Friday, May 30, 2003

Joshua Micah Marshall continues to be Texas Homeland Security central. Can he do to Tom "the Exterminator" DeLay what he did to Trent Lott?

Probably not. But hope springs eternal.
A column from the May 29 op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal is disturbing. Entitled "S.O.S. From Afghanistan," it's written by Ahmed Rashid, a correspondent for the Far Eastern Economic Review, and the author of "Jihad;" and by Barnett R. Rubin, the author of "The Fragmentation of Afghanistan," and director of studies at the Center on International Cooperation, at NYU.

The Journal charges a subscription to their website, so I can't provide a link, but here's some excerpts:

"As the U.S. seemed unable or unwilling to deal with a deteriorating security situation, last week President Hamid Karzai took the initiative. He acted to bring regional commanders under his control and has promised to resign if he fails.

"...This initiative answers demands for a legal government voiced by thousands of Afghans, who are drafting a constitution, preparing for elections, training for a new army and police force, teaching, rebuilding homes, tilling fields, clearing mines and sacrificing their lives in the fight against extremists. Yet in recent angry demonstrations many of these same Afghans poured out their bitterness at how few concrete results these efforts have produced.

"...This is not the assessment only of the 'armchair columnists' to whom Donald Rumsfeld referred while on his May 1 visit to Afghanistan. It is a consensus that emerges from officials of the U.N., the EU, other U.S. allies, aid agencies, U.S. officials in the field, and Afghans loyal to Mr. Karzai. The differences between Washington's depiction and that of others is stark. On his way to Afghanistan, Mr. Rumsfeld announced, 'The bulk of Afghanistan is permissive and secure.' On May 6, however, U.N. Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi told the Security Council that 'the issue of security casts a long shadow over the whole peace process and indeed, over the whole future of Afghanistan.' Appealing for the deployment of international troops outside Kabul, he added, 'the rest of the country must experience increased security lest support for the government...erode[s] dangerously.' The 5,000-strong International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has no mandate to deploy outside the capital.

"...The enemies of the government are active -- not mere 'remnents.' Daily, the regrouped Taliban rocket or ambush U.S. and Afghan forces in the south and east, where reconstruction (barely begun) is grinding to a halt.

"...The U.S. continues to resist ISAF expansion, and others will not offer troops without U.S. leadership...Even when money trickles in, there is inadequate security to carry out tasks. During a September 2002 summit with Mr. Karzai, President Bush announced a showcase project -- the rebuilding of the highway between Kabul and Kandahar. Though the U.S. heavily lobbied Tokyo to contribute and start work from Kandahar, Japanese officials claim that the Pentagon refused to deploy any of the 3,000 U.S. troops to protect Japanese engineers. Hence after eight months, work has not begun in Kandahar.

"...Fighters will not hand over weapons to the current ministry of defense. As one commander from eastern Afghanistan said, 'Only when there is a demobilization process implented by international forces...will Afghans support it. We hate war, we hate guns, but only then will we surrender our weapons.' While U.S. commanders in the field have helped negotiate the demobilization plan, the Pentagon has declined to help implement it. Mr. Brahimi told the Security Council that demobilization could not start without full reform of the ministry of defense. Yet President Karzai's aides were dismayed that during a visit to Washington earlier this year, U.S. officials failed to pressure Mr. Fahim [Defense Minister and a Northern Alliance warlord who continues to defy the Bonn Agreement, which requires him to withdraw his forces from Kabul] over the continued control of the military..."


We knew the Bush administration has a short attention span. We knew Afghanistan would be a mess for some time. But this indicates an almost willful attempt by the Pentagon to maintain chaos in the country, and to allow for the rebuilding of the Taliban.

Chaos in Afghanistan. Collapse of civilization in Iraq. A lot of columnists and bloggers have made hay by comparing the disdain for nation-building Bush showed during the presidential debates with the nation-building we are now supposedly engaged in.

The punditocracy have it all wrong. Turns out that Bush and his team at the D.O.D. do, in fact, continue to disdain such rebuilding efforts, even as Al Qaeda regroups.

Is the New York Times -- poster child for the liberal media bias -- actually being cleverly manipulated by the Bush administration and the Pentagon? Jack Shafer thinks it's possible. It's just as possible that the Times' Judith Miller is as desparate to find WMD as Donald Rumsfeld. She's building a small industry in seeing -- and reporting on -- bio and chemical weapons lurking behind every tree. Her reporting in Iraq has been just as scandalous as "L'affaire Blaire" (full disclosure: I stole that from a New Yorker piece) and the "Bragger." And her performance in last year's "Frontline" program on bio-terrorism, in which she seemed to imply that she was personally the target of the anthrax mailer, was embarassing.

Piling on. The Times' apparent morale problems and heavy-handed management isn't confined to the newsroom; even the sports page is driving its best reporters out, according to The New York Observer (thanks to Alex Belth's Bronx Banter):

"In an interview with Off the Record on May 27, Mr. [Buster] Olney said his new gig would include appearing on television as well as writing for the Web site and ESPN the Magazine.

"'I had other chances to leave The Times, but this is an incredible opportunity,' Mr. Olney told Off the Record.

"...According to sources, Mr. Olney, 39, was increasingly unhappy with how the department was being run from above. They said he’d been distraught over the treatment of former sports editor Neil Amdur, and over the management decision to spike two columns by Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton on the Augusta National controversy. (The Times covered the controversy vigorously and editorialized against Augusta’s policy on women.)

"Asked how much internal Times politics played a role in his decision, Mr. Olney would only say: 'I love the paper and had a great time at the paper. Neil was great to work for. [New sports editor] Tom Jolly is a great editor. I wouldn’t leave if this wasn’t a terrific opportunity.'"

Buster covered the Yankees during their incredible run from 1996 to 2001.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

The SalmoFan? [The New York Times site requires registration, sometimes. But it's worth it for out-of-towners, just for the priviledge of reading Paul Krugman's and Maureen Dowd's columns every week. And if you want to read, see, or hear anything, anything in the media regarding the appalling, on-going famine in Africa, you have to read Kristof].

Where was I? Oh yeah. "'We've come to the point of view where we view these [salmon] farms as hog lots or feedlots of the ocean,' said Jeff Reardon, the New England conservation director of Trout Unlimited." I've decided to eat only lobster. It tastes great (with drawn butter, of course), isn't farmed, is pretty cheap these days, and (related to that last point), the lobstermen (and women) of the Northeast are hurting. [ed., But aren't lobsters bottom feaders?] Hmmm, perhaps you have a point there

Today's correction of the day from the Gray Lady herself: "An article on May 17 and a correction in this space on Saturday about a study that found that drug testing in schools does not deter drug use referred incompletely to the views of a sponsor, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. While Dwayne Proctor, a senior communications officer of the foundation, initially told The Times that testing was "an appropriate tool for identifying kids in need of treatment," the organization has since disavowed that view and says it has taken no position."

How can they take no position? It's either a deterrent or it's not, and I'm guessing the latter. And I'm guessing the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has come to the same conclusion, but it's bad for business to say the unmentionable.

We now know that you can't believe everything you read in the Times ("Except for Dowd and Krugman," Andrew Sullivan did not say). I always assumed, like everyone, that when the bi-line said Apalachicola, the reporter was really there, not waiting in line at his or her favorite Krispy-Kreme while an uncredited freelancer phones it in.

I don't think this story quite matches the Jayson Blair story, though, but it keeps the blogosphere humming, and isn't that what it's all about?

Rumblings among the Greens. They've been disabused of the notion that there's no differences among the Republicrats, and are considering -- horrors -- supporting a Democrat in 2004. Just not Gephardt or Leiberman. But they're leaning to Kucinich?! Didn't he use race-baiting to get elected in his heavily Catholic, white district? And his evolving stance on choice is amusing to watch. The CommonDreams crowd is even beginning to lose faith in the guy.

Speaking of Greens, an interesting piece on Michael Moore (thanks to Altercations for the link). I don't agree that theater and entertainment can't make for good politics. It's just that for Moore, it's all about the bullying and the confrontation. Or, more accurately, it's all about Michael Moore.

And, finally, the Yankees. Hopefully last night (the Yanks won 11-3 over the Sox) is the real deal and not an aberration. The Yankees have these slumps every year, and they are always two or three games behind the Red Sox in June...and usually eight up over Boston at the end of September. I'm not panicking that the $180 mil club is going to lose the division, but the interview with the estimable Allen Barra on BronxBanter, did have me thinking. But then again, Barra, not to his credit, sounds a lot like the guys freaking out on the sports call-in shows ("They gotta make a trade!" "Jeter can't extend his arm!").

All the teams who started hot have cooled, even the powerhouse KC Royals.

Michael Kay, the Yankees' TV announcer had an interesting aside regarding Hidecki Matsui, who was signed as a no-field power hitter, but has proven to be a great fielding singles hitter (when he hits). Kay asked Ichiro when the Yanks played the Mariners earlier this year, whether Matsui was a power hitter in Japan. No, said Ichiro, they've got it all wrong. He's a line drive hitter.

Apparently those line drives make it out of Japanese ballparks, but not Yankee Stadium's death valley of a center field.

Monday, May 26, 2003

I was one of the "I can't believe I'm for the war" liberals. In large part because, while I didn't buy into the Bush administration's claims of an Al Qaeda connection to Saddam Hussein, I did assume that the wise and temperate statesmen in the administration surely had classified material about Iraq's weapons. Gee, what about Collin Powell's presentation to the UN? All those photos? As I said to someone during the run-up to the war, "Just because Bush says something, it doesn't automatically mean it's not true."

Turns out that, well, yes, it does mean just that. Rumsfeld has ordered an investigation into obvious intelligence failures as US arms investigators are preparing to leave Iraq without any evidence of the thousands of liters of anthrax, the tons of chemical agents, etc., Powell said were there. But was it an intelligence failure at all? Wasn't the CIA complaining earlier this year that the Pentagon was puffing up its estimates? And didn't Rumsfeld repeatedly tell the CIA to go back (I was never sure where they were to go back to? Prague?) and keep digging until they found an Al Qaeda connection to Iraq. And shouldn't Rumsfeld have ordered this investitation into the contradictory intelligence before the war?

That just would not be the Bush administration way. And now the hawks are focusing their laser-like, single-minded attention on Axis II.

Maureen Dowd's column in yesterday's NYTimes puts it this way: "The Iraq WMD's and ties to Al Qaeda were merely Macguffins, as Alfred Hitchcock called devices that drove the plot but were otherwise inconsequential...Far from being chagrined about the little problem of having no casus belli, and no plan for smoothly delivering Pax Americana to Iraq and Afghanistan, the hawks are hawking the next regime change. If Iraq was not harboring Al Qaeda and going nuclear, then certainly Iran is...The Taliban and Al Qaeda are resurgent; Afghanistan and Iraq are a mess; the vice police are back arresting women in Afghanistan and looters are tearing up archeological sites in Iraq; Saddam and Osama are still wanted, dead or alive. Yet the MacGuffin has moved on."

Credibility is a problem for this adminstration. It's always been a problem for Tom "the Exterminator" DeLay. Josh Micah Marshall is practically Texas Legislature Central for what should be a bigger scandal than the lack of press coverage has thus far made it appear. Read down to find a transcript from Meet the Press which indicates the level of disintrestedness. Did Whitewater burn the press out, or does the Ruling Party simply get a free pass these days? Imagine if Clinton had flown in a navy jet because "he wanted to see what it was like," as Ari put it recently.

"If you can't get up for that, I don't know what will do it. I don't think we want to be on all the classic TV shows with Roger, so let's try to beat them." Red Sox centerfielder, Johnny Damon on facing the Yankees' Roger Clemens this afternoon, as Clemens tries to win his 300th game against the team he came up with.

That's if the weather gods permit the game to be played today. The rain is coming down pretty hard at the moment.

Saturday, May 24, 2003

"Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why." Chapter title in Hunter Thompson's new "memoir."

This story makes me think, sadly, of all the immigrants -- legal and not so legal -- working the breakfast shift at "Windows on the World" the morning of September 11, 2001. Immigration & Naturalization, along with the Dept. of Justice, have disturbing priorities and a strange perspective on recent history.

The weather is awful (50 degrees on Memorial Day weekend?!). The Yanks are a half game out of first. Bush is still president.

Tomorrow's NY Times Magazine has what looks like a ghastly tale of campus conservatives at today's universities. I haven't read it; the cover photo is chilling enough.

Wednesday, May 21, 2003

With the furor over the Jayson Blair story roiling the blogosphere, it's important to remember that without plagiarism, web logs would just be diaries. And who wants to read someone else's diary...err...well...nevermind. The inimitable (and prolific) Judge Posner has some interesting thoughts in this area.
For a brief moment, I thought Christie Whitman had found her soul. But I think she may actually be telling the truth when she says she wants to spend more time with the family. Given Bush's love of Reagan administration retreads, is Earl ("the pearl") Butz available? Plays to Bush's base, as they say. "They" being Karl Rove.

Speaking of baseball, I never liked Manny Ramirez, and last night's stare down of hapless Jeff Weaver -- after Weaver accidentally plunked him -- only affirmed my dislike. But then I read this. Manny does yoga? "Ramirez's Boston teammates marvel at his ability to set up pitchers and recall situations against them. And if you want an example of how happy he is this season and how dedicated, go to the Sports Club/LA some morning when the Sox are in town and check out Manny and his wife in the yoga class. No kidding. Manny does yoga, has lunch, goes to Fenway, wanders out to the cage in center field and hits." I'll have to rethink the way I feel about Washington Heights' favorite son.
Personally, I'll miss Ari Fleischer. An ardent defender of the truth -- at least Dear Leader's view of what truth is, he took the office of the White House press secretary to an entirely new level. While guys like Mike McCurry simply avoided hearing anything that was going on in the West Wing (one pictures him holding his ears and humming throughout the day), Ari simply made up whatever would put Bush in the best light, firmly denying anything that would imply that the President has changed his mind (remember nation-building?), or that the President has acted in anything but the most noble and virtuous way (remember Jim Jeffords?). Timothy Noah shares my pain.

Perhaps it's just May, but the Red Sox/Yankees series in the Fens this week doesn't seem to have that certain bite as in past years. Perhaps there are too many new players on both teams, perhaps it's because the cost of tickets now mean that only corporate-types can get to the game, at least the good seats (violent fans seem to be the province of the Chicago White Sox these days). These days, the only trash-talking you hear on either side is between the owners. We'll see as the season heats up and, assuming the Sox don't swoon in the summer heat, we have a pennant race.
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