Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Bringing back the Starrs 

There's been much debate (from Lieberman, Schumer, and the entire blogosphere) over whether the Plame case warrants bringing back the independent counsel. I would make two comments:
1. If we still had the IC law on the books, this would absolutely be a case where it should be used. Does that make me, as so many conservatives have said, a hypocrite because I opposed the IC for Whitewater? No, it does not. For the simple reason that the Whitewater investiagtion was a probe into a relatively minor alleged crime that took place before Clinton took office and had nothing to do with his presidential duties. The Plame affair has direct relevance to the administration's current exercise of executive power, and alleges a far more serious crime, to boot. Saying I'm a hypocrite for drawing a distinction between the two is like saying Don Rumsfeld's a hypocrite for opposing the death penalty for shoplifters--they're two totally different orders of magnitude (now, Rumsfeld may be a hypocrite for a million other reasons, but...).
2. That said, the IC law is not on the books, and there's good reason for that. For every Plamegate, there's a Monicagate, and we've already seen that Washington politicians can't be trusted to draw a distinction between the two. There should be an independent investigation, such as by Congress, but leave the IC in its grave.

Monday, September 29, 2003

What if it doesn't? 

Andrew Sullivan asks a question of liberals today (a question first asked by Christopher Hitchins): What if it works? "It," of course, being the occupation of Iraq.
I have two answers to this question: 1. Intellectually honest liberals would have to rethink our (I'm certainly a liberal, and I hope I'm intellectually honest) criticism of the administration's post-war planning. "Rethink" doesn't mean "totally retract," because there are some things the administration has clearly done wrong, many of which it could have, and should have, foreseen. But clearly, if Iraq suddenly cleaned up and became the beacon of democratic light the neo-cons have been promising, that would suggest that the planning was not as atrocious as it has often seemed.
2. No matter what happens now, it doesn't change the fact that we were led into war on false pretenses. Let's say today's U.S. casualties are the last we'll see in Iraq. Let's say that tomorrow the entire country settles down and becomes a fully-functional democracy. While we're at it, let's assume Saudi Arabia and all the other Arab states see the brand new Iraq and peacefully reform themselves into equally utopian states. And to top it all off, let's say the Bush administration knew all that would happen before the war began. None of that, wonderful as it would be, would change the fact that we were told we were going to war for reasons (weapons of mass destruction, ties with Al Qaeda) that the administration knew or had reason to believe were false. Does that mean the above scenario wouldn't make me question my opposition to the war? No. I'm not so pig-headed that I wouldn't be elated for all that to happen. But it does mean that, no matter what happens in Iraq from now on, the Bush administration has a lot things to answer for.

ADDENDUM: I meant to pose the opposite question to Sullivan, Hitch, et al.: what if it doesn't? If the war really does descend into a quagmire, Iraq turns into one big terrorist training camp, and the entire region is destabilized, then what?

And while you're at TAPPED... 

Check out their answer to my earlier question. Their basic argument: Wilson's CIA ties are being used to undermine the credibility of his Niger report. The White House's argument (TAPPED theorizes): Wilson was sent to Niger by the CIA because of his wife, not because he's a good investigator, so nothing he found there should be believed.
Of course, the White House's argument is full of holes. Most significantly: Wilson was right. There wasn't yellowcake in Niger. So whatever he did, he did something right.
And by the way, does anyone else find it disturbing that the administration is calling an ambassador's credibility into question by revealing that he has ties to our nation's main intelligence organization? Shouldn't that actually be a mark in his favor? Anyone?

Guess what? 

Environmental regulations are worth the money!
Playing catch-up on this, which comes via TAPPED.
The money graf, from an article in Saturday's Washington Post (also via Atrios):
"The report, issued this month by the Office of Management and Budget, concludes that the health and social benefits of enforcing tough new clean-air regulations during the past decade were five to seven times greater in economic terms than were the costs of complying with the rules. The value of reductions in hospitalization and emergency room visits, premature deaths and lost workdays resulting from improved air quality were estimated between $120 billion and $193 billion from October 1992 to September 2002."
In other words: the benefits of environmental regulations outway the costs.
Now, an administration that cared about the truth would at least come up with a response to this. Ok, that's not true. An administration that cared about the truth would change its policy, but I'm not even going to ask for that from this administration. But watch, this administration won't do either. It will brush it under the carpet (as it has already begun to do by releasing the report late on a Friday) and hope no one notices. And, of course, they're probably right.

More Plame 

I mean, who can resist, right?
Ok, so the White House has officially denied that Rove was the source of the leak. Let's go with that a moment: so it wasn't Rove, but they haven't formally denied that a senior official was involved. Now, I understand that it's harder to account for a dozen people (or however many are "senior") than it is to account for one, but it certainly doesn't sound to me like the administration has answered all the questions here.
Which, of course, is exactly why it makes sense to have an independent investigation of the issue. Everyone, even McClellan, acknowledges that this is a "serious matter." And it's a serious matter in which the White House has been, justifiably or not, implicated. Now let's assume for a second that the White House really wasn't involved and that when Novak said "senior official" he meant "janitor." So Justice does an investigation, find the allegations have no merit, and issues a report saying so. Then people like me say "why should we believe you?" and the credibility gap continues. What I'm saying is, this is exactly why we have independent investigations: to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. It's all the more important with an administration like this where many people already believe (justifiably) that the DoJ has become politicized. They simply can't be trusted to carry out an investigation without the appearance (again, reality aside) of bias.

The Iowa Way 

There's an amusing story in the Boston Globe today about how Iowans are feeling a lot better about their seemingly arcane caucus system due to the other, far more idiosyncratic voting issues elsewhere in the country. The best quote:
"The Supreme Court bringing a president into office -- now that's weird," said Carolyn Lieberg, another Hamburg patron, and author of the 1996 book "Calling the Midwest Home." "There are a lot of frightening things going on in this country. I think the caucuses, this winter at least, will provide a way to get together to talk about our worries and fears and hopes, to feel more united."
Here's hoping the Iowans help pick a candidate who can beat Bush.

Plugging away at the leak 

Tons and tons has been written on this today, so I won't even try to give a full roundup. Visit Atrios and others for a proper summary. A few things, however, do need to be said:
1. Drudge has a statement from Novak saying "No one in the Bush administration called me to leak this." What happened, then? He was already on the phone with them. That's the kind of technicality the Republicans loved to bash Clinton for. More importantly, it doesn't help Novak or the administration a bit. Revealing secret operatives isn't legal if someone asked you (which, incidentally, there's no evidence Novak did. It just came up in conversation.)
2. What I haven't figured out yet is to what extent we should be blaming Novak in all of this. He claims the officials "never indicated it would endanger her or anyone else." That's not exactly forward-thinking on his part, but I tend to think it's the administration's responsibility, not Novak's, to know what is and is not appropriate to reveal. If you don't want something in the paper, don't tell a journalist.
3. I can understand why Novak won't reveal his source on this--he did, after all, guarantee anonimity (though Atrios notes that that he hasn't always been so loyal to his sources)--but what of the other 6 journalists the Post claims were told of the story? Did they guarantee anonimity too, even though they turned down the story?
4. And then there's the conservative reaction. I said yesterday that any conservative who gives the President a pass on this one has no claim to patriotism. Well, guess what... The NRO's Clifford May questions whether Plame's CIA job was ever a secret in the first place. In a piece that mostly just repeats the old (and irrelevant to the current issue) attacks on Wilson, May says he had heard Plame worked for the CIA before Novak's column ran--and not from an administration source, but from "someone who formerly worked in the government" who "mentioned it in an offhand manner."
This revalation does little for the Republican cause, however, for two reasons: 1) If, indeed, the administration wanted to out Plame, why wouldn't they tell May? And why not through a former government official? And 2) (less conspiratorially) If Plame's job wasn't a secret, why did she have a cover story, and why does the CIA want an investigation into the leak? Not all CIA staffers are secret--just the ones who have some need to be.
Andrew Sullivan is better, if only because he's waiting to hear more before posting (something I wish many bloggers, Sullivan included, would do more often). He does ask a valid question, though: what exactly was the motive behind the leak? Revenge, people are saying. Ok, but how exactly does the revenge work? Someone please clarify this for me.


Blogs and the blogging bloggers ... 

Dan Kennedy, over at the Boston Phoenix, has an interesting post on the ongoing question of Daniel Weintraub's blog in the Sacremento Bee. There has been much discussion in recent weeks of the Bee's decision to edit Weintraub's blog.
Kennedy argues persuasively that this is really no big deal. Weintraub's blog isn't independent--it's hosted on the Sac Bee's website--so there's no good reason for it to be free of editorial oversite. Moreover, Kennedy says, editorial oversite can be a good thing. There's a reason we have editors, after all (mark the date; I may never say that again).
The real issue here: what is the value in blogging? Is it its spontaneity? I would argue not. Speed is good; it's nice to get commentary now rather than needing to wait until tomorrow's editorial page, but speed is different from spontanaity. There's no reason blog posts have to be the first thought that crosses someone's mind. If they're independent (as this one is) then they obviously shouldn't be edited. But if they're attached to a news organization (like Weintraub's and Kennedy's), then there is every reason for that organization to want some oversight. What form that oversight should take is up for debate, but let's not go overboard here. This isn't censorship any more than the changes my editor makes to my stories is censorship.

Gorilla attack! 

One day after a story ran in the Boston Globe (I'd link, but I can't find the story on their new website) about how an adolescent male gorilla escaped from Boston's Franklin Park Zoo, we learn that it happened again. This time, the gorilla injured two people, including a two-year-old girl, and had to be heavily sedated.
This story raises all sorts of questions--how does one of the nation's major zoos not know how to keep its animals in their cages?--but then you read this one. The headline says it all: "Restless and caged, apes seek freedom."
In other words, these animals are miserable in captivity, and yearn to be free. And because they're big, strong, and scarily intelligent, they often get their wish, which is, of course, bad for all concerned.
I have to wonder whether gorillas are alone in this. If you've ever seen a lion prowling a cage in a zoo, you've wondered the same thing. This sort of incident has to raise questions about the role of zoos. Certainly, they're important for their conservation work. But is it possible that their commercial (and educational) role gets in the way of conservation? And are we really doing the animals any favors? I don't have answers to these questions, but incidents like this should make answering them a priority.

How to get promoted at the Times 

Step one: be the only person at the paper to realize you're all being had.
Jonathan Landman, the Times metro editor who sent the famous "stop Jayson" e-mail, has been promoted to assistant managing editor for enterprise. For those not in the biz, "enterprise" stories are long-term projects, meaning Landman will be in a position of real influence.
The Times story, of course, doesn't mention Landman's role in the Blair scandal, but let there be no doubt, he is being rewarded for his well-placed skepticism. Here's hoping he turns that skepticism to the administration when signing out stories.

Think the IRS will buy this one? 

Why did the yellowcake story stay in the State of the Union even after Tenet raised concerns? The White House forgot about Tenet's warning.
Tom Tomorrow is all over this one.

Wait, you mean... 

...that the Patriot Act might be used for someting besides going after terrorists?
Well, as a matter of fact, yes.
I joined the ACLU a couple months back. I don't agree with them on everything, and I do think they've been a bit shrill on the Patriot Act from time to time, but thank God they're out there. Of course, law enforcement is using this law in cases unrelated to terrorism. In fact, they should. Law enforcement's job is to use the tools available to them. The legislature's job is to limit those tools so that liberties are protected. It's time for the legislature to do its job.

Sunday, September 28, 2003

Censorship and the left 

Andrew Sullivan has a post today about the "real McCarthyites"--the left. He argues, yet again, that the real suppressors of free speech in this country are not the conservatives but the politcal correctness police, particularly on campus.
Ok, there are obviously major holes in Sullivan's argument, such as the fact that it was the conservatives, not the liberals, who hollered "unpatriotic" every time someone questioned the president after 9/11, and it was Ari Fleischer--the supposedly moderate spokesman for Bush--who said that people should "watch what they say" in response to Bill Maher's comments about the hijackers not being cowards. And given the right is the group actually in power in this country, that's particularly worrisome.
But Sullivan does raise an important (though hardly original) point: on college campuses, lefty groups have a tendency to react to speakers they don't like by trying to drive them off campus or, alternatively, drown them out. I saw it when I was in college, when Dinesh D'Souza came to speak. Instead of allowing him to dig his own grave--as he surely would have done--and then pepper him with tough questions, the leftist groups on campus tried to storm the room to shout him down. And guess what? D'Souza was able to claim the moral high ground, and it was the left, not D'Souza, that came away looking ridiculous.
Protests are all well and good. I think the anti-war protests in the spring sent a powerful message, and obviously mass protests have made a real difference in the course of history. They can be effective on a smaller scale, too. But free speech shouldn't be a function of who has the louder bullhorn. The most effective way to make someone look stupid is to let him do it himself. The left in this country, especially on campus, has yet to learn this. They would do well to do so soon.

How could I not... 

...mention this whole Plame/leaked intelligence scandal? (and yes, now that it's been the lead story over at ABC news, it is a scandal, albeit still a small one).
Really Atrios and about a thousand others are already all over this one, so there's not too much to add except dittos. But it does need to be said: any conservative who gives the administration a pass on this one has no claim to the principles of patriotism or national security. This isn't--honestly--about politics. It's about someone on the staff of the President of the United States compromising an agent of the government for political gain. That is beyond dirty; it is treason.
Now, before we get ahead of ourselves here, I have no reason to believe that the President actually knew about this, certainly before it was done, or even after. But now that he does know, I expect immediate action. And everyone else should too.

Ten on one 

There's a terrifying story in the Times today about how Bush is just sitting back while the ten Democratic candidates duke it out with each other. Particularly encouraging:
"Mr. Bush's senior advisers, in interviews last week, repeatedly described the Democratic field as unusually weak and divided, providing an important if temporary cushion for Mr. Bush."
Alas, these "senior advisers" (love how they have to be anonymous here, but I digress) are almost certainly right. The fact that Clark's entry has stirred such excitement is a sure sign that people are dissatisfied with the current field.
What to do about it? Well, we've already seen that there are a couple things the Dems can't do. Namely, just agree with everything Bush says (see: 2002), or agree ahead of the primaries who the nominee will be (see: Kerry). And since the Dems seem highly unlikely to agree to a more lefty agenda, whether or not they should, that's out too.
Yet it is clear that a long a bruising primary batte isn't going to get the Dems anywhere. I don't have a perfect solution here, but I do know one thing: part of the reason that we're still so far from choosing a candidate is that we still know so little about them. And this is due at least in part to the excessive number of candidates in the race. 10-way debates, like the one the other night, are useless.
So to Dennis Kucinich, Carol Moseley-Braun, Al Sharpton, and Bob Graham: get out. You're only hurting the cause. Ditto John Edwards, who will have plenty of time in the future to run (though God help us if he does so before growing up a little policy-wise). For that matter, Gephart and Lieberman need to accept that it's over. Realistically, there are three candidates in this race: Dean, because he has the money and the attention, Kerry, because he has enough central-party backing to stick around at least until he loses NH, and Clark, because no one knows enough yet to say otherwise. Everyone else may be great, but they're not going to win. And the last thing we need at this stage is a cluttered field that allows Bush to sit back and relax.

Finally, an actual post 

There's an interesting conversation going on over at Romenesko about whether or not the "Daily Show" should be taken seriously. It seems there are two basic positions here: 1. Jon Stewart is nothing but a comedian and it is ridiculous to take him seriously as a critic of politics or the media, or 2. The Daily Show shouldn't be used in the place of a newspaper, but it has some of the sharpest political satire around. (Needless to say, the arguments are a bit more nuanced than that and are worth reading).
Unsurprisingly, given my age, I'm fairly solidly in the latter camp. The Daily Show's importance, however, comes less from its being brilliant (though it ofte is), and more from the rest of the TV media being so unwilling to ask tough questions. Stewart would be entertaining no matter what, but he is significant because he takes those in power to task--albeit under the cover of satire--in a way no one else (at least on television) will. That's too bad, because no matter how perceptive the show is, it can't do in 15 minutes (before the guests show up and I turn it off) what the real news shows could do if they had the will.


In the beginning... 

Yes, one way or another, you've stumbled onto my new blog. A new blog? You say. Another new blog?
Yes, I know, this world needs little less than it needs a new blog. And yet, I've created one. Why? Two reasons:
1. (the pretentious answer) Because, for all the blogs out there, I've yet to find one that consistently fits in with my political feelings. Liberal, sometimes left of that, but with a sincere effort toward intellectual honesty and a reasonable attempt to accept that there are two sides to just about any debate.
2. (the realistic answer) Because I like to hear myself talk, and I like to think other people do to.
Ok, so I recognize that this introduction hasn't made much of a case for my blog. To that, I say: read it and judge. There is no reasonable test of a blog other than that.

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