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Monthly Archives: May 2009

Offstage

May 31st, 2009 - 7:20 pm

As readers of this site know, I’ve long argued that one of the historical reasons that the US attempted to take custody of terrorism suspects after 9/11 was to avoid having to rely on bad intelligence provided by foreign intelligence agencies using unbridled methods of interrogation. I’ve maintained that the political push to bring terror suspects into the criminal system and/or close down prisons like Guantanamo Bay would mean a reversion to reliance on rendition; and while that provided the appearance of humanitarianism, in practice it was neither humane nor intelligent. It moved the interrogation process offshore, beyond the legal responsibility of the United States. But that merely moved things behind the curtain and once again returned poor intelligence without any gain in moral stature. In the absence of the political will to take responsibility for either challenging the existing protocols on coercive interrogation in order to keep up appearances or simply accepting the risks that might attend a self-restriction on interrogation techniques, policymakers have resorted to subterfuge to try and have it both ways. They’ve employed weasel phrases like “a false choice” to imply that there were no tradeoffs, no hard decisions that had to be made; or they have simply redescribed former practices with other words to produce the desired cosmetic and technically legal result. But the dilemma remains the same: to keep their jobs the politicians have know they must prevent another mass terror attack on American soil, but to keep their jobs they decided to lie about how they had to do it. Nancy Pelosi was perhaps the most egregious example, but she was by no means alone.

Today the Washington Post describes what anyone should have known from the start: the holier-than-though routine was a shell game. Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School, writes about how things have simply been shifted around:

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Whale Day

May 31st, 2009 - 10:44 am

A commenter has sent some verse set on an indefinite beach, at once made familiar by things we all know: a half-drained glass of champagne beside a slice of cocktail salami on the sand, and sound of children’s voices; but unfamiliar, as if on a world that begins at the water’s edge where a tide threatens to take us away.  For as long as there has been poetry the sea has been calling man home and away from home. John Masefield captured the sense in his famous lines:

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? Let’s find out, on Whale Day.

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Tomorrow is another day

May 31st, 2009 - 10:16 am

James Glassman, who was an Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy under the Bush administration, wrote in a NYT op-ed that government intervention in the GM bankruptcy is undermining the bond market.

There is no escaping the long-term damage that has been inflicted on credit markets by the Obama administration’s attempts to reward the United Auto Workers, one of the president’s strongest supporters in the last election, while trampling decades of legal precedent regarding owners of corporate debt.

The G.M. debacle is déjà vu all over again. In the Chrysler bankruptcy arranged by the government in April, bondholders also got short shrift, while the union, which might have received little or nothing in a normal bankruptcy, was awarded 55 percent of the company.

What’s my interest in this? I head a nonprofit group that encourages developing nations to adopt policies that will lead to prosperity — starting with transparency and the rule of law — and hold up America as a model. Yet in its high-handed dealings with Chrysler and G.M., the Obama administration reminds me of an irresponsible third-world regime, skirting the law and handing economic prizes to political cronies.

Just a few hours ago, a narrow majority of bondholders agreed to a government equity for debt swap after the Treasury sweetened the deal. The WSJ reported that:

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Disillusion

May 30th, 2009 - 10:56 pm

Ted Rall writing in State Journal Register has an extended piece calling Barack Obama a monster. Glenn Reynolds notes the tut-tutting from other sites to the effect that “if Obama’s lost Ted Rall, he’s lost un-America.” Rall essentially rails against what he believes is a wholesale betrayal by President Obama of his most cherished principles.

We expected broken promises. But the gap between the soaring expectations that accompanied Barack Obama’s inauguration and his wretched performance is the broadest such chasm in recent historical memory. This guy makes Bill Clinton look like a paragon of integrity and follow-through. …

Obama is useless. Worse than that, he’s dangerous. Which is why, if he has any patriotism left after the thousands of meetings he has sat through with corporate contributors, blood-sucking lobbyists and corrupt politicians, he ought to step down now — before he drags us further into the abyss.

I refer here to Obama’s plan for “preventive detentions.” If a cop or other government official thinks you might want to commit a crime someday, you could be held in “prolonged detention.” Reports in U.S. state-controlled media imply that Obama’s shocking new policy would only apply to Islamic terrorists (or, in this case, wannabe Islamic terrorists, and also kinda-sorta-maybe-thinking-about-terrorism dudes). As if that made it OK.

One wonders what principles the eminent cartoonist is referring to. Was it because Mr. Rall was promised something for nothing and is now surprised that there’s no free lunch. Was it surprise that someone who could be dishonest to others would be less than honest to him?  Was it shock at his own judgement, because Rall proceeds, without realizing it, to impugn his own discernment along with the character of the candidate he voted for. “Obama is cute. He is charming. But there is something rotten inside him. Unlike the Republicans who backed George W. Bush, I won’t follow a terrible leader just because I voted for him. Obama has revealed himself. He is a monster, and he should remove himself from power.”

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Iraq: Victory or defeat?

May 30th, 2009 - 9:26 pm

We are in trouble in Iraq. The Bush victory was a fraud. That, in short is the judgment of Thomas Ricks writing in the Foreign Policy Review. His essential claims are that the turnaround in Iraq began when US Commanders began listening to foreign and even anti-war voices; that the Surge was essentially the name for buying off insurgents; and that the Surge in any case failed.

Why, then, do I maintain that the surge didn’t work? Militarily, or tactically, it did. It improved security. But its stated goal was to create a breathing space in which a political breakthrough could occur, and that did not happen. In fact, Odierno says at the end of my book that the surge did create a breathing space, and that to our surprise, some Iraqis used it to move backwards rather than forward.

But no breakthrough occurred. All the basic questions that vexed Iraq before the surge are still out there unanswered: How do you share oil revenue? What’s the relationship between Sunni, Shia, and Kurd? For that matter, who speaks for the Shiites? What’s the role of Iran, which for my money is the biggest winner in this war so far? Will Iraq have a strong central government or be a loose confederation? All of these questions have led to violence in the past, and all of them almost certainly are going to lead to violence again.

So now it is President Obama’s war. I have a great deal of sympathy for him. I believe he’s a good strategic thinker, but I also think he has inherited the worst foreign policy situation that any new president has ever taken on—and foreign policy isn’t even his top-priority problem, which would have to be the economy. It’s a huge load to take on. But Obama’s handling of it thus far worries me.

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Battleship

May 30th, 2009 - 7:14 pm

Hollywood has now gone beyond turning the comics into movies. First came news that Ridley Scott was adapting the Monopoly board game into a movie. Now Universal has hired Peter Berg, the director of Friday Night Lights, The Kingdom, The Rundown and Hancock to bring another board game — Battleship — to the big screen.

Another day, another board game movie. Universal is adapting the Milton Bradley board game Battleship and has hired Peter Berg (The Rundown, The Kingdom, Hancock) to direct. Wow. Can anyone else believe this? Universal has a deal with Hasbro and has been setting up huge projects based on various board games like Monopoly and Candyland previously, but now Battleship? Brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber (of only the upcoming Whiteout so far) will write the script. The game will, obviously, be turned into an epic naval action adventure movie. Now I can use this pun properly – Peter Berg has “sunk” to a new low today.

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The crisis of unfaith

May 29th, 2009 - 9:05 pm

One of Tennyson’s prettiest lines are uttered by a sorceress — Vivien — as she attempts to gain the confidence of Merlin and put him under a spell so that he might sleep forever in an enchanted wood, “lost to life and use and name and fame”. When he disbelieves her she lures him on with this song. Betrayal comes in the guise of an appeal to belief.

“In Love, if Love be Love, if Love be ours,
Faith and unfaith can ne’er be equal powers:
Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.
“It is the little rift within the lute,
That by and by will make the music mute,
And ever widening slowly silence all.
“The little rift within the lover’s lute
Or little pitted speck in garnered fruit,
That rotting inward slowly moulders all.
“It is not worth the keeping: let it go:
But shall it? answer, darling, answer, no.
And trust me not at all or all in all.”

Faith, at least for those familiar with the story of Eden, is both the road to salvation and the path to perdition; and until recently regarded as a very potent quantity indeed. And maybe still. Caspar Melville of the New Humanist, intrigued by a recent spate of books which argue that atheism, not deism, is in decline, interviewed John Micklethwait, one of two authors of God is Back, to ask him why. Together with the other author, Adrian Wooldridge, another Oxford graduate also on the staff of the Economist,  they explained that the answer must begin from the observation that, contrary to all 19th and 20th Western expectations, religion is booming, not declining; the question they have attempted to answer is why. Melville wrote:

But this “God book” is of a rather different order. Unlike its rivals it contains a wealth of fact and subtle argument, empirical evidence and expert witness. As we might expect from The Economist its perspective is global – it sweeps comfortably from the corridors of the Pentagon to a front room church in Shanghai, and speaks authoritatively about events in Nigeria, Pakistan and Egypt. Altogether it lays down a very serious challenge to any of us who had waved God a not-so-fond farewell.

But that was not the worst, Micklethwait went on to explain. There were empirical hints that faith was not only not incompatible with modernity, but part of it.

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Real life Disney endings

May 29th, 2009 - 2:24 am

Long before the Susan Boyle saga came to prominence, a woman of an earlier generation also broke into the professional music circuit by entering a contest. Kathleen Ferrier of Lancashire had trained as musician, but chose marriage instead. It was a disaster; though quite by accident her husband proved the impetus for her lucky break. He bet her a shilling she would not enter the Carlisle Festival as singer and she took up the challenge. “She sang Roger Quilter’s To Daisies and won … The Carlisle Journal recorded that she had ‘one of the finest voices’ they had heard. From then on, at the age of 25, Kathleen Ferrier became a professional singer, learning her trade by appearing virtually wherever she was asked.”

Ferrier’s subsequent career was a success, some calling her “the greatest lyric contralto Britain has ever produced”, but it was the dramatic turn which her life took which seized the public imagination. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1950 and met it with the kind of stoicism that people in that age without cures displayed that is now long forgotten. Ian Jack of the Guardian recalls:

Ferrier had feared cancer ever since childhood, when she saw a neighbour in Blackburn die slowly of it. Throughout the 1940s she’d worried about pains in her breasts. In July 1950, she went to a doctor and emerged shouting to her voice teacher, waiting outside, “Look, Prof! He’s given me a clean bill of health.” A wrong diagnosis, however. The next March she asked her assistant, who happened to be trained nurse, to have a look at a lump. A mastectomy followed. Ferrier wrote cheerfully to close friends about a “rather formidable op” to remove a “bump on mi busto”, but then heavy doses of radium therapy began to exhaust her and in any event the cancer had already metastasised.

When Queen Elizabeth learned that the famous and dying contralto was nearby, she asked her to visit. “The Queen sits next to her on a sofa and, in the words of Ferrier’s sister ‘knowing the true nature of her illness’, asks her how she is. ‘Just the odd ache, Ma’am’, is the reply. ‘You have to expect these things.’ Ferrier herself described her sickness as “rheumatics” and carried on. On her last performance in 1953, her femur, eaten away by the disease, snapped onstage. She came out for a curtain call. YouTube has a recording of her performance at Manchester, right after her mastectomy. Like the proverbial swan, you can singing her carol to the world. And if you listen to the chorus, in which the audience joined in, maybe the world was singing right back to her.

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Promises

May 28th, 2009 - 5:08 pm

The Telegraph reports that “Barack Obama has reassured Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, of Washington’s support for Palestinian statehood during his first visit to the White House.”

Following their Oval Office talks, Mr Obama said he was “confident” of moving the Middle East peace process forward and said freezing the expansion of settlements was now a public priority for the US. Mr Obama said that “time is of the essence” in securing Arab Israeli peace and that it is “in US interests to do so quickly”. …

After years of being shut out the White House during the Bush Administration, the Palestinian delegation was encouraged to find a President prepared to push back against Israeli positions that conflict with the “road map” for peace.

Mr Obama declared that Israel had the obligation of “stopping settlements,” but warned that Palestinians must also crack down on anti-Israel violence and incitement in schools, mosques and public places.

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The noonday train

May 28th, 2009 - 3:35 pm

A former senior Japanese military official has openly suggested that Japan acquire nuclear weapons, following the North Korean weapons and missile test.

May 29 (Bloomberg) — North Korea’s nuclear test and missile launches have Japan confronting a topic long off-limits: acquiring atomic weapons of its own. “The threat is elevated and Japan should seek to arm itself with nuclear weapons,” former Japanese air force chief Toshio Tamogami said in one of two recent interviews. … “Tamogami’s opinion is still a minority view, but it is no longer a taboo, nor seen as an extreme one,” said Yoichi Shimada, an international-politics professor at Fukui Prefectural University in central Japan.

This came on news that former Secretary of Defense William Perry has publicly called for a viable military option against Pyongyang, should all else fail to disarm it.

Former U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry on Thursday said that the Obama administration has to consider possible military action against Pyongyang if other coercive measures couldn’t frustrate its nuclear ambition. “I’m not recommending military action. But somewhere along in this series of coercive actions, one can imagine an escalation, and if the ones that are less do not succeed, we have to be willing to consider the other ones,” Perry told a forum of the Council on Foreign Relations. … Perry’s comment on the DPRK nuclear crisis echoed a previous claim made by Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who hints the U.S. military has determination and capacity to deal with any threat by the DPRK.

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