Yankee Blog

Saturday, July 31, 2004

Is it only me...

But after the paranoia justification film, "The Manchurian Candidate", it almost seems reasonable to assume when reading a story like this that Al Qaeda deliberately misled Americans because they wanted us to invade Iraq.

As Richard Clarke has said the US invasion of Iraq has turned into the greatest gift the US could have given Al Qaeda. It has distracted our military from fighting them in Afganistan, it has provided endless footage of US troops pointing guns at Muslims, and it has undermined our moral integrity (see Abu Ghraib).

So maybe it is reasonable to assume that it was not just Chalabi, but also Al Qaeda that misled us into our Iraqi debacle.

Shorter David Brooks...

We are treated to another masterpiece of political hackery from David Brooks today in the NYT. Basically, I think that his argument boils down to, "Damn you John Kerry for finding a third way on issues, damn you for trying to unite a divisive America, damn you for saying things that appeal to American voters, and damn you for not boring people to death with a laundry list of specific policies!"

I will get concerned when I actually find a critique of Kerry's speech that makes any sense. I am sure they wil find one eventually, but the longer it takes the better.

Friday, July 30, 2004

From the Borneo Bulletin [link]:

Health Minister receives courtesy call from Afghan counterpart
The Borneo Bulletin (Brunei)
By Dk Suria Rina PHA
July 30, 2004

Dr Sohaila Sediqq, Minister of Public Health of Afghanistan yesterday morning paid a courtesy call on Pehin Orang Kaya Seri Kerna Dato Seri Setia Hj Awg Abu Bakar bin Hj Apong, the Minister of Health.

The courtesy call took place at the office of the Minister of Health at Jln Menteri Besar.
[emphasis added]

Who is your base George...

The GOP response to the DNC has begun, and I hope that is all as awkward as this: (from the NYT)

Mr. Bush ended his vacation at his ranch in Crawford, Tex., and wasted no
time in contrasting his platform to that of the Democrats, telling a campaign
rally in Missouri: "They're going to raise your taxes, and we're not."

Mr. Kerry said Thursday night that he would roll back the tax cuts Mr. Bush enacted,
but only for those earning more than $200,000 a year.

I guess the assumption by Bush is that his audience is entirely filled with people making over $200,000 a year. I think it is fine. He can chase and own that demographic. My hunch is that he might have to get some votes from the rest of America to win the election though. And to say to someone making less than $200,000 that Kerry is going to raise his taxes is a lie. But as long as the NYT wants to keep printing those two paragraphs right after each other, I am more than happy to have Bush continue to claim that Kerry is going to raise "your" taxes.

An exchange...

Over the last week or so I have been enjoying an exchange with a loyal reader.  It started with a question about me calling people Nazi's.  Now I did not recall doing this, and denied it.  But apparently I did, although it was not a public figure and I think it was justified...here is the original post:

Also warming my heart this morning was a letter to the editor in the Metro (the free paper given out in the morning). The letters are typically idiotic, and just talk about the issue of the day or some stupid column printed earlier in the week. This letter was against Fahrenheit 9/11, and made me beleive that with opponents like these I must be believing something right. There is no link, but here is the letter in its entirity:

"Michael Moore has crawled from under his rock to reveal himself not only to be unpatriotic, but a traitor as well. His latest cinematic lie fest seeks to undermine the authority of the President, and give aid and comfort to our enemies. It's high time the Patriot Act be enforced, so ideological terrorists like Moore can be arrested and locked away. The message needs to be conveyed to liberals that if you criticize the president, you go to prison."

Crawled out from under a rock indeed. I love it when these "patriots" expose themselves for what they are...nothing more than modern day Brownshirts.
Now, after being reminded of this post, I kind of think I was right.  I do think that people who are say that Michael Moore should be thrown in jail and that would be justified by the Patriot Act are facists (Nazis requires another layer of evil that is not exhibited in that letter).

When I asked the reader about his thoughts I got this thoughtful reply (The CAPS ARE HIS COMMENTS):

Let me look a little closer at this:   Michael Moore has crawled from under his rock YES, ALTHOUGH IT'S GOT TO BE A BIG ROCK TO HIDE HIS BLOATED CARCASS to reveal himself not only to be unpatriotic YES, but a traitor as well THAT'S REALLY A STRETCH, ANN COULTER'S LATEST BOOK NOTWITHSTANDING. His latest cinematic lie fest MORE OF AN EXAGGERATION FEST OR A MISLEADING CONGLOMERATION FEST seeks to undermine the authority of the President YES, AND THE US AND ANY FUTURE ADMINISTRATIONS THAT HAVE TO DEAL WITH EVIL PEOPLE, and give aid and comfort to our enemies WELL, IT DID WIN A CANNES AWARD AND GOT SOME SORT OF SEAL OF APPROVAL FROM AL-JAZEERA.. It's high time the Patriot Act be enforced IT'S ALREADY BEING ENFORCED, AND SIMILAR THINGS HAVE BEEN DONE TO RACKETEERING SUSPECTS FOR A LONG TIME, so ideological terrorists TERRORISTS IS A BIT STRONG, MORE LIKE A PROPAGANDIST OR, AS CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS SAID ON SLATE, "a spectacle of abject political cowardice masking itself as a demonstration of "dissenting" bravery" like Moore can be arrested and locked away  OK, NOW'S HE SAYING SOMETHING YOU JUST CAN'T DEFEND. The message needs to be conveyed to liberals that if you criticize the president, you go to prison.  AGAIN, LEGITIMATE CONSTRUCTIVE CRITICISM IS TO BE WELCOMED. 
Now, whether it can reasonably be opined that Moore is a traitor.  A traitor actively works to undermine his country.  Now, Moore isn't passing along state secrets, but he certainly tries to make the country look bad, and our enemies do take comfort in it (and one could imagine that a film made by our enemies would like a lot like F-9/11, perhaps with more Jew-baiting).
I can't argue with you.  I know I was going off the deep end.  After getting into an argument about what would happen when Bush refuses to leave office, or steals another election, I realized that it might be a good idea to stop living in my own echo chamber for a while. 

I stand by my statement that anyone who believes that Michael Moore should be locked up is a facist.  But I have been giving more thought to the F 9/11 (which I still have not seen).  And I am concerned about what films like it could do to the political discourse.  Sure this time he is helping to get rid of a person who I sincerely think is undermining the best interests of America and the world.  But next time the same technique could be used to instill anger against minorities.  I support his right to make it, but it does set a dangerous precedent and I am not going to run to embrace it like many other people opposed to President Bush are.  I don't want to see a future where populism runs wild and demogogery is the rule of the land.  I imagine that is a fear that you share.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

No doubt...

As if you were even wondering...John Kerry is my man!

That speech was great, and anyone who says otherwise is just pushing another party line.  There is a vision for a better America, and no matter what Bush says, he had his chance, done his deed, and it is time to give someone else a chance to lead our nation in a better direction.

Oh, and one thing for the Dan Drezners of the world.  Notice who was sitting right next to Teresa Heinz-Kerry?  That's right, your hero, the symbol of fiscal responsibility, Robert Rubin. 

Add another one to the rolls...

I am not sure if this is ironic, but I think this comment about the unemployed is going to lead one more person to become unemployed.


Today the Yankee Blog recorded its 10,000th visitor.  That is not really true though as the counter was reset in December due to a computer melt-down.  But it still is the first time the counter went above 10,000...and to me that is a milestone. 

Now if I could only get 10,000 visitors a day this blog might actually matter.

Also, I want to point out that Pedro is doing a great job recently.  His posts are actually telling me things that I could not learn anywhere else and that is the point of a blog.  His posts deserve to be noticed and talked about.  Mine...well...not so much right now.

But in other milestone related news I just found out that I have written over 238,000 words on this blog.  Honestly, I would have guess more.

Building on the Yankee's post, I'd like to assert that if Oxblog wants to present itself as a thoughtful and centrist blog, Adesnik should really cut out the insipid snark. Don't like Hillary or Ted Kennedy? Fine. But why not make a substantive comment and leave the grade school putdowns to Instapundit?

If you want to read a political blog that actually is funny, go check out Fafblog. I've been meaning to mention these guys for a while, but I was finally prodded into action by the best description of Jimmy Carter ever:

Jimmy Carter! History's greatest monster! With his Habitat for Humanity Jimmy Carter gives homes to the homeless - making the homeless cease to exist. That sounds like Homeless Genocide to Giblets!

A sign of success...

I take it as a sign of success that David Adesnik (Oxblog) seems to be grasping at so many straws to undermine the DNC.  Seriously, he says that Democrats are not talking about foreign policy.  But did he listen to Bill Clinton, I quote:

The 21st century is marked by serious security threats, serious economic challenges, and serious problems, from AIDS to global warming to the continuing turmoil in the Middle East. But it also full of amazing opportunities to create millions of new jobs, and clean energy, and biotechnology, to restore our manufacturing base and reap the benefits of the global economy through our diversity and our commitment to decent labor and environmental standards for people all across the world. (Cheers, applause.) And to create a world where we can celebrate our religious, our racial, our ethnic, our tribal differences because our common humanity matters most of all.

That sounds a whole lot like foreign policy to me.   But I guess that David Adesnik doesn't see globalization as a foreign policy issue. I am wondering what the heck he wants to hear.  Just some simple statements that we are all about democracy and bombing people to get it?  I have been hearing a lot about foreign policy, and the bottom line is that we will be safer in the world if we work to build alliances and operate with the respect of all the citizens in the world.   But when a foreign policy is not your policy I guess that means you can say it is not foreign policy at all.  

He has more snarky posts about the Democrats, but the next one that really got me was this one where he starts wondering about how many Americas there are.   First off, if he was really listening to both speeches he would realize that the entire message is that one America is being divided by the GOP.   They use values to divide America, rather than to unite America.  The issues that the GOP pushes under the code of values are all about division.  There is no reason to talk about Gay Marriage because it is a non-issue.  It really makes no difference if Gay people are getting married, and the last 4 months have shown the to the open-minded citizens of the US.  But if you want to grab on to something as evidence that you are morally superior, well that is as good as issue as any.

At the end of the day I think that people like Adesnik are forced to grasp at straws because deep down inside they know that the Democrats have been doing a great job putting forward a message of hope.  There are certainly snarky ways that this can be undercut, but after "enjoying" the fruits of the Bush Adminstration there is little that its defenders can do to counter this message.  It is sad when a thoughtful person like Adesnik just plays the role of the partisan.  I have no illusions that Adesnik will cast his vote for Kerry, but to see him flailing around trying to undermine the message of hope from this convention does make me think that the message must be getting through to Americans.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004


I have watched a few of them.  I saw the Clintons, and Bill is still the master.  I read Obama's speech, saw half of it, and read the analysis.  He is the future.  I heard Teresa, and she was good on the radio.  I saw Edwards and he was good.

I think all these expectations on Kerry are understandable, but a load of crap.  Was Clinton a great President because of his ability to give a speech?  Probably in part.  But Bush is a lousy President in spite of his ability to give a speech.  I think that Kerry will probably hit all the same themes that we have heard throughout the convention.  I think that he will have lines that are as good or better than anything delivered by Clinton or Obama.  But I am sure the media will still say he is not as good and will view the speech as a failure. 

That will be a crying shame.  The one thing I am convinced of while watching this convention is that Democrats have a better vision of America than Republicans, a better vision for the future, and a much better vision than the media ever give them credit for.  Really, there are just so many damn myths out there about Democrats that are just not true.  It makes me sick.  Democrats are not soft on terror, they are just not stubborn.  And Democrats are not socialists, they are just a party that thinks that we are only as strong as our weakest link.  And Democrats are not the party of division, they are the party that embraces all of America in all its diversity.

But the biggest shame is that I just watched the end of the Edwards speech and was treated to several minutes of Ralph Reed.  Seriously, is this some kind of joke.  At the Democratic Convention and the analysis they go to is one of the leaders of the Republican Party and one of the dirtiest attack dogs out there.   I have issues with this, but I will have a lot more issues with it if I hear Ralph Reed again after speeches at the RNC.  I want to see James Carville on the air right after Dick Cheney leaves the stage.  I demand it!  It would be absurd if the American people are treated to anything else.

It is almost as if CNN is getting afraid they are not even going to have a race to cover.  Granted I am not the most objective observer of all this, and I am living in the belly of the beast, but the feeling I get, day after day, is that there is no way the Democrats can lose the election.  They have covered all their bases and are the party of the future.  The GOP is left with nothing except dirty attacks and divisive politics.  After seeing the Dems I can't believe the American people will buy that. 

I probably will just ignore the GOP convention because I really have no use for the people running the GOP today.  I know that I have seen the convention that is about a future I believe in.  And I know that no matter what is said at the GOP convention I have lived through the last four years of what they beleive in, and I don't want four more years of that.

A quick update on the political situation in the capital: things have quieted down a bit since Monday's dramatic events, although ISAF is still making it very clear that Fahim's militia should think twice before starting anything. I'm pretty sure that they're keeping an Apache helicopter in the air 24 hours a day.

I don't have any further news on what's going on behind the scenes, but it seems like Fahim may have decided to contest the election legitimately (or as much as it's possible to do so in a country like Afghanistan). No one thinks Qanooni can beat Karzai, but he's got a better chance of that than Fahim does of taking the capital by force.

One last thing that will be of interest to no one: I heard a rumor that General Wardak (Deputy Defense Minister) will be Qanooni's running mate. General Wardak is my favorite! You've got to love a mujahideen hero who cuts a figure like John Huston in Chinatown, complete with a cane.

MSF (Doctors Without Borders, for the American audience) pulled out of Afghanistan today, about 8 weeks after 5 of their staff were gunned down in the relatively safe northwestern province of Baghdis.

Already, I've seen blog posts arguing that if MSF is leaving (they're the prime example of the first-in, last-out school of assistance) this proves that security in Afghanistan has deteriorated to Iraq-like levels, and George Bush is to blame.

Let's cut the crap.

MSF is not leaving because there's no security. Much of the country is pretty safe, including Kabul, although admittedly this will change in a second if Fahim decides to start making trouble. But I'm certain that MSF has worked in far more hazardous conditions in the past.

While I understand there was a great deal of shock at the killings within the organization, MSF is really leaving for two reasons: it is angry that the Afghan government has done little to investigate the incident and it is trying to make a loud and public statement against a particular American policy.

That the Afghan government seems little concerned with what happened is regrettable but completely unsurprising. Karzai has a few things on his plate right now, and an isolated and random (though brutal) killing in a relatively safe province isn't at the top of his list.

But it's the American policy that is the interesting story here.

In the winter of 2002/3, the US (with support from the other international forces here) decided that rather than extending ISAF throughout the country, they'd create small garrisons of troops in most of the cities. They called these forces "provincial reconstruction teams" (PRTs), and rather than simply acting as a security force to buttress the Afghan army, the PRTs were given the task of actually undertaking small-scale reconstruction activities, such as digging wells or repairing small bridges and irrigation channels.

This plan immediately came under attack from many in the aid community for two reasons: it was seen as an excuse to avoid committing large numbers of troops to bring security to the country and it blurred the line between soldiers and civilian aid workers.

Shortly after the MSF killings, a Taliban spokesman announced that they were specifically targeting MSF and some other completely unlikely organization I can't recall, because they were taking orders directly from the US government. Now I'm no expert, but MSF strikes me as the last organization on earth to allow itself to be used for US political ends. But, MSF was appalled at this charge, and they immediately turned it on the US, arguing that this was the price of the PRT plan: neutral and unideological aid organizations were being equated with a military force that was still going around bombing villages.

I think that MSF's move is meant as a direct challenge to the US. MSF has a wonderful reputation and has considerable moral persuasion in the aid community. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out, although I rather suspect that the US will simply ignore them and continue on as before.

Having said all that, I'm not so sure that MSF is right. I think the Taliban are targeting aid workers because they understand this to be the best way to derail the reconstruction, not because aid organizations might have ties to the US military. Aid workers are typically easy targets and aid organizations are quick to leave in the face of danger (this is not a criticism -- I would not stay in Afghanistan if I felt immediately threatened, and I wouldn't expect anyone else to either). To destabilize the country, it makes a lot more sense to attack international workers than the US military. Cause the soldiers aren't going anywhere no matter how many you kill.

As for the US policy, I think MSF has a point but that it's probably outweighed by other factors. Let's face it: security is the most important issue in Afghanistan, and so anything that will help the soldiers effectively provide security -- such as winning over the local population by performing small public works -- is probably a good idea. And since I believe that the Taliban is (rationally) targeting aid workers, the blurring of lines really doesn't make much of a difference.

So I don't really have a problem with the PRT strategy, except one: it was a phenomenally stupid idea and it has not worked.

The way the US has handled security in Afghanistan is a joke. This country needed (needs) at least 20 or 30,000 more troops. But the US wasn't willing to provide them -- or allow others to do so (granted, it's not clear who would have, but the US certainly could have pushed much harder). The Bush Administration decided both that the extra troops were needed to invade Iraq and that they weren't willing to allow ISAF to expand throughout the country because they didn't want anyone to limit their ability to fight the Taliban.

And we know how well both of those other priorities have turned out.

Monday, July 26, 2004

In the last few days, John Kerry has surpassed George Bush for the first time in the Iowa Presidential Election market.

Check it...

Here is the link of the day.  It is even funnier if you see the interview, but no link is available.

Blast from the past...

I was stuck on a train last week with no internet.  I spent some time reading some things that I wrote in the days before this blog.  I found one interesting letter that I saved because I thought it would be worth looking back on.  It is an excerpt of a letter to a friend who asked what my thoughts were on the pending war in Iraq.  I wrote this in March '03 and I am not ashamed to read it and reflect on it today:

Anyway, as for the War, this is something that I think about a lot, and am forced to do because I am here.  So let me rant for a while here about it.  Basically, I want to trust the US government that if they see a threat somewhere something will be done about it.  Also, I think that there are legitimate reasons to go to war, and that they don't include oil.  I also think that oil is not the reason why Bush and Co. are so interested in Iraq.  Given all that I would have hoped that a much more convincing case could have been made about the threat that Iraq poses.  If they have weapons, and are hiding them, then show some proof of how you know that.  If the goal is to free the Iraqi people, then make that the point.  If the goal is to stop countries from pursuing weapons of mass destruction then make that the point and establish a doctrine about that.  However, the Bush administration has been nothing but sloppy in making their point for war.  Thus, people who want to believe are skeptical, and people who are automatically skeptical are angry.  This is bad.  It is really bad what it is doing to the US relations with the rest of the world.  A few mistakes along the way and everything is going to shit.  It gets me really angry at Bush for not being able to accomplish this without pissing off many of our allies (which started with rejecting Kyoto and imposing Steel tariffs).  If the war is justified then this should have been possible, and if war is not justified then what are they hoping to accomplish.  But the story is not all about Bush.

The Europeans and others are making equally stupid moves.  First off is that many of the arguments against war are just plain sloppy and wrong.  Many of them are based on an assumption that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of the US are just as dangerous as in the hands of Saddam Hussain.  This is plain wrong in my view.  The US is a democracy that has been functioning for over 200 years.  The US has not used a nuclear weapon in the last 55 years of having the capability.  The US has not used chemical or biologic weapons even though they have them.  Saddam Hussain has used what ever weapons he has had against his neighbors and people.  So to equate the two just gets me mad.  Another argument against the war is that it is about oil.  Now anytime the Middle East is involved oil will be a part of the equation, but I don't think it is driving the issue.  First off the return from oil will be less than the cost of the war.  Second, if oil was all they were interested in then all we would have to do is lift the sanctions and watch the taps flow.  If in the future there was another oil embargo it would damage the entire developed world (with the exception of Norway), and then force might be supported by a broader coalition if the rest of the world was suffering as a result.  So the question is if oil is the issue, why would Bush go to war now?

There are legitimate reasons to be opposed to the war though.  If you just believe that war is bad, automatically (e.g. modern Germany) that is fine.  But I think that view needs to balanced by an awareness that some level of force is required for protection.  Also, one could certainly make the case that war in Iraq will make the world less safe.  This is very tricky, but after talking with moderates from the Arab world, I don't agree with this.  Things are very dangerous right now, and drastic steps need to be taken before things spiral out of control.  The latest case for war from Bush (and the oldest from Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld) is that Iraq is the keystone to remaking the Middle East.  This is a worthy goal in my mind; this would be the poorest, most broken region of the world if not for oil.  In some number of years oil will matter less and then what will happen?  Chaos, unless real development and progress is made today.  Thus it makes sense for world security to take the necessary steps today.

For me, the worst of the anti-war governments is the French.  They are clearly not opposed to military actions abroad (see Cote d'Ivoire), and are willing to act unilaterally as well.  Their basic position seems to be to use this issue to isolate America.  In the end, the French and Americans have the same goals.  Now if the French were willing to spend the money to get rid of Saddam their way I would be fine with that.  But when their way depends on a quarter million American troops poised to attack Iraq I think they lose most of their ability to dictate a timetable on how long inspections should last.  I think the French have done nothing throughout this conflict to make the world safer, and have only given incentive to future Saddam Husseins to defy the UN as long as possible, knowing that the French will be there to protect them, as long as the dictator primarily threatens the US. 

My final thought on this whole issue is just to get annoyed at the anti-war protesters for their lack of thinking on the issue.  First, is that all the posters for the demonstration said, "STOP THE WAR, free Palestine".  Bringing Israel-Palestine into this question is just plain wrong in my mind.  The issues are different and the solutions are different.  It just makes the entire thing come off as anti-American, rather than against a specific action of the current government.  Second, is bringing in of other unrelated issues.  A new slogan is books, not bombs.  Now, while a penny spent on bombs is not being spent on books, a penny spent on books is not feeding a child in Africa.  Books are symbolic of education and freedom, which is exactly what the people in Iraq don't have.  So are your books more important than an Iraqi's books?  And how much will all your books matter if a nuclear weapon is detonated in central London? 

So, I guess I feel like a case is to be made for war, but it is not being made well by those in charge.  And a case is to be made against war, but it is not being made well by the protesters, and especially not by the French.  What it comes down to is do you trust the US government?  Normally I would say yes, and I don’t see a compelling reason why they would be doing all this if they did not have a good reason, but they have lied before and if they are lying now, then God help us all.  In the end, something will happen and hopefully we will be alive the next day, week, year, and century.  In any event I don't plan to buy any French wine soon.

Sorry for the rant, I just decided to use this chance to actually think about this rather than get defensive when people start accusing Americans of being a bunch of war-mongering idiots who do nothing but follow their moronic leader. 

Bad Blogger...

I have had little energy for blogging lately.  Basically everything to be said, has been said.  I am happy to repeat myself, but have little energy to do so.

I spent the last three weeks watching the Tour de France.  And as with everything being said already, here  and here is what I wrote last year, and it still applies this year.  Lance is amazing and the race is great to follow (especially over the internet).  I TiVo'd the daily coverage on OLN, so let me add this year that they do a great job.  It is a great TiVo sport as I can fast forward the boring bits, but it is also great to just leave on in the background and listen for hours to Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin use the greatest adjectives to describe how Lance destroys his opposition.  There was an article in the NYT a week ago about this, but I didn't link to it and now it is gone.

Today the attention in Boston is all on the DNC.  It is exciting to have it in my city, and I will be attending a single party.  It is strange to walk down the street and realize that any person could be someone who has significant power and is just working behind the scenes.  All the closures and everything are actually working in my favor.  They seem to have scared everyone away from work, so in my part of downtown and on the T this morning it was a ghost town.  It was actually quite nice.  Aside from some sirens really cutting through my morning hangover I was pretty happy about the whole affair.

And then there is the big convention story about blogs being the story.  Do I have anything to say about this?  Basically, No.  A post I read earlier today (and can't find now) about blogs being more significant at the RNC where message loyalty is so prized is the only smart thing I have seen so far.  I am resigned to accepting that I was on this blog thing before it blew up, and I am going to be getting out before it gets stale.  I would retire this blog now, but I think that I will try to keep it together until the election.  At that point I will either figure that this blog served its purpose, or I will just be forced to throw my computer out the window and camp out on the Washington Mall to bemoan the destruction of American Democracy. 

Well, maybe I will get a chance to look into the latest Aussie Rules Football scores and write another post.  And stay tuned for my annual football preview.  Shouldn't be as good as last year, but it will be something to hold over my head in May.

It's not getting any play in the western press, but something really remarkable happened here today.

Eyebrows were raised two days ago when Karzai abruptly canceled his trip to Pakistan (he was to go today), and then yesterday all sorts of rumors started flying around that Defense Minister Fahim had resigned. Most figured that this was so he could run as Karzai's VP candidate, as expected (candidates can't continue to hold office).

But today, things got interesting.

All morning, emailed warnings flew around Kabul, telling Internationals not to head out on Jalalabad Road past the US Embassy -- a bomb had been found or a suspicious car had been left parked along the road. Then, all of a sudden, a wide area around the Presidential Palace went into lockdown, for lack of a better word. So many streets were closed that a colleague of mine couldn't get to the World Bank office, which is accessible from three directions and isn't particularly nearby the Palace.

ISAF patrols were markedly increased throughout the city, helicopters buzzed overhead all day, and I heard that the US Embassy stationed a few Armored Personnel Carriers by the front gate. More warnings went out to Internationals: stay home tonight and consider working from home tomorrow.

Apparently what happened is that Karzai, at the very last second before the election registration deadline, dropped Fahim from the ticket, instead adding the brother of Ahmad Massoud (Ahmad Massoud led the Northern Alliance before being assassinated in an al Qaeda plot on September 9, 2001; Fahim succeeded him, and there are rumors that he was somehow involved in the assassination plot).

Now, this move takes some guts and is, frankly, long overdue. Fahim is the most powerful warlord in the country and, by all accounts, he's a very bad guy. He controls a militia of 25-30,000 soldiers, most within a short distance of Kabul. Most nights as I drive home, my car is stopped by armed members of his militia; there really is no check on their power in the capital. Until today.

I strongly believe that Afghanistan only has a future if it can remove the warlords from power and disarm their militias. Getting Fahim out of office was a necessary first step, but it's one that Karzai has long been reluctant to take, for obvious reasons. Now that he's (apparently) actually done it, there's a very real danger that a number of warlords will band together against the government, fearing that Karzai is now prepared to follow through on his recent rhetoric against them.

It's an exciting time for Afghanistan, but it's also very dangerous. What happens in the next days and weeks will probably determine the direction Afghanistan will take over the next five years.

If Karzai is really taking a stand against the warlords, I have to give a lot of credit to the Bush Administration. I can't imagine he would do such a thing without their support, and their willingness to go along would be a sign that they have concerns beyond Bush's re-election. The easiest thing to do would be to cut a deal with Fahim and Dostum and worry about the consequences later, but they've apparently decided to confront them. And while I believe it's the right and necessary thing to do, there's no guarantee this is going to turn out well.

Anyhow, keep your eyes on this story over the next month or two. It's very interesting and very important.

UPDATE: I take it back, the NY Times has posted an AP article about this. I find it very interesting that Yunus Qanooni, the Education Minister, also announced his candidacy this morning (the article says that Fahim has already endorsed him). Qanooni was the powerful Interior Minister before he was moved over to Education because their were too many Northern Alliance leaders (read: Tajiks) in the most important ministries. He is said to be the most charismatic and eloquent speaker in government, although I have to say that his performance as Education Minister has been pretty poor. Clearly his mind was elsewhere.

But now that Qanooni and Dostum are both running against Karzai, along with several others with not insignificant followings, I think there's a real possibility that Karzai won't get 50% of the vote, paving the way for an unexpected runoff. Unfortunately, this increases the incentive for various parties to intimidate and cheat. Note to backpackers: the week of October 9th will not be a good time to visit the country.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

I find it really hard to believe that the US military knew exactly what Jonathan Idema and his posse were doing in Afghanistan.

Having said that, it's disgraceful that US forces at Bagram accepted a prisoner from Idema a month before ISAF raided his bunker. (It's also pretty embarassing that they held this prisoner for a month before releasing him, after apparently realizing that there was little reason for him to have been arrested in the first place.)

Look. I've been to Bagram several times (the namzad's cousin was posted there for 6 months), and I can tell you that it's not the kind of base where random people show up and drop off prisoners. It's a pain in the ass to get on the base, and someone who no longer has a connection to the military isn't supposed to be allowed on unless he's got a good reason to be there.

And if some guy just shows up to drop off a prisoner one day, I'm asking that guy a lot of questions before I let him leave.

Even under the assumption that the military didn't know what Idema was doing, it's a complete disgrace that they didn't launch a swift investigation the minute he walked up to the guard post.

Someone should get fired over this.

The idea that the US military condones American vigilantes opening up private jails in Afghanistan -- which is almost certainly not true, but try convincing anyone here of that now -- is, I think, nearly as damaging as Abu Ghraib. Seriously, no amount of rhetoric about bringing freedom or building schools could ever trump the blatant disregard for Afghan rights this would represent.

Monday, July 19, 2004

While I've always vaguely been in favor of the Assault Weapons Ban, I can't say that I've ever really given it much consideration. My thoughts on the matter usually started and ended with the question: "Why on earth would a law-abiding American ever need a fully-automatic AK-47?"
But Matthew Yglesias now has me wondering if I'm asking the wrong question. Perhaps it should be: "What harm would really come from allowing these guns to be sold legally?"
Given that lots of nasty guns are available on the black market and subtle modifications can render a banned assault weapon legal -- and that these sorts of weapons don't really serve any purpose in a country like America, where you're not going to vanish into the mountains after taking out a UN convoy -- I think the answer to the second question is probably "very little".
[Note: I am completely in favor of enforced disarmament and some sort of assault weapons ban in Afghanistan, but things are a little bit different here in Kabul than they are in Tupelo.]
Given how divisive and controversial the issue is, the idea that it is ultimately of little consequence is a strong argument for stuffing it under the mattress. I'd rather use that political capital to roll back Bush's tax cuts or the more egregious parts of the Patriot Act.

My contest entry...
The artist formerly known as the Calpundit (Kevin Drum) put up a post earlier this weekend asking why CEO pay has risen many times more than average pay in the last few decades.   He asks that the answer include rationale using supply and demand.  This is actually something that I have thought about before, and you can read my post from over a year ago on the topic here.   Or you can read my edited version below:
About a year ago I saw Paul Krugman talk about the rising inequality in the US over the last three decades.  His main point, which he also made quite clearly in his NYT magazine piece, is that the increase in inequality in America is disproportionately driven by the super-rich.  The kind of rich people that you probably don't know, just because there are so few of them.   These people are the CEO's and the other senior managers of large corporations as well as the corporate lawyers, investment bankers and consultants that deal directly with these senior managers.  Krugman's talk focused mostly on the consequences of this, rather than the causes. I guess this is probably because there are not any good theories out there.
But it seems that understanding the causes is quite important to understanding if the trend is going to continue, and thus to getting a view into the future impact of this change.  So in response to your question, let me share my theory on what might be driving this trend, and why it might be ending.
The last three decades have been characterized by enormous economic change. We have seen the end of what some have called "Fordism" and the rise of a new model of organizing businesses. We have seen the rise of real competition from other advanced economies, such as autos from Japan. We have also seen an enormous increase in globalization, with more companies competing in more markets.  I spent a few years at a strategy consulting firm and I know that these are changes firms are struggling to deal with.  Running a company in a stable environment is a lot easier than trying to change a firm.  Getting a firm that was previously just making product to start listening to customers and figuring out what they really want is a huge culture change.  But making these changes has not a choice for firms over the past 20 years, but rather a necessity.  There were firms that refused to change, or were not able to, and these firms are not in business anymore. 
In an environment where change is required it stands to reason that a huge premium is placed on getting the best possible leadership.  I am speculating that a changing environment led to an increasing willingness from firms and shareholders to pay whatever it took to get the best talent. And while many of these leaders failed, when these people were hired it was with the assumption that they were going to be the person to change the culture, increase profits, and increase the value of shareholder's investment.  Thus it is not that the supply of CEOs with the former requirements decreased, but that the demand for the best CEOs increased.  Firms always believed that they were identifying candidates who were meeting this higher bar, and offered them the salaries required to get this super-candidate.
Related to this is that you see a lot of failures.  Often companies are wrong about the person they pick, and that the salary they offered is not justified.  I am quite sure that if you look at the data you would see that the average tenure of a CEO is shorter than it was.  Now what I cannot explain is why these failed CEOs get another chance.  If the market was really working perfectly these people would have been demonstrated to be failures and they would go back to their previous level where they demonstrated competence.  But since information sharing is not perfect and because Boards like to have candidates with experience you see these failed CEOs getting another chance, and still at the high salary that indicates the hope that this person is really something special.
Also contributing to the trend is Globalization and the increase in the size of the market that these firms were playing in. It became possible to increase firm size dramatically as the potential market grew, and along with that it made sense to increase compensation of leaders.  The challenge was greater (again increasing the demand) and the rewards were greater.  Competition between international firms turned certain markets into a winner-take-all game, and along with that firms became willing to give winner-take-all compensation packages to the leaders who were able to win.
Now getting back to the trend and the implications for the future, I think the period of change is coming to a close.  Firms today are working to institutionalize ways of responding to customers.  They are getting better at innovating and providing innovations that customers want.  We are going back to the model of "it comes in any color you want, as long as it is black" but we are moving towards a new equilibrium where gradual change again is the norm.  This implies that the need to have the best talent to change an organization will decline.  A "maintenance" model of management will again be acceptable, and shareholders should realize they don't need to give huge compensation packages for leaders who are just supposed to stay the course.
I think we are seeing the seeds of this change in the recent corporate scandals. Many of them are CEOs who were trying to grow to justify the expectations inherent in their compensation. The markets were not ready for their changes, and they tried to cover this up.  Now shareholders should start to pay attention more, and realize that you don't need to pay top dollar for someone who should just keep a company on auto-pilot.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

I find it interesting that there seems to be a bunch of self-examination going on in Ireland regarding inequality, while in the US, the most developed nation with even higher poverty this kind of thing doesn't even get talked about.  Is there something about America that leads us to just accept this state of affairs?  There have been things writte about the lack of a shared heritage is to blame for our relative indifference to the plight of our fellow citizens.
What is really tragic is that our political discourse does not even talk about this.  That is partly why I was excited about Edwards early in the campaign last year.  He did talk about this.   Ignoring this issue is always blamed on the fact that poor people don't vote.   That is a part of it.  But it is also a problem that people who are not poor do not even care about it.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

I recently finished reading We wish to inform you that tomorrow we will be killed with our families, a book about the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994 and the country's attempts to reconcile with the event.
The author covered the aftermath of the genocide for The New Yorker starting in 1995, and ended up staying for parts of three years. There is no question that he sides with the Tutsis (the victims of the genocide), and especially with then Vice-President (and now President) Paul Kagame. This book is the source of about 99% of what I know about Rwanda, so take this post with a grain of salt.
It is one of the most chilling and astonishing books I have ever read. The idea that nearly an entire nation woke up one morning and started hacking neighbors, friends and even relatives to death with machetes and spiked clubs, that 800,000 or more people were killed in a couple of months, simply does not and cannot make sense to me. No matter how I turn over the story in my mind, it seems completely unreal.
But it happened.
To my dismay, after reading the book, I couldn't help but conclude that several of the arguments made by Iraq war defenders -- assertions I normally roll my eyes at -- have more than a little validity. First, I think that anyone who reads this book will have little doubt that extreme state-sponsored violence aginst citizens of a country can and should be sufficient justification for international intervention. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam's brutality and intransigence in the face of international pressure merited the long-standing US policy of regime change; my disagreement comes with the timing and unilateral nature of the war. But reasonable people can differ, I think, on whether the Iraq invasion was justified. (What reasonable people should not differ on is whether it was proper for President Bush to sell the country a bill of goods in his haste to march on Baghdad.)
The second point is that the UN Security Council (and the peacekeeping division that reports to it) is often ineffectual in the face of serious events. In Rwanda, the peacekeeping force could have saved tens of thousands of lives. With reinforcements and a proper mandate, they could have ended the genocide within days. Instead, they sat and watched. Until the UN recognizes that there exist situations when the opposing sides are not morally equivalent and that sometimes force is necessary to bring justice, I believe the United States is correct to reserve the right to act independently.
Lastly, although I haven't cottoned on to Freedom Fries or Toast, I do think that France sometimes obstructs the international community from just and proper action. According to the book -- which I have no reason to doubt -- the French acted horrendously before and during the genocide. It is no exaggeration to say that France has blood on its hands, both from its covert arm sales to the Hutu Power extremists leading up to and during the genocide, and its subsequent intervention where it occupied a chunk of the country and allowed killing to continue.
I have no idea why France acted in the way that it did. Perhaps it was simply blind to the excesses of its Hutu allies, but I find that hard to believe. Everyone had a pretty good idea of what was going on in Rwanda. While it's inexcusable that some governments -- including and especially the United States -- consciously ignored what was happening, there's a tremendous difference between idly standing by and actively supporting the genocidaires.
As far as I'm concerned, France's behavior in Rwanda is a huge black mark that is going to remain at least until they acknowledge some role in creating the conditions in which the genocide could occur and apologize for that. Until that time, frankly, I think their stances on international questions deserve the same amount of scrutiny that might be applied to those of states like Iran or China.
I strongly hope that the international community is able to learn from events like Rwanda and, well, the Holocaust, and that it will act to prevent similar horrors from happening again. I'm not optimistic that this is possible, at least in the near-term. In the current world, the US alone can provide the sort of leadership needed to confront such difficult problems, and President Bush has ensured that America lacks and will lack the credibility to lead for some time to come.

Friday, July 16, 2004

My guess is that everyone who reads this blog has either already decided to vote against George Bush (sorry, I mean vote for Kerry), would vote against Bush if only s/he held an American passport, or is a "libertarian" living in Sudbury who checks in from time to time to convince himself that the left is still loony.
So while this Jonathan Chait article in The New Republic will probably not change any of your minds, it is well worth reading.
Chait doesn't really address the wisdom of any of Bush's policies; he simply looks at the methods used by the President and Republican leaders in Congress and comes away with the conclusion that Bush has been the least democratic modern President. I find his analysis completely convincing and profoundly disturbing.
Say what you will about policy differences, but I would hope that most Americans are in favor of open, transparent and democratic governance. The Bush Campaign can lie and mislead all it wants about what the effects of its policies will be; I don't really care. But when the Bush Administration selectively keeps information from or misrepresents it to the public, then I really do have a problem.

In the last few years, the Bush Administration has routinely muzzled the federal bureaucracy and unnecessarily classified information that might raise questions about its policy claims. At the same time, the Republican leadership has tried to strengthen its grip on power by evading responsibility for unpopular legislation (by subverting the rules of conference committee) and taking gerrymandering to the extreme by pushing mid-decade redistricting through Republican-controlled state legislatures.
Go ahead and read Chait's article. It's all there and more.
Most Americans haven't had the opportunity to live in a place like Afghanistan, but my year here has awakened in me a tremendous appreciation for the democratic ideals upon which America was founded. I don't think the US will soon be a repressive "democracy" like Russia, or even Singapore, but I do think that the current Republican leadership is trying to chip away at the democratic institutions that I believe are so important.
There are numerous reasons why this election is critical, but foremost among these reasons, I think, is that the current Republican leadership needs to be discredited and a less power-hungry -- even if no less conservative -- group needs to take their place.
My politics are much more in line with Richard Nixon's than Ronald Reagan's, but if I had to choose between the two, I would take Reagan in a heartbeat, simply because he did not try so hard to subvert the democratic process (I mean in the US -- Reagan was certainly no friend to Central American democrats).
I only ask that my Republican and Independent friends think about what democracy means to them before pulling the lever for Bush this fall.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

I decided that I should probably post to confirm that I am not the unidentified man amongst the group of Americans arrested for moving to Afghanistan and opening a private jail. I do, however, appreciate all the emails expressing concern that this might be the case.

My initial reaction to this story (which I learned of while out of the country) was that it's just about the weirdest thing I've ever heard. I mean, who thinks the best way to fight the war on terror is to move to Afghanistan, pick up a bunch of random bearded guys off the street and hang them by their feet from the ceiling?

But when I got back to Kabul, everything started to make sense: the word on the street is that these guys were entirely motivated by the reward money offered for Osama and Mullah Omar. If you want to fight the war on terror, there are more effective ways of doing so than opening a private jail down the street from the Intercontinental Hotel. But if you want $50 million -- while there are still many better ideas kicking around -- kidnapping and interrogating people who look like Talibs does make some kind of warped sense.

Too bad there are about 8 million people by that description in Afghanistan and lots more across the border. But you have to start somewhere.

The other news that dropped my jaw this week was a story on CNN stating that the FBI is increasing its contacts with Arabs, Muslims and Sikhs as part of the war on terror.

That's right, Sikhs. Because they are playing a key role in the Islamic Fundamentalist terror movement.

After some internal debate, I finally decided that there was no way the FBI thinks that Sikhs are working with Osama. Sure, they've exploded a few bombs over the last twenty years in an effort to secede from India, but who hasn't?

So I hunted down the FBI press release to see what they actually said, and it turns out they were being quite sensible: the FBI is meeting with the Sikh community in an effort to limit discrimination and abuse wrongly directed at them since they typically wear turbans and have dark skin, and there are apparently a lot of Americans too stupid to get their racism right.

So, good for the FBI.

But not so good for the mainstream press.

Somehow this:

While we currently lack precise knowledge about when, where and how they are planning to attack, we are actively working to gain that knowledge. As part of that effort, we are again reaching out to our partners in the Muslim and Arab-American communities for any information they may have. [...] In addition, our outreach to those perceived to be of Muslim, Arab and Sikh descent is part of our strong ongoing campaign to prosecute bias-motivated attacks.

becomes this:
The FBI is intensifying efforts nationwide to enlist Muslims, Arab-Americans and Sikhs to help thwart a possible terrorist attack this summer or fall.

I know, it's a minor point. But by conflating those three groups, the media makes it much more likely that Sikhs will continue to be discriminated against because people confuse them with Muslims. Not that discrimination against Muslims is any better, but as with the Osama-hunting vigilantes, you've got to start somewhere.

Someone needs to tighten up the requirements at J-School.


I am watching an interview by Wolf Blitzer with Lynne Cheney and it is just ugly stuff. Cheney is slinging mud and making unsubstatiated accusations at Kerry and Edwards. Meanwhile when asked about actual polls that put Cheney far behind Edwards in who would rather be President, she claims that the polls don't matter, what matters is what the American people want?!? Excuse me? I think that is exactly what the polls are designed to tell us.

I just don't think we can have a real debate and decision about the direction of America with the Bush/Cheney ticket denying reality, lying about their opponents, and continuing to just repeat the same lies far after they have been proven to be lies.

I hope that the GOP can get their act together and make sure that their party is not hijacked by these ugly politics ever again.

We screwed up...

It seems like the first thing the US needs to do to move forward towards a more peaceful future in the Middle East and the world is admit that we screwed up in invading Iraq when we did. However current GOP line is that it was all the CIA's fault, there is really no blame because it was the right thing to do anyway, and by the way we did it in the best way possible anyway.

The only problem is that this is all false. When we invaded we had inspectors on the ground. Sure the CIA was wrong, but if we actually trusted the weapons inspectors, we would have figured that out before making the US an enemy of the world, costing the lives of almost 1000 US service people, and not creating the conditions for another failed state in the Middle East.

We also could have crushed the Iraqi Army at any given time. The New York Times actually read the Senate Report and found that Sadaam's army was in a total state of disarray. Given this it seems that we should have given other options for removing Sadaam more time, and thus been able to build a real coalition.

Everything here points to a desire for war on the part of the Bush Administration. They built up the logic for this war and saw it as their mission to follow-thru. It is tragic that the real price for this decision being paid by our Armed Services did not seem to be part of the equation. It is a tragedy. A national tragedy that will take years to recover from.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Seriously now...

Yesterday the Senate released a report that is apparently (I am not going to pretend that I read it) pretty damning of the CIA and their assessment of pre-war Iraq. The report also neglected to place any blame anywhere else, most notably the intelligence shop set up at the Pentagon and the White House which sold the intelligence to the world.

I am completely convinced that this report is just one of political convienence. Democrats are willing to go along just because it finally acknowledges that we did in fact screw up. Now this might not be news to you, but read some conservative blog comments sections (I read Drezner's) and there are still people convinced that we had everything right and that at the last second those pesky WMDs were moved right under our noses. And for the GOP of course this report gives the ability to shift blame to an agency that was run by someone appointed by Clinton (who cares that Tenet was a Republican and was only appointed after pressure from Congressional Republicans).

But for me, the entire report is just skirting the issue. We do know all kinds of dodgy things that went on in the lead up to war, bu they have not been fully reported in the mainstream press. On the Abu-Ghraib deal the press paid a lot of attention to the reporting in the New Yorker that broke the scandel, and then pretty much returned to form and started to ignore what the New Yorker was saying about the conditions that made the torture possible. Thus the Administration has been able to maintain their lie that it was just a few bad apples. Nothing could be further from the truth, but really who wants to figure out that the our President is incompentent and that the people advising him are making really, really bad decisions and giving really bad advice.

Anyway, my point is that The New Yorker also had some great articles on how we got the intelligence about Iraq so damned screwed up. And you can go and read those articles because the usually private New Yorker archives are open for articles that relate to the War on Terrorism. If these were required reading for all voters Bush would not only be un-electable, he would have been impeached months ago. Check out this article for example and browse the archives for other Hersh Articles that detail how badly our nation is being run. And if you have the time, read this week's article detailing the costs of war on our soldiers (not available online). The thought of rewarding this kind of behavior with re-election scares the crap out of me.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Krugman at his finest...

Paul Krugman can be great. Especially when he is writing about stuff that he knows well...stuff that includes numbers. Read this and wonder why this election is even going to be close.

My Question...

How do you destroy records that don't exist?

Perhaps there is a philosopher among us who can shed some light on the question.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Bush Sucks...

Really. That is all I have to say.


I have blogged before on the prospect of Bush dumping Cheney and who might be a good replacement. There are all kinds of reasons not to do this, but I think that in the end it would really help Bush. Especially if he can come up with a replacement who is slightly compelling or just interesting. There are a few floating around.

So really, while the prospect of President Cheney scares the crap out of me, the prospect of a stronger Bush/Fill in the Blank ticket scares me more. That is why this suggestion is so damn smart: Kerry should call for Bush to dump Cheney. That will basically ensure that Bush can't do it because it will be giving in to Kerry. The suggestion is courtesy of a commenter on the Daily Kos...here is the post.

Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Surprise? No!...

I am not sure that I wrote this before, but let me say it now. All along it looked to me that Kerry was pumping up the chances of choosing Gephardt just to throw a bone to labor. I thought there was no chance that Kerry was actually going to pick Gephardt because of his inability to excite anyone and his complete failure in the primaries. I think I might have written this, but I just want to remind everyone that I thought it. I feel so much better about myself.

What gives...

I was pondering a question this morning. If someone started making a gun that fired explosive bullets then would the NRA defend the right of people to buy and "bear" that gun? Seriously, given all the efforts that we are putting against fighting terrorism isn't it remarkable that there has been next to no political pressure for the Bushies to start thinking about what weapons we just don't want to see made.

Sure you can kill people with any gun, including one entirely appropriate for hunting. But fighting against an Assault Weapon Ban just seems like the wrong policy for a time when you never know what crazy is going to open fire on a busy city street. How many people could a terrorist kill just by going to a gun shop, buying an Automatic Weapon, and opening fire?

Why can't we talk about this in the country? Why are we giving up all kinds of rights, ruining our reputation around the world, destroying people's lives, when there are some no-brainer policies that we are not implementing at home. Issues like this are ones where you start to wonder if Michael Moore has a point. It is so obvious that you shudder at the amount of political power a few people must have to stop something like this from happening.

Still haven't seen Fahrenheit 9/11 yet...hopefully soon.

Good news...

I am happy about this. Given the noises about Gephardt I am very glad this choice was made. I think that Edwards is incredibly charismatic and will do a great job deflecting a lot of the attacks the GOP are going to continue to launch at John Kerry. I am also excited because of the personal connection. A friend of a friend was a staffer for Edwards in his Senate office. Although my excitement is tempered by the fact that all those DC folks are incredibly tight-lipped about their bosses. I can't say that I blame them.