4/07/2004

Today in Iraq

You can't help but be surprised by the escalation of violence in Iraq. Pundits have warned for months of the declining security situation, but no one predicted that civil war would break out this soon, before the June 30th handover. What seems to have happened is that extremist Sunnis and extremist Shiites have formed an unlikely alliance to force out the United States.

And for the first time since Bush declared an end to major combat, we're fighting pitched battles. In some cities and areas, we've lost control over local governments. "[F]ollowers of a rebel cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, took over several towns, including Kut, where Ukrainian troops withdrew under pressure. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry in Kiev reported the pullout, which in effect ceded control of the city to Mr. Sadr's supporters," as the New York Times reports.

There were two things I noticed in this Times piece, one could potentially be good for the United States, the other bad. First, the good:

"Insurgent bands of fighters appear to be united in a way that is more concurrent than coordinated, more opportunistic than driven by an operational decision to merge forces.

"The most likely explanation for the coincident eruptions of violence, many Iraqis believe, is that Sunnis and Shiites are each watching the other's assaults, first in Falluja last week and then in the Sadr City neighborhood of Baghdad, Kufa, Najaf and at least three other southern cities over the weekend, sensing that the American forces were overstretched."

The alliance between Sunni and Shitte extremists--if you can call it an alliance--seems shaky at best. They haven't yet formed a united front, and probably won't anytime soon. Therefore, any progress they make against American troops will inevitably be offset by inter-"alliance" conflict. I believe this flare up in violence will only be a temporary situation.

Now for the bad news. "An official in the occupation authority said Wednesday that allied and Iraqi security forces had lost control of the key southern cities of Najaf and Kufa to the Shiite militia, conceding that months of effort to win over the population with civil projects and promises of jobs have failed with segments of the population.

""Six months of work is completely gone," the official said. "There is nothing to show for it."

"He cited reports that government buildings, police stations, civil defense garrisons and other installations built up by the Americans had been overrun and then stripped bare, of files, furnishings and even toilet fixtures.""

It's apparent that we've made no progress in large parts of the country. We have yet to gain the trust of the Iraqi people, which is critical if we're to have any success in Iraq. So we now have to ask ourselves, Where do we go from here? How do we change our approach, our strategy, our attitude in order to win over the hearts of Iraqis? Time's running out, and no one seems to have answers.

This outburst in violence should send a clear message to the administration: We have to change our policies. Unfortunately, this White House is known for sticking to its guns. Bush's motto, "Steady in Times of Change," is the last thing we need in Iraq.

Paglia

We all know that the digital age can provide a world of wonders for today’s youngsters. But the effects of digital media can be quite damaging for a developing mind, as a recent study suggests. The study, which included 1,345 children between the ages of 1 and 3, found that for every hour a preschooler watches television each day, their chances of developing attention deficit problems later in life increase by approximately 10 percent.

Camille Paglia, whom I consider to be one of today’s greatest thinkers, has just published a paper that plays on a similar theme. She argues that students have become accustomed to the quick, flashy images found in today’s media, and as a result, their attention spans have diminished. She proposes that a humanities-based curriculum should adapt to these changes, and teach student how to understand and interpret these images. Here’s a portion of the paper. I know it’s long, but read it:

“Interest in and patience with long, complex books and poems have alarmingly diminished not only among college students but college faculty in the U.S. It is difficult to imagine American students today, even at elite universities, gathering impromptu at midnight for a passionate discussion of big, challenging literary works like Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov—a scene I witnessed in a recreation room strewn with rock albums at my college dormitory in upstate New York in 1965. As a classroom teacher for over thirty years, I have become increasingly concerned about evidence of, if not cultural decline, then cultural dissipation since the 1960s, a decade that seemed to hold such heady promise of artistic and intellectual innovation. Young people today are flooded with disconnected images but lack a sympathetic instrument to analyze them as well as a historical frame of reference in which to situate them. I am reminded of an unnerving scene in Stanley Kubrick's epic film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, where an astronaut, his air hose cut by the master computer gone amok, spins helplessly off into space. The new generation, raised on TV and the personal computer but deprived of a solid primary education, has become unmoored from the mother ship of culture. Technology, like Kubrick's rogue computer, HAL, is the companionable servant turned ruthless master. The ironically self-referential or overtly politicized and jargon-ridden paradigms of higher education, far from helping the young to cope or develop, have worsened their vertigo and free fall. Today's students require not subversion of rationalist assumptions—the childhood legacy of intellectuals born in Europe between the two World Wars—but the most basic introduction to structure and chronology. Without that, they are riding the tail of a comet in a media starscape of explosive but evanescent images.

“The extraordinary technological aptitude of the young comes partly from their now-instinctive ability to absorb information from the flickering TV screen, which evolved into the glassy monitor of the omnipresent personal computer. Television is reality for them: nothing exists unless it can be filmed or until it is rehashed onscreen by talking heads. The computer, with its multiplying forums for spontaneous free expression from e-mail to listservs and blogs, has increased facility and fluency of language but degraded sensitivity to the individual word and reduced respect for organized argument, the process of deductive reasoning. The jump and jitter of U.S. commercial television have demonstrably reduced attention span in the young. The Web too, with its addictive unfurling of hypertext, encourages restless acceleration.

“Knowing how to "read" images is a crucial skill in this media age, but the style of cultural analysis currently prevalent in universities is, in my view, counterproductive in its anti-media bias and intrusive social agenda. It teaches students suspicion and paranoia and, with its abstract European terminology, does not offer an authentic anthropology of the North American media environment in which they came to consciousness. Post-structuralism and postmodernism do not understand magic or mystique, which are intrinsic to art and imagination. It is no coincidence that since postmodernist terminology seeped into the art world in the 1980s, the fine arts have receded as a major cultural force. Creative energy is flowing instead into animation, video games, and cyber-tech, where the young are pioneers. Character-driven feature films, on the other hand, have steadily fallen in quality since the early nineties, partly because of Hollywood's increasing use of computer graphics imaging (CGI) and special effects, advanced technology that threatens to displace the live performing arts.



“Works that make the most immediate as well as the most lasting impact on undergraduates, I have found, usually have a magic, mythological, or intensely emotional aspect, along with a choreographic energy or clarity. Here is a quick overview of objects from the Western tradition that have proved consistently effective, as assessed by student performance on midterm and final exams. Among ancient artifacts, the bust of queen Nefertiti, with its strange severity and elegance; the monumental Hellenistic sculpture group of the Trojan priest Laocoön and his two sons being strangled by serpents; and the Varvakeion Athena, our small Roman-era copy of the colossal, chryselephantine statue of the armed Athena from the Parthenon. The latter in particular, with its dense iconography of coiled serpent, winged Victory, triple-crested helmet, and aegis with gorgon's head medallion, seems to burn its way into student memory. Images from the Middle Ages, aside from elegant French Madonnas and Notre Dame's gargoyles and flying buttresses, have proved less successful in my experience than the frankly carnal images of the Italian Renaissance. A dramatic contrast can be drawn between Donatello's sinuously homoerotic, bronze David and his late, carved-wood Mary Magdalene, with its painful gauntness and agonized posture of repentance. Two standards never lose their power in the classroom: Botticelli's Birth of Venus, where the nude goddess of love stands in the dreamy S-curve of a Gothic Madonna, and Leonardo's eerie Mona Lisa, with its ambiguous lady, barren landscape, and mismatched horizon lines. From Michelangelo's huge body of work, the deepest response, independent of the students' religious background, has been to his marble Pietà, where a ravishingly epicene dead Christ slips from the lap of a heavily shrouded, strikingly young Mary, and second to a surreally dual panel in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Temptation and Fall: on one side of the robust tree wound by a fat, female-bodied serpent, sensual Eve reaches up for the forbidden fruit, while on the other, an avenging angel drives the anguished sinners out of paradise.

“Because of its inherent theatricality, the Baroque works resoundingly well with undergraduates. Paramount exhibits are Bernini's designs for St. Peter's Basilica: the serpentine, 95-foot high, bronze pillars of the Baldachino (canopy) over the main altar; or the elevated chair of Saint Peter—wood encased in bronze and framed by a spectacular Glory, a solar burst of gilded beams. Next is Bernini's Cornaro Chapel in Rome's Church of Santa Maria della Vittoria, with its opera-box stage setting, flamboyant columns of multicolored marble, and over the altar the wickedly witty marble-and-bronze sculpture group, Ecstasy of St. Teresa, where spiritual union and sexual orgasm occur simultaneously.

“Nineteenth-century Romantic and realist painting offers a staggering range of image choices. Standouts in my classes have included the following: Gericault's Raft of the Medusa, a grisly intertwining of the living and the dead, bobbing on dark, swelling seas against a threatening sky. Delacroix's The Death of Sardanapalus, inspired by a Byron poem, with its swirl of luxury and butchery around the impassive king of Nineveh, who has torched his palace and capital. Turner's The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (chronicling a disaster Turner witnessed in 1834), where nature conquers politics and the Thames itself seems aflame. (Of several views in this series, the version owned by the Cleveland Museum of Art is best because most panoramic.) Manet's Girl at the Bar of the Folies Bergère, a penetrating study of social class and exploitation amid the din and glitter of modern entertainment: we ourselves, thanks to a trick mirror, become the dissolute, predatory boulevardier being waited on by a wistful young woman lost in the harsh night world of the city.

“Twentieth-century art is prolific in contrasting and competitive styles but less concerned with the completeness or autonomy of individual images. Two exceptions are Picasso's still intimidatingly avant-garde Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, with its brothel setting, contorted figures, and fractured space, and second, his monochrome mural, Guernica, the most powerful image of political protest since Goya, a devastating spectacle of fire, fear, and death. Also unfailingly useful are Hollywood glamour stills from the 1920s to the 1950s, which are drawn from a slide collection that I have helped build at the University of the Arts since 1990. I view these suave portrait photos, with their formal poses and mesmerizing luminosity, as true works of art in the main line of Western culture.

“But an education in images should not simply be a standard art-survey course—though I would strongly defend the pedagogical value of survey courses, which are being unwisely marginalized or dismantled outright at many American colleges. Thanks to postmodernism, strict chronology and historical sweep and synthesis are no longer universally appreciated or considered fundamental to the graduate training of humanities professors. But chronology is crucial if we hope, as we must, to broaden the Western curriculum to world cultures. To maintain order, the choice of representative images will need to be stringently narrowed. I envision a syllabus based on key images that would give teachers great latitude to expand the verbal dimension of presentation, including an analysis of style as well as a narrative of personal response. I will give three examples of prototypical images for my proposed course plan. They would play on students' feeling for mystery yet ground them in chronology and encourage them to evaluate historical evidence. The first example is from the Stone Age; the second from the Byzantine era; the third from pre-Columbian Central America."

Only Poor Kids Left Behind

According to the AP, “Eleven states will get less federal money for poor students next school year” as a result of No Child Left Behind. Those states include Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Dakota, Ohio and Pennsylvania. You may notice that six of those (Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Hampshire, Ohio, and Pennsylvania) are considered to be battleground states from the 2004 election. Kerry and crew, hit this one hard!

The Center for American Progress says that the situation is more severe than what’s reported in this AP article:

“Department of Education data obtained by the Center of American Progress, formerly unavailable to the public, reveals the problem is even worse than previously reported. Data detailing cuts at the local level shows over 7,000 school districts – not just in 11 states but across the nation – will face significant cuts in federal funds to help disadvantaged kids in reading, math and other subjects. Nearly half of all school districts and millions of children will be affected.

“The Bush administration's persistent underfunding of federal education programs is largely responsible for the cuts. For 2004, the President has spent more than $6 billion less in Title I education funding than he committed to when he signed the No Child Left Behind Act.”

4/06/2004

Questions on Brooks

David Brooks’ December 2001 Atlantic piece is now getting a thorough examination, and some are questioning whether the Times Op-Ed columnist fabricated bits of information for the piece. The controversy erupted when Sasha Issenberg wrote a piece for Philadephia magazine, which looks at some of the research and evidence backing Brooks’ article. Brooks had traveled to Franklin County, Pennsylvania to examine the differences between this rural county and Brooks’ home county of Montgomery County, Maryland. The point was to show that the cultural divide between “Red” states and “Blue” is widening. It didn’t seem to matter that Pennsylvania and Maryland, having both voted for Gore, are blue states.

Issenberg followed Brooks’ footsteps and discovered that many of Brooks’ observations were in fact false. This is from Issenberg’s Philadelphia pieces (quotes are from the Brooks piece):

“As I made my journey, it became increasingly hard to believe that Brooks ever left his home. “On my journeys to Franklin County, I set a goal: I was going to spend $20 on a restaurant meal. But although I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu—steak au jus, ‘slippery beef pot pie,’ or whatever—I always failed. I began asking people to direct me to the most expensive places in town. They would send me to Red Lobster or Applebee’s,” he wrote. “I’d scan the menu and realize that I’d been beaten once again. I went through great vats of chipped beef and ‘seafood delight’ trying to drop $20. I waded through enough surf-and-turfs and enough creamed corn to last a lifetime. I could not do it.”

“Taking Brooks’s cue, I lunched at the Chambersburg Red Lobster and quickly realized that he could not have waded through much surf-and-turf at all. The “Steak and Lobster” combination with grilled center-cut New York strip is the most expensive thing on the menu. It costs $28.75. “Most of our checks are over $20,” said Becka, my waitress. “There are a lot of ways to spend over $20.”
“The easiest way to spend more than $20 on a meal in Franklin County is to visit the Mercersburg Inn, which boasts “turn-of-the-century elegance.” I had a $50 prix-fixe dinner, with an entrée of veal medallions, served with a lump-crab and artichoke tower, wild-rice pilaf and a sage-caper-cream sauce. Afterward, I asked the inn’s proprietors, Walt and Sandy Filkowski, if they had seen Brooks’s article. They laughed.

“I called Brooks to see if I was misreading his work. I told him about my trip to Franklin County, and the ease with which I was able to spend $20 on a meal. He laughed. “I didn’t see it when I was there, but it’s true, you can get a nice meal at the Mercersburg Inn,” he said. I said it was just as easy at Red Lobster. “That was partially to make a point that if Red Lobster is your upper end?” he replied, his voice trailing away. “That was partially tongue-in-cheek, but I did have several mini-dinners there, and I never topped $20.””

Following this report, the New Republic published an article in defense of Brooks. The Daily Howler points out that this is the same publication that once featured Stephen Glass as one of its star reporters. It ought to be more careful when criticizing or defending the integrity of a questionable piece. Here’s what they had to say:

“In my mind, the real question here is why this otherwise thin anti-Brooks piece is resonating so much, particularly with liberals and other journalists. I think it has something to do with a sense of ideological betrayal on the one hand, and jealousy on the other. As my colleague Frank Foer suggested yesterday around the water cooler (and--note to Issenberg--I mean that figuratively, not literally), liberals still can't seem to get over the fact that the warm, fuzzy David Brooks they got to know on PBS has turned out to be such a fire-breathing conservative on the Times op-ed page. Meanwhile, I get the impression that journalists like me are perpetually annoyed that Brooks has, in a sense, been a highly successful journalistic entrepreneur: That is, he managed to invent (or, as it happens, revive) a genre of writing that's proved both incredibly popular and engaging while at the same time requiring much less effort than would be involved in literally chronicling various events, institutions, and trends--which is the standard journalist way of doing things. It's not surprising that this makes the rest of us resent him--if only a little bit. That doesn't mean we should feel free to pummel him.”

TNR doesn’t deny that some of Brooks’ facts are shaky. It’s just that such a story doesn’t merit a 3,000-word attack piece. And the amount of attention that the Brooks attack piece has received, as TNR suggests, is based on a certain schadenfreude among fellow journalists. If TNR’s defense of Brooks is based solely on the size and intensity of the criticism, then I don’t buy it.

Nader Update

Nader’s schemes to get on state ballots do not seem to be paying off. In Oregon—a pro-Nader state if there is such a thing—Ralphie failed to recruit the 1,000 people necessary to place him on the ballot.

Here’s the AP’s account:

Of all states, Ralph Nader should have had no trouble getting onto the Oregon presidential ballot given the support he's had here.

Most political observers had expected Nader would easily draw enough supporters at a Monday evening petition-signing rally intended to make Oregon the first state to qualify Nader for the 2004 ballot.

But only 741 people showed up — far short of the 1,000 required by Oregon law.

4/05/2004

Nader Today

It has been roughly a month since Nader made his announcement, and we're now beginning to see the effect of his candidacy. Those polls that factor in Nader show Bush with a marginal advantage over Kerry. However, those findings could easily be misunderstood. Die-hard Nader supporters would never have supported Kerry, even if Nader had remained out of the race. Kerry, a candidate who voted for the Iraq war and for the Patriot Act, would have had a difficult time attracting those from the extreme left. Ultimately, most committed Nader voters would have stayed home on election day.

There are also those Nader voters who are tentatively supporting the canidate, but will change their allegiance once election day approaches. When the reality sets in that Bush could potentially be re-elected, those voters will start to think rationally about Nader's chances.

Here's the Note's summary of Nader news:

The Washington Post's Brian Faler on Nader's ballot access challenges. Nader needs to get some 620,000 valid signatures to get on the ballot in all 50 states. He's going after the most difficult states first and in some cases getting creative. He's in Portland today to take advantage of an obscure law that gets him on the ballot if he can wrangle up 1000 petition-signers and get them together in one room. LINK

And, says Faler:

"Nader will run with at least one party -- his own. The candidate recently created the Populist Party, under whose banner he will run in states that require fewer signatures from new parties than they do from individual candidates. In North Carolina, for example, election officials ask for about 100,000 signatures from independent candidates but fewer than 60,000 from people organizing new parties."

The New York Times' John Tierney on Republican donors to Nader's campaign. Turns out that some people who had previously given money to Bush or to the Republican Party also gave Nader some dough. But conspiracy theorists will be disappointed so far. It seems the motives for the giving don't have much to do with political intrigue after all. LINK

The culprits? Among them pizza magnate Jeno Paulucci, who calls Nader "a good guy" and also the eponymous host of game show "Win Ben Stein's Money" who says of his $2000 donation to Nader:

"If he gets into the debates and raises issues about securities fraud that no one else has raised, I consider it money well donated."

The Philadelphia Inquirer's Dick Polman writes that Nader's run has made him something of a pariah among liberals and former supporters. Nader himself lists the deserting stars. LINK

"Phil Donahue, Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins . . . not to mention Danny Glover, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Moore, Willie Nelson."

In the end, though, Polman asks an excellent question:

"If liberals are really so determined to vote Democratic and take no risks this year, why are they worried about Nader in the first place? That's what he's wondering. And most polls thus far don't paint Nader as a major threat to Kerry. But, as a national Democrat said privately the other day: "We're still very sensitive, almost superstitious, about anything related to the devastating outcome in 2000."

Roll Call's Stuart Rothenberg says early polls giving Nader anywhere from 3-5 percent, don't represent reality and that his draw will most likely end up being less.

"There are still enough backpack carrying, anti-corporate vegans to get 1 or 2 percentage points in the general election. "

But "does this mean that on Nov. 3 we won't look at Nader's vote in Florida, New Hampshire, Oregon or New Mexico and conclude that he "cost" Kerry a state or two and therefore the election? Of course not. If an election is close enough, anything is possible."

Iraq's Decline

Everyone has noticed that the past few days have marked a turing point for Iraq. I woke-up this morning thinking that yesterday's events were the quivalent of an Iraqi Tet Offensive. Ted Kennedy seems to agree. In a speech today at the Brookings Institution, Kennedy described Iraq as "George Bush's Vietnam."

And at Healing Iraq, a blog run by an Iraqi dentist, you'll find a frightening account of yesterday's and today's events:

"A coup d'etat is taking place in Iraq a the moment. Al-Shu'la, Al-Hurria, Thawra (Sadr city), and Kadhimiya (all Shi'ite neighbourhoods in Baghdad) have been declared liberated from occupation. Looting has already started at some places downtown, a friend of mine just returned from Sadun street and he says Al-Mahdi militiamen are breaking stores and clinics open and also at Tahrir square just across the river from the Green Zone. News from other cities in the south indicate that Sadr followers (tens of thousands of them) have taken over IP stations and governorate buildings in Kufa, Nassiriya, Ammara, Kut, and Basrah. Al-Jazeera says that policemen in these cities have sided with the Shia insurgents, which doesn't come as a surprise to me since a large portion of the police forces in these areas were recruited from Shi'ite militias and we have talked about that ages ago. And it looks like this move has been planned a long time ago.

"No one knows what is happening in the capital right now. Power has been cut off in my neighbourhood since the afternoon, and I can only hear helicopters, massive explosions, and continuous shooting nearby. The streets are empty, someone told us half an hour ago that Al-Mahdi are trying to take over our neighbourhood and are being met by resistance from Sunni hardliners. Doors are locked, and AK-47's are being loaded and put close by in case they are needed. The phone keeps ringing frantically. Baghdadis are horrified and everyone seems to have made up their mind to stay home tomorrow until the situation is clear.

"Where is Shitstani? And why is he keeping silent about this?

"I have to admit that until now I have never longed for the days of Saddam, but now I'm not so sure. If we need a person like Saddam to keep those rabid dogs at bay then be it. Put Saddam back in power and after he fills a couple hundred more mass graves with those criminals they can start wailing and crying again for liberation. What a laugh we will have then. Then they can shove their filthy Hawza andmarji'iya up somewhere else. I am so dissapointed in Iraqis and I hate myself for thinking this way. We are not worth your trouble, take back your billions of dollars and give us Saddam again. We truly 'deserve' leaders like Saddam.

"UPDATE: Sorry for the depressing note. It seems like everything is back under control, at least from what I can see in my neighbourhood. There is an eerie silence outside, only dogs barking. Until about an hour ago, it sounded like a battlefield, and we had flashbacks of last April. I don't know what happened, but there were large plumes of smoke from the direction of Adhamiya and Kadhimiya. I wanted to take some pictures but my father and uncle both said they would shoot me on the spot if I tried, they were afraid the Apaches would mistake us for troublemakers and fire at us. I'm dreading tomorrow."

Global Warming? Haven't Heard of It

The Observer got its hands on some real juicy material. Someone sent the paper a copy of an email sent by the White House to the press secretaries of all the Republican congressmen, instructing them on how to address questions on the environment. The White House's choice of defense? Deny. Perhaps the most disturbing part of the memo is the heading: "From Medi-Scare to Air-Scare," as if these issues aren't problems, just point of hysteria. And I quote from the Observer:

"It tells them how global warming has not been proved, air quality is 'getting better', the world's forests are 'spreading, not deadening', oil reserves are 'increasing, not decreasing', and the 'world's water is cleaner and reaching more people'.

"The email - sent on 4 February - warns that Democrats will 'hit us hard' on the environment. 'In an effort to help your members fight back, as well as be aggressive on the issue, we have prepared the following set of talking points on where the environment really stands today,' it states.

"The memo - headed 'From medi-scare to air-scare' - goes on: 'From the heated debate on global warming to the hot air on forests; from the muddled talk on our nation's waters to the convolution on air pollution, we are fighting a battle of fact against fiction on the environment - Republicans can't stress enough that extremists are screaming "Doomsday!" when the environment is actually seeing a new and better day.'

"Among the memo's assertions are 'global warming is not a fact', 'links between air quality and asthma in children remain cloudy', and the US Environment Protection Agency is exaggerating when it says that at least 40 per cent of streams, rivers and lakes are too polluted for drinking, fishing or swimming.

"It gives a list of alleged facts taken from contentious sources. For instance, to back its claim that air quality is improving it cites a report from Pacific Research Institute - an organisation that has received $130,000 from Exxon Mobil since 1998."

While we're on the subject of New York Times Op-Ed columnists, William Safire's piece in the today's Times was a new low. Using the analogy of a floo floo bird, Safire suggests that we're paying too much attention to previous intelligence failures. And instead of obsessing over past mistakes, we should be discussing and debating tomorrow's policies. He's partly right; we do have to focus our energies and efforts on figuring out al Qaeda's next move.

But Safire forgets one important fact: that the success of our future intelligence work will come partly from understanding the intelligence failures of the past. As a staunch conservative, Safire is only playing the role of a Bush defender, giving a half-ass attempt to redirect America's attention from the 9/11 proceedings.

I Matched with Jayson Blaire?

Oh boy, oh boy. Find out which New York Times Op-Ed columnist you are! Thank god I didn't get Maureen Dowd. I wish I had matched with David Brooks, but alas, I'll have to settle for Thomas Friedman:

You are Thomas L. Friedman! You're the foreign affairs expert. You're liberal on most issues, except you're a leading voice in the pro-war movement. You're probably the most popular columnist at the Times, but probably because you play both sides of the Iraq issue and relish your devotion to what you call "fanatical moderatism." You sure can write, but you could work on your sense of humor.

4/04/2004

Liberal Media

With Wednesday's launch of the Air America Radio network, you would think that it was a good week for liberal media. Instead it was a disaster.

CNN has been suffering from a decline in viewership for years now. And perhaps the quality of content has also been falling. This week, CNN's two major blunders--one with Wolf Blitzer, another involving Daryn Kagan--gave us some insight into the channel's recklessness. (I guess that's the risk you have with running a 24-hour news channel.) Here's the recap from Salon's War Room site:

(From April 1, 2004) David Letterman and CNN are squabbling over a clip Dave showed on Monday night of a boy yawning behind President Bush. Here's a description from the newsletter of The Late Show Home Office, the Wahoo Gazette. From the sound of it, CNN really screwed up on this one.

"Last night we showed a clip of the President giving a speech. Behind him stood a lad who was obviously bored silly. The 14-year-old or so yawned, scratched, yawned, yawned, checked his watch, bent over, stared at the ceiling, and then fell asleep during the President's speech. It was very funny. So funny, in fact, that CNN replayed the clip Tuesday during their broadcasts. But, but, but, the first time is was shown, CNN anchorwoman Daryn Kagan reported that the White House said the clip was a total fake, it was merely the Late Show having fun with their ability to edit and do TV tricks. Dave says what the CNN reporter said was an out and out 100 percent lie. A couple hours later, CNN anchor person Kyra Phillips reported that the kid was at the speech but not where the Late Show had him. Dave again makes the claim, "That's an out and out absolute 100 percent lie. That kid was exactly where we said he was." It's true. The speech was at a Florida Rally on March 20th at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida. Dave is irked that the White House was trying to make him look like a jerk. But he's glad he got his side of the story out in the open."

But there's more. The Washington Post TV column says that not long after Letterman said on the air that CNN was lying, he "read one of his trademark cards that he's always fiddling with, and started to laugh: "God almighty, my life just gets more and more complicated. You know, just a minute ago . . . I was ranting and raving about the White House. According to this, CNN has just phoned and, according to this information, the anchorwoman misspoke, they never got a comment from the White House. It was a CNN mistake. 'What good does that do me? . . . I've already now called them liars. I think from now on we're going to have to start looking into things,'" Letterman said. 'Why start now?' his bandleader Paul Shaffer said. 'Because everything was fine, except now I've called the White House liars, and you know what that means -- they're going to start looking into my taxes!'"

A CNN spokeswoman told the Post that the problem had arisen due to "a misunderstanding among staff," but would not elaborate.

(From April 2, 2004) In his New York Times column today Paul Krugman lets Wolf Blitzer have it – again. To recap the Blitzer-Krugman flap: In his column last week, Krugman cited a comment Blitzer made on CNN, sourcing unnamed White House officials, that former counterterrorism chief and White House critic Richard Clarke had a "weird" personal life. Blitzer took issue with Krugman's column, and defended his citing of anonymous sources in a smear of Clarke by saying he was referring to comments made two days prior on CNN by National Security Council spokesman Jim Wilkinson. Here's what Wilkinson said: "He sits back and visualizes chanting by bin Laden, and bin Laden has a mystical mind control over U.S. officials. This is sort of 'X-Files' stuff."

Krugman went to the source of Wilkinson's allegation, on page 246 of Clarke's book "Against All Enemies." Clarke wrote: "Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed … It was as if Usama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush."

Krugman writes: "That's not 'X-Files' stuff: it's a literary device, meant to emphasize just how ill conceived our policy is. Mr. Blitzer should be telling Mr. Wilkinson to apologize, not rerunning those comments in his own defense. Look, I understand why major news organizations must act respectfully toward government officials. But officials shouldn't be sure — as Mr. Wilkinson obviously was — that they can make wild accusations without any fear that they will be challenged on the spot or held accountable later."

So, just to make sure we're on the same page here: An administration official on Blitzer's show questions Clarke's sanity by distorting something in his book about Bush's policy toward Osama bin Laden. The smear goes unchallenged. Two days later, Blitzer refers to smear but in such vague terms that viewers can only imagine just what "weird" behavior Clarke is up to. When challenged by Krugman, Blitzer defends himself using videotape of original smear, again without challenging it. Let's see if Wolf responds to Krugman's latest column in any appropriate way. Like, say, with an apology.

Bob Somerby at The Daily Howler has another good poston this whole fiasco, saying: "People like Blitzer have to decide what to do about this White House. Wilkinson laughed in Blitzer's face when he peddled his fake, phony spin. But the Bush aide also did something more serious -- he laughed in the face of Blitzer's viewers. The time has come for people like Blitzer to decide what to do about that."

The whole thing is really kind of funny, even if it makes CNN look pathetic. Krugman, for his part, sees something more sinister at work: A pattern of CNN running willy-nilly with information from anonymous White House officials, and getting themselves into a pickle -- and misinforming however many thousands of Americans watching -- when the information turns out to be flat wrong. Krugman writes: "There's no excuse for disseminating unchecked rumors because they come from 'the White House,' then denying the White House connection when the rumors prove false. That's simply giving the administration a license to smear with impunity."



Also this week, the Atlanic published Howell Raines' account of the Jayson Blaire scandal. I'm half-way through the piece, and from what I've read, Times critics will surely be pleased with Raines' message. The former executive editor describes the inner struggle that's tearing apart the Times, and the culture of complacency that's increasingly making the paper irrelevant. It's a battle between those motivated to achieve, to succeed, to produce strong work, to bring change to the Times, and those who settle for mediocrity and resist change. The Times' attitude of superiority has allowed the paper to decline to point where its future is now jeopardized, Mr. Raines argues.

Bob Edwards' dismissal from "Morning Edition" showed that NPR, too, has its problems. According to CNN (look, I'm still citing that dreadful source): "Spokeswoman Laura Gross said NPR's programming and news management made the change because they're trying to refresh all the network's broadcasts." Such a bold change can only suggest that there's serious trouble at America's source for liberal radio.

And finally, we're back to Air America Radio. The pundits have questioned for months whether there's a market for liberal talk radio. Some have said no, that a liberal agenda cannot be translated into the harsh, dirty, negative style of talk radio. Others have said yes, that the liberals can talk just as critically as conservatives, and that a market for liberal radio does exist. Who knows. But so far the quality of programming at Air America Radio has been dismal. Perhaps I haven't listened to enough talk radio, but it sounds like a foreign language to me. Angry rants are usually backed by muddled logic, and that seems to be the case with Air America Radio as well as with the rest of talk radio.


4/02/2004

Bush and Africa

Bush’s policies towards Africa have been shaped by three influences: Christian conservatives, the energy sector, and national security. Christian conservatives have pushed for a more humanitarian approach towards Africa, and the Bush administration has listened. Bush’s methods have been logical and compassionate at times (e.g., stronger presence in resolving the Sudanese crisis). Then again, his AIDS-prevention initiatives (largely influenced by Christian conservatives) have emphasized abstinence over condom distribution (the ABC program in Uganda).

Bush also has tried give American oil companies greater access to Africa’s oil reserves. As the administration says, we’ve got to reduce our dependence on Middle East oil, and one way to do that is to look elsewhere.

Finally it’s the issue of national security. We’ve provided assistance (intelligence, equipment, advanced technology, weaponry, etc.) to our African allies and their internal security forces, with the idea that they’ll manage the terrorists in their own ways.

For a full and complete take on these issues, go to African Oil Politics. Obviously, the blog highlights the oil factor, but it also addresses the other issues.

Africa and al-Qaeda

Africa has its fair share of failed states, and it’s in these countries—with their collapsed economies and corrupt political systems—that Islamic extremists have found safe havens. Once again, I refer you to the New Republic. In January, TNR had a piece about al-Qaeda’s activities in a small island off the coast of Kenya.

Here’s what it has to say:

“First made popular by Mick Jagger in the 1970s, this sleepy island just off the Kenyan coast has long been a favorite retreat for Europeans, both entertainment royalty and low-end backpacker tourists, all of whom want to escape the real world. During the past year, however, the real world's problems have crept in. The Thanksgiving Day 2002 suicide attack on the Paradise Hotel near Mombasa and the simultaneous attempted downing of an Israeli jetliner with shoulder-fired missiles have badly damaged Kenya's tourism industry: Though in 1996 Kenya attracted more than one million tourists, the Kenya Tourist Board says that it drew roughly 480,000 between January and November of 2003. The attacks also gave Lamu a new--and more sinister--reputation. Several of the men who planned and carried out the November bombing, it turned out, were members of an Al Qaeda-affiliated cell that used Lamu and other remote islands along the Kenyan coast as way stations and hiding places while they plotted. In fact, Lamu has quietly become a breeding ground for militant Islam. Now, Kenyan and American law enforcement officials have descended on this paradise, moving into Lamu's hotels, conducting interrogations, and frantically searching for Al Qaeda members.


"But, in the dank warrens of Lamu Town two miles down the beach, there are more serious problems. The residents of Lamu Town are primarily Muslim traders, fishermen, boat-builders, and coconut farmers. Most do not share in the island's tourist-generated wealth and have felt neglected for decades by the Christian-dominated Kenyan central government. In fact, the money from tourism has benefited only a handful of property owners in Lamu who rent their houses to wealthy Europeans, some Christians brought in to work at such resorts as Peponi, and a few Muslim boatmen, furniture-makers, and antiques vendors. But, for the most part, the Europeans on the island inhabit their own private world, while Lamu Town remains a filthy, garbage-strewn place with open sewers and donkey feces in the streets. Worse, years of neglect by the regime of corrupt former Kenyan President Daniel arap Moi, a Christian who left office in late 2002 after 24 years in power, deepened the town's poverty and fostered resentment toward the Kenyan government and the West, which backed Moi. In fact, Lamu Town voted overwhelmingly for the opposition party in Kenya's last national election.

"And, though Lamu is hardly a hotbed of Islamic extremism, Moi's mistakes and the dichotomy between Western tourists and the Lamu Town poor have created a welcoming atmosphere for Muslim extremists' anti-Western message. As I wandered past black-veiled women and scrawny children in Lamu Town, I confronted graffiti on the ancient walls celebrating Osama bin Laden and warning, BUSH, PREPARE FOR ANOTHER ATTACK. Omar, my guide, told me that two of Lamu's dozen mosques--one Shia, one Sunni (which have become known as fundamentalist hotbeds) erupted in celebrations after the World Trade Center terrorist attacks two years ago. "The police made a lot of arrests after September eleventh, and they keep a close watch on those known to be [Al Qaeda] sympathizers," Omar told me. "That's driven many of them underground, but they're still there."”


For more on this subject, go to Winds of Change. They’ve posted an excellent summary of al-Qaeda’s activities in Algeria. You’ll see from this summary, and from other analyses, that Islamic fundamentalism in the continent has grown out of the despair and misery that’s widespread in Africa. It's not a natural, home-grown phenomenon. Not really a shocker.

To give you a sample of what’s up on the site, here’s “The Genesis of Algerian Extremism”:

"The origins of Algerian extremism are fairly common knowledge, though Fred Pruitt has theorized that one of the reasons that extremism is so prevalent in Algerian is that as a result of the sheer brutality of the nation's war for independence against France that barbaric violence became ingrained as an element of the national culture. As a result, Fred sees the Algerian Islamists' decision to orchestrate their war against the civilian government as being an entirely logical decision given the violent tendencies of the culture. Whether or not he's right I can't say, although that would certainly explain the equal levels of brutality with which the Algerian military has responded against the extremists ...

"In any case, in December 1991 the Algerian political party Front Islamique de Salut (Islamic Salvation Front or FIS) won 188 seats in the National People's Assembly during the first round of elections, with the National Liberation Front (FLN) that had governed Algeria ever since its independence winning only 15. FIS had already declared its intention to dissolve the Assembly and implement the sha'riah upon being elected and a quote from FIS leader Ali Belhadj ("When we are in power, there will be no more elections because God will be ruling") is one of the origins of the phrase, "One man, one vote, one time." The second round of elections was never held as a state of emergency was declared, FIS was banned, and a military junta took control of the country through the Higher Council of State that is today commonly referred to by Algerians as simply le Pouvoir or "the Power." FIS leaders Abassi Madani and Ali Belhadj were arrested, though several other key leaders including Abdelkader Hachani, Rabah Kheir, and bin Laden's ally Khamareddine Kherbane managed to escape to Europe, where the organization established an executive branch and a military council in exile in Germany.

"Back in Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Army and the Armed Islamic Group (GIA) emerged to fight the Algerian military for control of the country. The latter, formed in 1993, was particularly ruthless with its assassination campaigns against Algerian diplomats, priests, industrialists, intellectuals, feminists, Sufis, and foreigners. Razing entire villages and claimed that its actions were motivated by jihad, the GIA hacked its victims to death with swords, axes, and chain saws as a means of saving ammunition. Those believed to be guilty of apostacy were doused with petroleum and set on fire. To further compound the violence, the Algerian military was known to wipe out villages on its own accord, claiming the destruction to be the work of the GIA, in order to turn the public against them.

"I am uncertain as to when exactly the GIA first became an al-Qaeda affiliate, though it is known that one of the group's first emir-generals, Abdel Haqq Layada, was himself a member of the terrorist network so it would have had to have been prior to his rise to power. In any event, the GIA under Layada and his successors staged one of the most ruthless terrorist campaigns ever conceived and over 120,000 Algerians civilians have died since the carnage first began in 1992. Antar Zouabri, who assumed the emir-generalcy of the GIA in June 1996 following the death of his predecessor, even proceeded to issue a 60-page fatwa that declared the entire Algerian general population to be kufr for failing to support his campaign against the government as well as justifying indiscriminate attacks against civilians.

"It was this fatwa, despite its blessing from Abu Qatada, bin Laden's ambassador in Europe and the editor of the GIA propaganda tract al-Ansar, that earned Zouabri bin Laden's disapproval. In addition to doing a great deal of damage to the support for Islamist revolution in Algeria, Zouabri was also spending too much of his time killing villagers and not enough fighting the Algerian government. As a result, al-Qaeda contacted Hassan Hattab, the head of the GIA's European arm and convinced him to form a separate organization - the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, better known by its French acronym as the GSPC."

Rwanda

This Thursday night, PBS aired Frontline's "Ghosts of Rwanda." I've seen the advertising for program here and there for the past month. And it's something I've looked forward to watching (that sounds horrible: looking forward to watching a program on genocide). The tenth anniversary of the genocide is approaching (April 6). What sort of coverage it will it get in the media?-who knows.

I have to agree with the New Republic: "Ghost of Rwanda" is a success. The program's message: the U.S. and the rest world stood by and watched as Rwanda quickly slipped into a bloody genocide. There were a few heroes, notably General Daillaire, the Canadian commander of UNAMIR. But those who could have done something to prevent the genocide--the top Clinton officials--failed to consider Rwanda for what it was. And as a result, 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died. Clinton later predicted that, had the United States committed troops to the peacekeeping mission, half of the victims (400,000) could have been saved.

The New Republic had a review of "Ghost of Rwanda" on its site today. Here are some of the highlights:

""Ghosts of Rwanda," a powerful, necessary documentary to be shown tonight by PBS to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the Rwandan genocide reminds you of the "other television" the way Michael Harrington once reminded complacent readers of the "other America," the impoverished and dispossessed one. By "other television," I mean the television of attention as opposed to the television of diversion. For we can forget, as high and popular art bend themselves more and more toward real experiences that might be familiar to us, that there are vast regions of the real that we have never experienced, and probably never will experience. To comprehend these exotic and sometimes wretched precincts of life requires a focused viewer every bit as much as a focused camera.

"As an act of memory and witness; as historical indictment of not just the perpetrators of genocide, but also of the politicians and bureaucrats who allowed it to happen; as an illumination of the motives driving the murderers, as well as those animating the individuals caught in an unimaginable situation, "Ghosts of Rwanda" fails to tell a coherent story. It fails to illuminate the psychology of the U.N. and U.S. officials who refused to deploy troops that would have saved perhaps half of the 800,000 Rwandans killed over a three month period from April to July 1994. It fails to offer viewers consolation for its images of men, women, and children hacked to death by machetes, or to offer reassurance that international mechanisms are now in place to prevent such atrocities from happening again. That is to say, "Ghosts of Rwanda" is a success; it is a scathing accomplishment almost on the same level of urgency as Samantha Power's vital ray of light, A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide."

The NRA's Next Slogan: We Prevent Genocide

InstaPundit has recently posted some interesting links relating to genocide. One link will bring you to a Fox News opinion piece, in which the author suggests that arming civilians would prevent genocide.

Mr. Reynolds writes:

"This has led some observers to suggest that genocide isn’t something that can be addressed by international conventions or tribunals. A recent article in the Washington University Law Quarterly argues that the most important thing we can do to prevent genocide is to ensure that civilian populations are armed:

"'Recent events in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and many other parts of the world make it clear that the book has not yet been closed on the evil of official mass murder. Contemporary scholars have little explored the preconditions of genocide. Still less have they asked whether a society's weapons policy might be one of the institutional arrangements that contributes to the probability of its government engaging in some of the more extreme varieties of outrage.'


"Though it is a long step between being disarmed and being murdered--one does not usually lead to the other--but it is nevertheless an arresting reality that not one of the principal genocides of the twentieth century, and there have been dozens, has been inflicted on a population that was armed. (Emphasis added).

"The result, conclude law professor Daniel Polsby and criminologist Don Kates, is that "a connection exists between the restrictiveness of a country's civilian weapons policy and its liability to commit genocide."

"Armed citizens, they argue, are far less likely to be massacred than defenseless ones, and armed resistance to genocide is more likely to receive outside aid. It is probably no accident that the better-armed resistance to genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo drew international intervention, while the hapless Rwandans and Cambodians did not. When victims resist, what is merely cause for horror becomes cause for alarm, and those who are afraid of the conflict’s spread will support (as Europe did) intervention out of self-interest when they could not be bothered to intervene out of compassion.


Hmmm. I'm not sure I buy the argument. Britain, an under-armed country, I don't think of as a genocide-prone nation. And it seems counter-intuitive---arm civilians in order to protect peace.

4/01/2004

Kristof and Sudan, Part II

A few days ago, Nicholas Kristof had another piece in the Times discussing the troubles in Sudan and in Africa in general. His perscription: security, market-oriented policies and good governance. For too long, Africa has been plauged by war, famine, disease, corrpution...the list goes on. And for too long, the American media has turned a blind eye to Africa. Thank you, Mr. Kristof.

I just came across a new blog that describes itself as "Politics, gossip, and witticisms from a Yalie." Sounds pretty pretentious to me (please don't identify yourself as an Ivy-league grad). But it did have a clever April-Fools-related observation. Here's what they found:

Looking at the Yale Daily News today, I could not tell what story was meant to be the April Fools special...this one:

After a heated, top-secret Yale Corporation meeting Wednesday during which members voted against University President Richard Levin's proposal to move Yale to Palo Alto, CA, next door to Stanford University, administrators burst into tears as they exited Woodbridge Hall into the rainy New Haven afternoon.

"Why? Why?" Levin said as he stomped his feet and shook his blue and white golf umbrella at the sky.

or this one:

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Coca-Cola Company Douglas Daft spoke yesterday about the ethical and moral responsibilities of businesses while around 20 Yale students and New Haven residents protested what they called Coke's poor international labor practices...

...As Daft began his speech, protesters proceeded to the front of the room and removed their coats to reveal shirts stained with fake blood. The protesters lay on the floor as if they were dead and remained so throughout the talk. Other demonstrators passed out literature accusing members of Coke's board of being complacent about the murders of union members at the company's plants in Colombia. The group also unfurled two banners, one reading "Coke: Proud sponsor of Colombian Death squads."

Fools. Reminds me of a great piece in last week's TNR online by my former colleague at the New York Sun Ben Smith (he's now at the Observer) about anti-war protesters:


In August, New York City will be flooded with people like Teresa Gutierrez, a squat woman in a red beret and sunglasses who faced the crowd squarely to deliver an important message: "One of the corporations that we hate so much is Coca-Cola," she told the protesters. "Never ever drink Coca-Cola again. Drinking Coca-Cola is like drinking the blood of Colombian workers." If these people didn't exist, Karl Rove might have to hire actors to play them. Come August, when Bush is inside the convention, surrounded by men in suits and hugging black people, he's going to look like a pretty sane, dare one say, wise, alternative to the anti-Coca-Cola brigade.



Well, Ben, these folks sure ain't actors. Here's some pearls of brilliance for you:

At a question and answer session after the speech, demonstrators repeatedly mentioned an allegation that Coke used a paramilitary group to assassinate a union leader. Thomas Frampton '06 criticized Yale for inviting Daft.

"It is atrocious given Coke's labor practices that this university would roll out the red carpet for the CEO," Frampton said. "It is stunning that [Daft] would give a speech about good business practices."