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Monthly Archives: March 2005

Nobody Wins II

March 22nd, 2005 - 10:45 pm

Krauthammer sums up the Schiavo tragedy thusly:

Given our lack of certainty, given that there are loved ones prepared to keep her alive and care for her, how can you allow the husband to end her life on his say-so? Because following the sensible rules of Florida custody laws, conducted with due diligence and great care over many years in this case, this is where the law led.

For Congress and the president to then step in and try to override that by shifting the venue to a federal court was a legal travesty, a flagrant violation of federalism and the separation of powers. The federal judge who refused to reverse the Florida court was certainly true to the law. But the law, while scrupulous, has been merciless, and its conclusion very troubling morally. We ended up having to choose between a legal travesty on the one hand and human tragedy on the other.

There is no good outcome to this case.

Unless something really spectacular happens – and I have no clue what that could possibly be – I think this is the last time I’ll mention Terri Schiavo.

UPDATE: This, too.

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Car Talk

March 22nd, 2005 - 10:39 pm

GM has a problem. Hell, GM has a lot of problems. The first problem is, not even Oprah Winfrey could build any excitement for Pontiac’s new G6:

As evidence of the car’s meager performance, auto experts note that the world’s largest automaker has dramatically ramped up rebates on the car just to get it selling at modest levels. The automaker offered more than $3,600 in incentives on it last month, and it sold less than half of what the Grand Am was averaging per month.

This, just months after Oprah gave 200 of them away in an hour-long publicity/marketing stunt watched by millions of people, and read about by millions more.

However, GM’s problems aren’t limited to a struggling start for a single model. Down the road, they face a bigger hurdle:

In an internal memo last week, GM product chief Robert Lutz told employees that “until further notice,” the automaker has stopped plans to introduce a new line of rear-wheel drive passenger cars that were scheduled to debut in North America by 2008.

Why is a RWD product delay a big deal? In one word: Power.

American drivers want more power. Asian drivers want more power. Even European drivers want more power. There comes a point, however, where you just can’t put any more power through the drive train of a front wheel drive vehicle. Get too much over 200 horses, and torque steer becomes a serious problem. For automakers looking to sell more, and more powerful, cars with big power plants and fat profit margins (like the drool-worthy RWD Chrysler 300C), they have to switch back to Rear Wheel Drive platforms.

All that power comes at a price, too. Not just in developing fancier engines, but also in keeping emissions down and fuel economy up. And, oh yeah

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Lawsuit Madness

March 22nd, 2005 - 10:12 pm

Apparently, Harvard has a problem with sexy librarians.

If only my own life were so cursed.

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Nothing to See Here

March 22nd, 2005 - 11:22 am

Ralph Peters on recent events in the Middle East:

I SPENT last week in Europe watching acrobats perform. There were no high-wires or circus tents

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Neocon Means Paleolib

March 22nd, 2005 - 11:07 am

Hitchens on Wolfowitz:

On the excruciating question of Israel/Palestine, Wolfowitz is not at all the “Likud” fan that his defamers portray. He almost went out of his way to be jeered and hooted at a pro-Israel rally in Washington in the early days of the Bush administration, by telling the gung-ho crowd not to forget the suffering of the Palestinians. He has spoken quite clearly of linkage between the demolition of Arab rejectionism and the demolition of Jewish settlements. I can’t exactly say that I know the man, but on the occasions that I have met him I have been very struck by the difference between his manner and the amazing volleys of obloquy and abuse that have been flung at him. (This is made easier, for savants such as Maureen Dowd, by the fact that the first four letters of his surname spell an animal that is known in nursery rhymes to be big and bad. How satirical can one possibly get?) The truth is, he’s a bit bleeding heart for my taste, even though I know some very tough Kurdish and Iraqi and Iranian and Lebanese antifascist militants who would welcome him as a blood-brother. No shame in that, I think.


But with the Wolfowitz and even the John Bolton nomination to the United Nations, the Bush administration retains its capacity to startle, mainly because it has redefined the lazy term “conservative” to mean someone who is impatient with the status quo.

Read the whole thing.

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Required Reading

March 22nd, 2005 - 11:02 am

I’ve always thought that corruption is unavoidable in ruling parties – because corruption always starts with the best of intentions. David Brooks explains:

Back in 1995, when Republicans took over Congress, a new cadre of daring and original thinkers arose. These bold innovators had a key insight: that you no longer had to choose between being an activist and a lobbyist. You could be both. You could harness the power of K Street to promote the goals of Goldwater, Reagan and Gingrich. And best of all, you could get rich while doing it!

Before long, ringleader Grover Norquist and his buddies were signing lobbying deals with the Seychelles and the Northern Mariana Islands and talking up their interests at weekly conservative strategy sessions – what could be more vital to the future of freedom than the commercial interests of these two fine locales?

Before long, folks like Norquist and Abramoff were talking up the virtues of international sons of liberty like Angola’s Jonas Savimbi and Congo’s dictator Mobutu Sese Seko – all while receiving compensation from these upstanding gentlemen, according to The Legal Times. Only a reactionary could have been so discomfited by Savimbi’s little cannibalism problem as to think this was not a daring contribution to the cause of Reaganism.

Again, Republicans have no special aptitude for corruption. Neither do Democrats. But it always comes, and it always (at least in healthy two- or multi-party democracies) leads to the end of the governing coalition.

NOTE: When I say “governing coalition,” I don’t necessarily mean the kind you get in parliamentary systems, where two or more parties explicitly share power in order to form a government. Yet even in our two-party system, we still have governing coalitions. The two-party system simply masks the fact.

The Republican Party includes everyone from Evangelicals to libertarians. The Democratic Party includes a similar range of interests. Each party is, in and of itself, a coalition of interests.

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The Last Word…

March 22nd, 2005 - 10:30 am

…on Social Security reform.

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Help Wanted

March 22nd, 2005 - 10:28 am

Want to become a spy? Apply online:

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Shin Bet domestic intelligence agency, under pressure to prevent attacks by Palestinian or Jewish militants ahead of a planned summer pullback from Gaza, launched a recruiting Web site on Tuesday.

With www.shabak.gov.il, the hitherto shadowy Shin Bet follows its overseas equivalent Mossad, and foreign counterparts such as the CIA and Britain’s MI5, in making up for potential applicants lost to the private sector by seeking spies on-line.

“Love of humanity, love of nation, love of homeland — these are the basic requirements for joining the agency family,” reads the Web site’s foreword by Shin Bet director Avi Dichter.

Yet I somehow doubt we’re going to see a Mossad in-house blog any time soon.

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March 22nd, 2005 - 10:02 am

The Iraq War has claimed another casualty: Kiefer Sutherland’s job.

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One Down

March 22nd, 2005 - 9:48 am

This looks like good news:

Rubella, better known as German measles, a dreaded disease that contributes hugely to childhood infections and congenital birth complications, has been eradicated from United States and Canada, health authorities of the two countries have said.

Speaking at a conference held at Washington, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Julie Gerberding said, “This is a major milestone in the path toward eliminating rubella in other parts of the world, including the Western Hemisphere.”

Now if the Chinese could only get a handle on the avian flu…

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We Can Work It Out II

March 22nd, 2005 - 9:38 am

An update to yesterday’s post on Iraq’s fractious tribes — apparently violence is up:

Two Shia Arab tribes in southern Iraq, the al Halah and the Garamsha, have been skirmishing recently. The fighting has been going on for the past month, and is pretty low level stuff. A few shots here, a few shots there. The tribes were not able to have their traditional private wars when Saddam was in power. Well, at least not unless it suited Saddam

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Home to Roost

March 22nd, 2005 - 9:14 am

Hoo-boy. Even Iran’s mullahs are using the “chickenhawk fallacy“:

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iran’s supreme leader said Monday he would put on military fatigues and fight to the death if his country were attacked – unlike U.S. “warmongers” who he said cower in the rear far from the front lines.

President Bush has said The United States is not preparing to attack Iran, but no option is ruled out if Tehran does not abandon what Washington views as efforts to build a nuclear bomb. Iran insists its nuclear program is only to generate electricity.

In an apparent bid to boost morale in the face of U.S. pressure over the nuclear program, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei mocked Washington in a TV speech, saying its leaders keep to the rear in any confrontation.

“We are not warmongers like U.S. leaders. They are warmongers. They are after war, but we are men of sacrifice,” Khamenei told a crowd of several thousand in the northeast city of Mashhad.

This, from a guy whose country has been waging a proxy war against Israel for 25 years. What, too afraid to take on 6 million Jews on your own?

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March 21st, 2005 - 11:59 pm

A fast digital camera will make you a better photographer.

Don’t get me wrong. The best equipment in the world can’t train your eye to good composition. A jillion dollar Nikon or Canon still knows nothing about good light. And not even a Hasselblad will take itself out of your kit and go take some pictures for you. All a good camera does it make it easier to take good pictures; it can’t take good pictures on its own.

But a good digital camera can help even more.

Photography is an expensive hobby. Once the bug bites you, you’re going to spend more money than is wise, and certainly more than you can rationally justify. And that’s just on equipment. Once you factor in film, processing, and printing, the costs really add up.

When I was a kid, I always tried to take the One Perfect Picture of whatever it was I was shooting. My hobby exceeded my budget, so I had to make every shot count. Even then, there were more wasted shots than keepers. And now I’ll let you in on a little secret: Pros throw away most of their stuff, too.

I’ve seen a little of the business of photography close up. My cousin Trip von Hoffmann was once one of the premier advertising photographers on the East Coast. (The 1991-92 recession and subsequent

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Strange Bedfellows

March 21st, 2005 - 11:07 pm

I must say, I didn’t expect this:

BERLIN: Chancellor Gerhard Schr

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You’ve Been Warned

March 21st, 2005 - 10:44 pm

I don’t often praise EJ Dionne’s Washington Post columns, but this one is on the money:

Conservatives say that liberals are a strange bunch to be defending the filibuster — and the conservatives have a point. Liberals fought the filibuster when it was used by the Senate’s Southern segregationist minority to stall civil rights bills. I’ll acknowledge that when Republicans used the filibuster to obstruct health care reform and other pieces of progressive legislation in the first years of President Bill Clinton’s term, I was tempted to support changes in the filibuster rules.

But conservatives who support the nuclear option are utterly unwilling to acknowledge their own convenient change of heart. They defended the filibuster as long as they were in the minority, but would cast it aside now that they have grabbed the presidency and narrow majorities in both houses. The liberals, moreover, never tried to twist the rules to get rid of the filibuster, as the conservatives are doing.

Senate Republicans are acting stupidly. And when I say that, I don’t mean some special kind of stupid particular to Republicans. I mean, they’re acting like a typical party-in-power.

Ruling parties tend to act as if their rule will last forever. For Exhibit A, I give you California’s Democrats. After Pete Wilson destroyed the state Republican Party to get himself reelected in 1994, the Democrats took charge in 1998, with a stunning completeness. They then proceded to rewrite the rules to suit their agenda, and the opposition be damned.

It took them a mere six years to destroy themselves.

Arnold is now the Governator, and his popular reform agenda promises to hurt California Democrats in the same way an Al McGinnis slapshot would your forehead.

Senate Republicans – and Republicans in general – need to remember that no matter how rosy things have looked since 2002, things will change. Democrats will someday regain control of the Senate. When that day comes, Republicans will come to realize their mistake. And they’ll realize it the hard way: Too late, when it comes back to bite them on the ass.

The filibuster is a frustrating rule, but it’s a good one. Anything, almost anything at all, that slows down the never-ending flood of new legislation is, by my lights, a good thing. And do Republicans really want President Hillary Clinton being able to railroad judges past them?

So I’m disappointed in the Senate Republicans, but I can’t say I’m surprised. Majority parties do one of two things. They either act like they’ll always run things, or they act in haste on all things beacuse they’re afraid that their rule will end too soon.

Either way, their actions tend to be self-defeating — even at the ballot box.

UPDATE: I don’t like to say I told you so, but I did just that over two years ago.

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March 21st, 2005 - 9:28 pm

Once spent six months working weekends at an AM oldies station in Fortuna, California. Fun job, bad pay. When I say fun, I mean I got to read Newsweek and Playboy for eight hours while occassionally swapping out tapes on the four reel-to-reel machines. Anyway.

There was a song that got stuck in my head, and 16 years later, I can’t remember what the hell it was. Just that it was midtempo and catchy and kinda dark. Think Atlanta Rhythm Section, only not. But certainly released from, say, 1969-1975. For a while I thought maybe the song was “Jackie Blue” by Ozark Mountain Daredevils – so I downloaded it off WinMX. No luck.

The lyric was something about a shy little girl who hides in her room all the time listening to her radio, until she finally gets sucked into it. Maybe literally, although I don’t think the lyric was quite clear on that point.

What the hell song am I thinking of? And did it stay with me because it’s good, or because it’s evil?

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March 21st, 2005 - 7:41 pm

It’s been a bad day for the EU:

EUROPEAN Union leaders gather in Brussels later today for their annual economic summit in chastened mood. Five years into the Lisbon agenda, the bright millennial dream of transforming the whole community into the world’s leading economic powerhouse by 2010 lies in tatters.

Germany, faced with 5.2 million of its citizens out of work and output stubbornly stagnant, is resorting to eye-catching cuts in corporate taxes and has negotiated relief from its serial breaching of the union’s Stability and Growth Pact.

France, another serial pact defaulter, is facing growing unrest among its public sector workers and polling evidence that its voters are swinging against endorsement of the proposed new European constitution, when it comes up for ratification there at the end of May.

The two countries which formed the dynamic central axis of the European project for so long are now struggling to come to terms with these stark new realities as their governments prepare for tough domestic election battles in 2006 (Germany) and 2007 (France).

Germany, once a key architect of a rigorous stability and growth pact on the grounds that, without it, less responsible member states might play fast and loose with their deficits, has breached the “borrowing must not exceed 3% of GDP” rule three years in a row and looks like doing it again.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, an outspoken critic of tax competition across the EU, especially since the new former-communist economies of eastern Europe joined and started introducing powerful tax incentives to stimulate development, now seems intent on responding in kind with a headline cut in Germany’s large company corporate tax rate, from 25% to 19%.

France, where unemployment has broken through 10%, has also breached the core rule of the pact three times in succession. However, with public sector unions whipping up sustained resistance to reform of pension rights and working conditions, Jacques Chirac, the president, is now openly hostile to any further extension of the European single market to services, for fear that that might destroy even more French jobs.

Is it too late for Paris to discover that you can’t complete internationally when competition is all but outlawed at home? Probably. I say that because France is looking to act as enablers to any other dysfunctional EU members looking to break the SGP rules:

Special consideration is also being offered to member states embarked on a range of public investment in areas like research and development, innovation, peace-keeping and pensions reform. But if the summit over the next two days endorses the compromise pact, it will not please everyone.

“Everyone” being code for “all those ‘New Europe’ members east of the Elbe and south of the Danube.” It seems our plucky, former Warsaw Pact comrades are out-innovating Old Europe:

Five years on from Lisbon, one senses that the economic dynamic across the enlarged EU is changing in subtle

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Playing Catch Up

March 21st, 2005 - 6:05 pm

When the commanding general of 1st Cavalry Division speaks, you should listen.

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Nobody Wins

March 21st, 2005 - 5:57 pm


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We Can Work It Out

March 21st, 2005 - 4:52 pm

Quietly – and sometimes not so quietly – the fractious tribes of Iraq are sorting things out:

The Sunni Arabs never expected all this armed resistance, to Shia and Kurdish rule, to get Sunnis back in power. What they want is a deal on the question of war crimes trials and revenge in general for their complicity in Saddam’s decades of atrocities. The armed resistance gives the Sunni Arabs something to bargain with. Of course, the major members of Saddam’s gang will go to trial, but there are thousands of lesser officials, nearly all of them Sunni Arabs, who also have blood on their hands, and real concerns about prosecution (legal, or otherwise.) Negotiations have been intense, and many of the Sunni Arab clans and families involved have begun to actively battle al Qaeda gangs in their neighborhoods. These groups are a mixture of Iraqis and foreigners, and are basically armed religious fanatics. There’s no negotiating with them, and the terrorists don’t apologize if one of their suicide bombers accidentally kills a lot of Sunni Arab civilians. It’s Gods will, and all that. Increasingly, Sunni Arabs are fed up with this, and killing al Qaeda in their vicinity, or driving the fanatics out. It will be difficult to prosecute a lot of lesser war criminals who have recently become heroes by fighting al Qaeda.

And that’s how it should be, on two counts. First, it’s best if the Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds can settle things (relatively) peacefully among themselves. An imposed solution would most like break at the first stress – see Bosnia in the ’90s. Second, there’s no need to prosecute every single Baathist in Iraq, especially not ones who have come around to the good side, so to speak. We didn’t do so in Germany or Japan after WWII, and that kind of practicality should serve us well in Iraq, too.

But mostly, it seems we’re sitting back and let the Iraqis work it out. Smart.

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March 21st, 2005 - 4:40 pm

Jeff Quinton proposed to his sweetie, and of course she said yes.

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