Thursday, February 12, 2004

Drudge is reporting that Kerry has some kind of a marital infidelity issue -- though if you look at his web site right now, he's kind of schizo about what; one unattributed squib says, as far as I can tell, that the woman in question worked at the AP, while another has Clark supposedly whispering to someone, somewhere about "an intern issue".

You know, the Republicans were sure to have something like this going at fever pitch sometime before election day, whether there's any truth to it or not, and regardless of the checkered histories of nationally prominent republicans. Bring it on. If the Democrats can't deal with it, they're doomed anyway. And if they handle it well now -- by bringing up and focusing on real issues and real achievements while the Republicans rant about their own ritual purity -- it may at least be old news by the fall.

via Atrios.

One thing to remember in thinking about Iraq is that we are saving the people there from horrific violence:

A widower and the father of two young boys, Baha al-Maliki worked as a hotel receptionist in the Iraqi city of Basra until September 14 of .... That day, ... soldiers arrested him and seven other hotel workers, saying they had found a stash of weapons hidden in the hotel. His family learned nothing of his whereabouts until three days later, when ... soldiers came to their door to tell them he was dead. When al-Maliki’s father retrieved his body from the hospital, according to Amnesty International’s Khaled Chibane, “it was severely bruised and covered in blood.” The cause of death listed on his death certificate, says Chibane, was asphyxiation, apparently from being hooded during his interrogation. “It was obvious that he had died,” Chibane says, “as a result of torture.”

Or something like that. The first ellipsis above is "last year"; the others stand in for "British".

via Talk Left

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Juan Cole laments the failure of the US government to effectively argue for American ideals in the Arab world:

Goddamned Jesse Helms did irreparable damage when he succeeded in rolling the United States Information Agency into the State Department. State is always short on funds, and then security had to be beefed up at the embassies, and the USIA got starved. USIA used to have American libraries in the major cities of the Middle East. They were all closed and the books remaindered. Even the libraries that had existed were flawed, since they were English-only.

You know, if you were an Arab intellectual in Cairo, Amman or even Baghdad, and you wanted to read a book that collected some central writings of Thomas Jefferson in Arabic, you almost certainly could not get hold of such a book. I repeat: The major classics of American thought either have not been translated into Arabic, or were published in tiny editions and are now impossible to find.

But he's forgetting the highly touted "public diplomacy" initiatives of Dubya's State Department under former ad executive Charlotte Beers. Jefferson, schmefferson -- they had a lifestyle magazine and everything!

Nick Kristof knows what to do about outsourced jobs: improve American education!

In 1957, the Soviet launching of Sputnik frightened America into substantially improving math and science education. I'm hoping that the loss of jobs in medicine and computers to India and elsewhere will again jolt us into bolstering our own teaching of math and science.

Because we all know that the reason those computer jobs are going to India is that there's just no one in America who can do them. Right?

More seriously, a situation where any job can be done more cheaply out of the US -- as Intel CEO Craig Barrett seems to believe -- is not sustainable. Something's got to give -- and if it's nothing else, then sooner or later, it's going to be the value of the dollar against other currencies. Which could get to be a nasty situation here all around, not just raising the prices of imports, but also raising interest rates here (as foreign buyers of T-bills adjust to the currency risk), which would, in turn, depress real estate prices and hit holders of adjustable-rate mortgages hard.

I wish I saw a better way out...

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Some cynics say that campaign contributions to legislators these days are often nothing more than a way for fat cats of one stripe or another to pay for legislation that favors their interests. This is, of course, a completely unfair accusation. They have so many other roles:

For more than a decade, a small group of businessmen contributed tens of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of their county commissioners in Luzerne County, a waning coal center in eastern Pennsylvania. The elected officials gave the businessmen control over the county pension fund, about $200 million at its peak. After hiring insurance companies, brokerage firms and others to manage the money, the businessmen reaped several million dollars in commissions and fees from the companies.

Those who recall Ashcroft's remarks on corruption at Davos may sense a whiff of hypocrisy here -- but only if they lose track of a vital distinction: Ashcroft was talking about bribes, and these politicians took campaign contributions, duly donated according to law. Unfortunately, this point was equally lost on the crowd at Davos, which gave Ashcroft's remarks a cool reception, and the overly censorious prosecutors of Pennsylvania, who are now going after the Luzerne county crowd for racketeering. The SEC has found similar examples in seventeen states; would they all have been doing it if it wasn't OK?

Monday, February 09, 2004

Republicans these days are focused on the threat posed by weapons of mass destruction. But some situations are less threatening than others. Like the Nunn-Lugar process for trying to track and secure the nukes rattling around the former Soviet Union, for instance, which they just can't get excited about:

Presidential leadership in moving Nunn-Lugar forward is not only necessary abroad--it's also desperately needed in Washington, where conservative members of Congress have blocked efforts to enhance Nunn-Lugar. Indeed, even when the president has supported a new effort, such as the expansion of Nunn-Lugar beyond the former Soviet Union, the House has often been successful in beating it back. House conservatives have also placed severe constraints on the president's flexibility in implementing the Nunn-Lugar program, leading to major delays in executing important initiatives.

And the fruits of their stewardship are out there for all to witness. The London-based al-Hayat newspaper is now reporting that al-Qaeda bought suitcase nukes from the Ukraine six years ago -- a report which is not yet confirmed by other sources, but is at least being echoed by the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.

Well, maybe they did, and maybe they didn't. But look on the bright side. We can be damn sure that they won't be getting any weapons of mass destruction in the future from Saddam Hussein.

(Ha'aretz link via Hesiod).

A couple of stories rattling around the blogsphere that deserve a few more rounds around the echo chamber:

First off, in case you missed it on Atrios, there is a federal grand jury in Iowa which is investigating anti-war protestors. No one around can figure out what criminal activity -- at universities and by long-standing activist groups -- they are trying to investigate. Add that to the Miami model of unprovoked police brutality against actual protests, the "free speech zones" into which the Secret Service herds protestors at Dubya's appearances -- far away from the cameras -- and to allegations that the TSA is maintaining a politically motivated list of activists who are marked for special attention at airports, among the whispers and murmurs of use of state power to stifle dissent. They aren't outright criminalizing it -- yet.

Also, on Dubya's war record, Calpundit has some interesting information on the source and significance of the "torn document" which Dubya's supporters have used as support for their contention that he never shirked National Guard duty. It appears now that for much of his term, he was assigned to a dummy "paper unit" which conducted no drills and required no service. Ordinarily, this is supposed to be a disciplinary measure, though as "tough love" goes, well... it's just not that tough. (Though read the comments on this one before citing it as authoritative -- Kevin may well have gotten at least the name of the unit wrong).

Every so often, on TV these days, I catch ads for a new Rolling Stones live compilation. In the bits on the commercials, at least, they sound like they've degenerated into a bad Stones cover band -- I've heard better ones playing for spare change in the Harvard Square pit. I haven't been tempted to put money down for the whole album, to see if they do better with the rest of it. But there's still big money in it for the Stones, and so they keep going.

There's no big money for lot of really good bands around Boston which, for whatever dumb reason, never broke through nationally. When Unnatural Axe or the Lyres get back together, it's for the love of what they do, and they still do it phenomenally well. (One local act recently disappointed a video crew that had contacted them at their day jobs trying to arrange a reunion -- they had never broken up). But it can still lead to odd moments in the audience.

So, last Saturday at the Middle East upstairs, garage rock virtuosos the Lyres were headlining (the original lineup, for anyone out there who kept track of their comings and goings), with fellow veterans the Real Kids and latter-day acolytes the Coffin Lids in support. The first two bands would have been a phenomenal bill at the Rathskellar in Kenmore Square in its heyday. But the Rat closed years ago, and was more recently torn down so Boston University could put up a hotel with exterior decor so cheap that its tackiness literally made headlines. (Boston's redevelopment agency is requiring them to replace it, for the good of the neighborhood.) And the bands are showing their age and rust -- the Lyres seemed to be going over arrangments toward the beginning of their set before finally letting it rip. But when they did, it was a hell of a set.

At the door, one youngster asked if the other two bands played music in the same style as the Coffin Lids. (Ummm... no. It's the other way 'round). Inside, kids her age were mixed in with a crowd of genuinely aging scensters, which led to the occasional reunion of fans who used to know each other from the crowd, but hadn't seen each other since -- catching up on each other and gigs of other bands of that era, and complaining that there were no good new bands like that these days. (Ou sont les mosh pits d'antan?) Not too far from them, towards the end of the set, one kid who looked like she'd been in diapers during the Rat's heyday told her boyfriend she wanted to leave as soon as the Lyres played "their big song" -- three songs after they lurched into "I want to help you Anne" and the floor started shaking.

Kids these days. I swear.

Speaking of good new bands, by the way, in a rather different vein from the Lyres, the Dresden Dolls are taking their cabaret stylings on tour, with several gigs in the next month or so in New York city and upstate (they've got a gig tomorrow in NYC at Joe's pub), then striking out for the midwest and south. I'm not raving about them continually because I'm not sure that whoever's reading this wants to hear "yet another phenomenal Dolls performance" over and over... but I've been to a couple dozen by now, and have yet to hear a dud. And it's not just me -- in this year's Maxie awards, presented by Boston's local music zine The Noise, the Dolls scored a sweep, winning eight awards, including best CD and best live act. (JJ Rassler, accepting his award for best guitar, thanked the Dolls for not having a guitarist). Check them out now, and be able to say you saw them when....