Friday, March 26, 2004

So, we already know from Richard Clarke's testimony, and the White House responses to it, that Dubya's crew were, to say the least, slow off the mark combatting terrorism. (The response from their side is kind of a mess; it may be worth looking into once they get their story straight). And we've long since heard that this bunch made a point of deemphasizing ongoing investigations in al-Qaeda, as soon as they came into office.

Now, that all clearly contrasts with the policy in the Clinton White House, where dealing with the terrorist threat from al-Qaeda specifically was front and center -- with regular meetings chaired by Clarke, reviewing evidence as it became available and willing to take strong action. Had such a policy been in place in Dubya's White House, what did it have to review?

Well, there's the case of Zac Moussaoui, who was actually arrested by an FBI field office who suspected him of wanting mount an attack involving airplanes. And now there's this, from a former FBI translator:

Edmonds testified before 9/11 commission staffers in February for more than three hours, providing detailed information about FBI investigations, documents and dates. This week Edmonds attended the commission hearings and plans to return in April when FBI Director Robert Mueller is scheduled to testify. "I'm hoping the commission asks him real questions -- like, in April 2001, did an FBI field office receive legitimate information indicating the use of airplanes for an attack on major cities? And is it true that through an FBI informant, who'd been used [by the Bureau] for 10 years, did you get information about specific terrorist plans and specific cells in this country? He couldn't say no," she insists.

It is, at this point, well within the realm of possibility that had Al Gore been elected, and retained Clinton's national security priorities, strategy, and tactics, we might have gotten a few headlines about oddball arrests in late August, 2001, and September 11th would have been just a glorious sunny day in New York. And Republicans like John Ashcroft, if not Ashcroft himself (who, remember, lost his Senate seat to the dead guy), would even now be painting Gore administration anti-terrorist plans and priorities as a sinister plot to undermine the rights of citizens -- just like Ashcroft himself did incessantly while Democrats were nominally in charge of federal law enforcement.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Tom Friedman today tries out a historical analogy:

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is to the war on terrorism what the Spanish Civil War was to World War II. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is where airline hijacking, suicide bombing and assassinations with helicopter-mounted guided missiles were all perfected and made ready for export.

But it's not only types of violence that were perfected there. It was also there where Palestinian terrorists regularly attempted to hijack democratic elections on the eve of the vote. Liberal Labor Party candidates in Israel, throughout the 1980's and 1990's, always had to hold their breath that there would not be a big terrorist attack on the eve of an election. Because if there was, swing voters would usually move to the right and the Likud candidate would benefit. The Palestinian terrorists always "voted" Likud, not Labor. They wanted hard-liners at the helm in Israel because they would build more settlements and further radicalize and destabilize the situation.

And he cascades that, in turn, to a second analogy -- between those Israeli elections, and the recent elections in Spain, which currently has troops occupying Iraq, and was just subject to a massive terrorist attack. This is a powerful and lofty argument -- no matter that the Spaniards, in their own election, voted their own hawks out.

Friedman, you see, is focused on his grand vision of a long-term occupation, building a perfect, Western, free-trading secular democracy in Iraq. An early end to the occupation, no matter for what reason, would imperil that vision. But take heart, Tom. The Spanish contingent just isn't that big; most of the troops are American, and it's American policy that will tell the tale of what kind of occupation we get.

Right now, American policy seems to be to get the hell out by June 30th, and devil take the hindmost.

I'm not nearly as optimistic about Friedman about what the continuing occupation could bring -- but if a continued occupation is what he wants, he should write about the real problems with sustaining one. The fall of Aznar's reign in Spain has nothing to do with that. But this column does show us what makes Friedman unique: how many other columnists would greet a new Spanish government by publicly lecturing them on the lessons of the Spanish civil war?

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

A bit more on Microsoft -- Brad Delong's account of why he has been harmed by their anticompetitive behavior:

Remember the days when there was not one single dominant browser that came preinstalled on 95% of PCs sold? Back then there was ferocious competition in the browser market, as first a number of competitors and then Netscape and Microsoft worked furiously to upgrade their browsers and add new features to them. Most of these new features turned out to be idiotic. Some turned out to be very useful. Progress in making better browsers was rapid, because browser-makers wanted to make a better product and any new idea about what a browser should be was rapidly deployed to a large enough user base to make it worthwhile for web designers to try to use the new feature.

And now? There is no progress in browsers at all. Why should anyone (besides crazed open sourcies) write a new browser? Why should Microsoft spend any money improving its browser? The point of giving Internet Explorer away for free is to protect Windows's market, after all.

So, the open source folks are crazies -- and so sure is Brad that he doesn't even bother to check whether they have in fact produced a superior browser. For he knows, with the certainty that only economists can have about any human behavior, that doing skilled work for the sheer joy of the craft is a form of insanity.

I wonder how much his salary as an economics professor compares to what he could get on Wall Street?

Microsoft has been fined $613 million by the European Union for antitrust violations. And now, the tech world waits with bated breath to find out if the company, with cash reserves above $50 billion, will actually care...
So, why didn't anybody tell me that Mission of Burma has a couple of tracks from their new album available for download? I can't get "Wounded World" out of my head...

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

The interesting question about Clinton's reforms in welfare -- formally, Aid to Families with Dependant Children -- was not what would happen immediately after they were passed, but what would happen in the next recession, after the five-year limits had run out for some recipients. Would they still be able to get the help they would need? What would occur? And now we have the answer:

In a trend that has surprised many experts, the federal welfare rolls have declined over the last three years, even as unemployment, poverty and the number of food stamp recipients have surged in a weak economy.

Success! Even in the midst of a recession, with total jobs stagnant and the size of the labor force actually declining, the poor are being saved from the degrading experience of taking welfare payments.

And don't suggest that the right thing for government to do would be to give those people education. What would training do for them? College graduates in Dubya's economy have a higher unemployment rate than high-school dropouts.

Because compassionate conservatism is all about saving people from degrading attitudes and conditions -- like saving the undeserving kids of poor families with dependant children from the degradation of eating government handouts. Starvation builds character.

(College link via Tristero).

Monday, March 22, 2004

Some of Dubya's supporters don't much like demonstrations against him. And they're taking action, as at a recent demonstration in Fresno:

At Large returned to his work of disrupting the crowd. He told one peace activist that he was there to monitor and photograph the criminals and anti-American scum that attend these events.

And, in the spirit of civility championed by such lions of the right as George Will and Bill Bennett, they have some kindly meant advice for their respected, loyal opposition:

If I see you or any of your comrades from Dem Underground I will kick the living shit out of you you filthy faggotcunt traitor


These folks are, of course, completely committed to American values, and it would be surely libelous to suggest otherwise. They've even named the web site that they use to organize their activities "Free Republic".