jury verdict in favor of journalist Jane Akre who charged she was pressured by Fox Television management and lawyers to air what she knew and documented to be false information. The ruling basically declares it is technically not against any law, rule, or regulation to deliberately lie or distort the news on a television broadcast.

On August 18, 2000, a six-person jury was unanimous in its conclusion that Akre was indeed fired for threatening to report the station's pressure to broadcast what jurors decided was "a false, distorted, or slanted" story about the widespread use of growth hormone in dairy cows. The court did not dispute the heart of Akre's claim, that Fox pressured her to broadcast a false story to protect the broadcaster from having to defend the truth in court, as well as suffer the ire of irate advertisers.

So much for getting reliable news out of the Murdoch media monolith -- which, remember, includes not just Fox, but prominent newspapers all over the planet.

Fox, of course, isn't the only major corporation doing its bit to manufacture consent. Radio giant Clear Channel, for instance, is largely responsible for keeping protest songs from Lenny Kravitz, REM, the Beastie Boys, and other fairly well-known bands off the air. And more -- Tim Robbins claimed in his National Press Club speech (well worth reading), that:

A famous middle-aged rock-and-roller called me last week to thank me for speaking out against the war, only to go on to tell me that he could not speak himself because he fears repercussions from Clear Channel. "They promote our concert appearances," he said. "They own most of the stations that play our music. I can't come out against this war."

And there's Clear Channel's role in funding pro-war rallies, and stirring up goons to break up antiwar protests -- if you haven't been following this, read through a few weeks of Hesiod's archives; he's been all over it.

Murdoch's conservative politics are, of course, well known. Clear Channel's management has direct ties to Dubya.

Democracy only works if people know what they're voting for. And, thanks in large measure to waves of consolidation brought about by poor enforcement of antitrust rules, and the relaxation of FCC rules on how many radio stations one company can own in a given market, the view most Americans have of the world is increasingly shaped by politically partisan companies which, in the case of Fox, are perfectly happy to argue in court their right to lie.

Is it too much to argue that this constitutes a hostile takeover of our culture by leveraged buyout? Before you answer, review Clear Channel's history; buying up all those radio stations has left them with heavy debts, and despite their dominance of the medium, they're losing money.