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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Sunday, 14 March 2004

Topic: World View

The Bombing and then the Vote in Spain Explained: The Two Opposing Views of What It All Means

What to make of the vote in Spain, two days after the bombing that killed two hundred commuters? What to make of the folks tossing out the government that was with us in the Iraq war - in spite of the fact ninety percent of the population in Spain bitterly opposed that decision? It seems the voters are enthusiastic about installing a government more independent and less compliant with anything George Bush says. Perhaps they felt their former leaders simply made them a target for no good reason.

If you hadn't noticed, there are two schools of thought on this. Over at the Financial Times (UK) they run a wire item from Reuters.

See Authorities have no clear response for Madrid
Peter Graff, Reuters - March 14 2004 16:53

LONDON (Reuters) - If it was Islamist militants who struck out of the blue in Madrid last week, then it will dash hopes that Western security forces had blunted the threat from al Qaeda since September 11 and all Europe is at risk.

Despite billions of dollars spent tracking Islamic radicals over the past 30 months, despite destroying their Afghan bases and putting thousands of agents on the streets, Western spies heard not a trace of "chatter" from Muslim militants before the bombers killed 200 rail commuters, security analysts said.

While responsibility remained unclear on Sunday for the worst ever guerrilla attack on a European city, a claim from a purported al Qaeda ally and the arrests of three Arabs caused Spain to play down early accusations against Basque separatists.

The broader implication, experts say, is that security is still worse -- perhaps far worse -- than policymakers feared, even in countries like Spain with experience of dealing robustly with political violence and which were well aware their support for U.S. policy in Afghanistan and Iraq had made them targets.

Well, the implication here is that these folks didn't like the price they just paid for that decision to go to war in Iraq beside the United States, and further, the whole war in Iraq seems to have had the net result of making the world far more dangerous. And the war was supposed to have the opposite effect.

This in turn would point to more and more future elections around the world coming to be an exercise in punishing those who stood with Bush and his (our) idea that removing pesky, irritating governments was the best way to fix the problem with terrorists - and with "evil" in general.

Yeah, well, but on the other hand the conservative voice of Glenn Reynolds summarizes the view from the supporters of Bush, the Republican right.

See TERRORISTS HAVE SUCCEEDED IN TOPPLING THE SPANISH GOVERNMENT where he links to many, many people seeing the vote as a victory for the Islamic Fanatical Devils.

Jeff Jarvis observes: " In any case, it's a damned shame that terrorists can have an impact on the election and can help bring in the side they apparently wanted."

Eric Olsen has more thoughts on what is, I'm afraid, a bad day for the forces of civilization.

UPDATE: Roger Simon:

I walk out on my deck, looking across the Hollywood Hills at Runyon Canyon, but my mind is in Madrid, at its splendid Puerta del Sol where I have spent so many wonderful days and where sadly fascists have walked before and for too long. But this time they are not under the flag of Generalissimo Franco. This time, ironically, they rally behind the words of a man, Osama bin Laden, whom El Caudillo would have reviled. But of course the cry of both men is the same: Viva la muerte!

Indeed. Meanwhile Mark Aveyard notes a contradiction: "Remember being told by the left that Saddam's regime and Al Queda had no relationship, that they actually hated each other? Now they're saying that Al Queda attacked Spain because the US ousted Saddam!"

And Eric Kolchinsky emails: "Al Queda (or any other terror organization) will rightly perceive that they can influence elections through violence. This vote has greatly increased the probability of a pre-election attack -- here and in Europe." Yes. And it's reduced the likelihood of addressing this problem without major bloodshed. The Spanish electorate has made what seems to me to be a very shortsighted and cowardly decision, and the world may suffer as a result.

So the short-sighted cowards of Spain - the majority of voters - are destroying civilization by thinking only of their safety and thus "letting the terrorists win."

If you click on the Reynolds item he has links to all his sources and many, many more. Everyone on the right is appalled that majority of voters in Spain could be so cowardly, gutless, weak, craven and pusillanimous as to decide that siding with Bush and the United States was not in their self-interest, and in the interest of the greater good. I guess the idea that these Spanish folks just don't get it. They don't understand the evil of fanatical Islam.

They don't? I think the year was 711 when Muslim forces invaded and in seven years finally conquered the whole Iberian Peninsula. Their rule didn't end until 1492 when Granada was conquered. El Cid and all that. Glenn, they know. The center of Muslim rule was southern Spain -- Andalusia. They know. The French know too. If Charles Martel hadn't stopped the Islamic army at what is now Lyon the Rh?ne valley in 739 France would be even more Muslim than it is now. They know too.

So Glenn, maybe this is about Bush more than it is about Al Queda. The Spanish, it seems, don't want to stand with a madman who stirs up all this stuff one more time.

Ah, but what to I know?

And a bit of disclosure... One of my five surviving nephews is getting engaged to a lovely woman who grew up in New Jersey. I like her. But she's Muslim, and he's converting. On the 9th of next month I'm off to Orange County for a ceremony of some sort celebrating this. One would have to assume that Ashcroft and his guys will be watching the whole family from now on.

But I'm used to it. In the mid-seventies I was best man at my friend Phil's wedding. He married the daughter of the head of personnel at the United Nations. The father of the bride was... Chinese! There we were at this nice outdoor ceremony at the family's summer place in the green Hudson Valley, not far from West Point. And the government guys were across the road in their Ford sedans with telephoto lenses, taking pictures of us all. Oh well.

Hey, it's all part of being an American.

Posted by Alan at 23:06 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Sunday, 14 March 2004 23:13 PST home

New issue of JUST ABOVE SUNSET MAGAZINE now online!

No blogging today.

Sunday is the day I do final assembly and post the week's new issue of this: Just Above Sunset Magazine.

Commentary here will resume tomorrow.

Check it out the news issue of the magazine!

Posted by Alan at 19:29 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Saturday, 13 March 2004

Topic: Election Notes

Personal Responsibility - Everyone Needs That

Yes, when the House passed the "cheeseburger bill" to bar people from suing fast food restaurant chains for making them obese, Republican backers of the legislation scolded Americans, saying the fault lies not in their fries, but in themselves. "Look in the mirror, because you're the one to blame," said F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. of Wisconsin.

Here's the problem, according to the odd Maureen Dowd in the Sunday Times.

See The Politics of Self-Pity
Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, March 14, 2004

Here's her point:

... it comes as something of a disappointment that the leader of the Republican Party, the man who epitomizes the conservative ideal, is playing the victim. President Bush has made the theme of his re-election campaign a whiny "not my fault."

His ads, pilloried for the crass use of the images of a flag-draped body carried from ground zero and an Arab-looking everyman with the message, "We can fight against terrorists," actually have a more fundamental problem. They try to push off blame for anything that's gone wrong during Mr. Bush's tenure on bigger forces, supposedly beyond his control.

One ad cites "an economy in recession. A stock market in decline. A dot-com boom gone bust. Then a day of tragedy. A test for all Americans."

Mr. Bush's subtext is clear: If it weren't for all these awful things that happened, most of them hangovers from the Clinton era, I definitely could have fulfilled all my promises. I'm still great, but none of my programs worked because, well, stuff happens."

... Mr. Bush has been in office over three years. It's time to start accepting some responsibility.

Republicans have a bad habit of laying down rules for other people to follow while excluding themselves. Look how they beat up Bill Clinton for messing around with a young woman, while many top Republicans were doing the very same thing.

Mr. Bush's whingeing was infectious. The very House Republicans who greased the skids for the cheeseburger bill got in a huff over John Kerry's overheard comment to some supporters in Chicago that his Republican critics were "the most crooked, you know, lying group" he'd ever seen.

These tough-guy Republicans, who rule the House with an iron fist, were suddenly squealing like schoolgirls at being victimized by big, bad John Kerry. J. Dennis Hastert, the House speaker, said Mr. Kerry would have his "upcomeance coming." Tom DeLay sulked that the public was getting "a glimpse of the real John Kerry." The Hammer was talking like a nail.

Marc Racicot, Mr. Bush's campaign chairman, accused Mr. Kerry of "unbecoming" conduct and called on him to apologize.

Oh, the poor dears. The very Bush crowd that savaged John McCain in South Carolina, that bullied and antagonized the allies we need in the real war on terror, that is spending a hundred million dollars on ads that will turn Mr. Kerry into something akin to the Boston Strangler; these guys are suddenly such delicate flowers, such big bawling babies, that they can't bear to hear Mr. Kerry speak of them harshly.

Mr. Bush is not believable in the victim's role. He and Dick Cheney have audaciously imposed their will on Washington and the world.

We are not yet sure who is behind the horrendous bombings in Spain, but they have already underscored how vulnerable our trains and subways are. And they have reminded us that the administration diverted resources from the war on terror and the search for Osama to settle old scores in Iraq, building a case for war with hyped and phony claims on weapons.

In an interview with The Guardian, the weapons sleuth David Kay said it's time for Mr. Bush to take personal responsibility: "It's about confronting and coming clean with the American people. . . . He should say: `We were mistaken and I am determined to find out why.' "

In other words, Mr. Bush, look in the mirror.

Of course....

I do get extraordinarily irritated at my Republican friends who say if you're out of work don't blame anyone but yourself. In fact, don't even blame yourself. Just get a job. It's your responsibility. Have the right positive attitude and stop whining. Don't play the victim. Whether the economy is bad or not, it's your responsibility, no one else's. The government isn't your mommy.

Don't like the way the police didn't respond to your 911 call? Accept responsibility. Personal responsibility. The constitution allows you to own a gun. Take care of yourself.

The public schools stink? Home schooling. Take personal responsibility for you own children.

Social Security? Socialism. Why should I have to pay for your retirement when you didn't take the personal responsibility to save up for your old age? (Actually said to me.)

Welfare. Why don't these folks take "personal responsibility" and get a job. Why should I pay for them to sit on their fat asses and watch Jerry Springer all day?

A thousand examples...

But when the leader of the party of personal responsibility keeps shucking and jiving, well, he's just setting a bad example.

Posted by Alan at 20:40 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: In these times...

Saturday's daily dose of irony...

Tuesday here you might have noticed International Women's Day, HIPPA, and guns... - as Monday was International Women's Day and Ashcroft's Justice Department was still demanding the medical records of all abortions from selected Planned Parenthood clinics and a number of hospitals. Late in the day Tuesday, after the press had put the next day's issues to bed and the primetime news shows had wrapped, the Justice Department announced they had decided that, well, maybe that hadn't been such a hot idea. They were abandoning that particular effort to shame patients and expose doctors by naming them in public documents.

You see, the administration knew International Women's Day was important. They did their public relations carefully.

Consider this:

Bush praises man in speech on women's rights
Reuters, Friday, March 12, 2004

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President George W. Bus has marked International Women's Week by paying tribute to women reformers -- but one of those he cited is really a man.

"Earlier today, the Libyan government released Fathi Jahmi. She's a local government official who was imprisoned in 2002 for advocating free speech and democracy," the president said in a speech at the White House on Friday.

The only problem was that, by all other accounts, "she" is in fact "he".

"Definitely male," said Alistair Hodgett, spokesman for the human rights advocacy group Amnesty International, whose representatives tried to see Jahmi in prison during a recent visit to Libya.

The U.S. House Committee on International Relations listed Jahmi as a 62-year-old civil engineer who was sentenced to five years in prison "after he reportedly stated during a session of the People's Conference ... that reform within Libya would never take place in the absence of a constitution, pluralism and democracy."

In remarks before a VIP audience, Bush cited Jahmi as a courageous reformer along with Aung San Suu Kyi, the woman democracy icon and Nobel Peace Prize laureate living under house arrest in Myanmar.

All told, the president made references to more than a dozen other women ranging from his wife, first lady Laura Bush, to last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi of Iran. He also mentioned four men including Secretary of State Colin Powell and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who were both present.

"The advance of women's rights and the advance of liberty are ultimately inseparable," the president said. "We stand with courageous reformers."

Oops. Well, these guys do get the general idea.

Male? Female? This kind of reminds me of Bush's interview with Diane Sawyer - as he said then about the WMD (not there, really) and the intent of Saddam to one day maybe get some WMD (there, of course) - "What's the Difference?" He doesn't do nuance.

Posted by Alan at 07:46 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Saturday, 13 March 2004 08:13 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

Advice is cheap. Here's some.

Over at Eschaton the anonymous blogger Atrios gives this advice to the Democrats planning that campaign.

What Kerry - and the Democrats - need to do is to overturn conventional wisdom by re-framing the debate. September 11th happened on Bush's watch, after his administration completely ignored the threat of terrorism. Right now, We All Know that George Bush showed "great leadership" after 9/11. How do we know that? Well, because the goddamn Democrats keep saying it. Truth? Bush ran and hid and then didn't stop wetting his pants until 3 days later. He then went and bombed a stone age country back to the stone age, and then didn't provide the resources to rebuild it. Thousands of Taliban and al Qaeda members were allowed to escape to Pakistan, defeating much of the purpose of said bombing, and we never found Bin Laden, the stated architect of the 9/11 bombing.

We now know that we haven't been devoting the resources to find Bin Laden, because we're now "stepping up" that attempt with Operation Mountain Storm. Why we didn't step up that threat two years ago is obvious - we had to mobilize for Iraq and this gang can't walk and chew gum at the same time (frankly, they can't do them separately either).

So, resources were diverted away from a fighting a gathered threat to a non-threat. We've spent $200 billion fighting this non-threat, much of which went into the pockets of corporations which failed to provide the services they were contracted to do. The immediate aftermath of the Iraq war was bungled, largely due to the utter lack of planning by the "grownups." Suspected WMD sites were looted, civil infrastructure wasn't repaired as the money was diverted to contractors who didn't do it, and civil order was not maintained.

We're spending billions on missile defense, and a measly few millions on improving port security. While terrorists may obtain a nuclear weapon, they are unlikely to obtain a reliable intercontinental missile delivery system. Why bother? They just need to float into any port and push the button.

The only great leadership Bush showed after 9/11 is that he miraculously failed to shit his pants while giving a speech post-9/11. Just about everything else has been a total disaster .

Friendly territory for the president? Sure, but only because no one is bothering to point out the obvious. The Bush foreign policy is a miserable failure.

Makes sense to me. But perhaps this is too blunt and would make people feel sorry for George Bush.

Posted by Alan at 07:30 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

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