free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.

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All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ...
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?
Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew was smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.

Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Friday, January 31, 2003

--- Unpacking the Case for Invading Iraq: Introduction ---

What are we going to do about Saddam? It's increasingly clear ... we're going to invade Iraq and take him out.

On subsidiary questions -- who, when, where, how -- the veils of uncertainty are dropping to permissible minimums for an impending military operation. What next? We'd rather not think about that. But the disquieting big question -- WHY? -- lingers like Dilbert's "stench of a dead woodchuck under the porch".

General public sentiment hangs uneasily on the vapor trail of last year's bogus arguments ... mostly on a residual impression that Saddam masterminded 9/11.

Leadership sentiment hangs on a very different set of pegs. This post is the first in a series taking up -- and taking down -- the strongest of these pegs, including the Case for Invading Iraq presented by Kenneth Pollack in his very thoughtful, knowledgeable and influential book The Threatening Storm. (Highly recommended, BTW.)

Some of the supporting arguments are far-fetched, some are not even sane, not even on their own terms -- though perfectly sane analysts stand behind them. Capable decision-makers would object vociferously if they saw other people in other settings apply these same principles the same way. What's going on here?
One school of thought explains dreaming as an elaborate side-effect of random synaptic noise and involuntary muscular contractions -- the upper brain inventing story lines to satisfy its need for a master narrative consistent with the moves it thinks its neuromuscular subsystems are making.

Brain-watching technology has advanced to the point that we can detect similar phenomena in the waking state. The subconscious reacts to an event, informing the conscious an instant later -- action before thought. The conscious not only invents a consistent reason for the action taken, it falsifies the supporting history. The subject experiences this sequence as purposeful thought -- conscious choice -- driving physical action!
I hope that's not all there is to my dreams ... but I'm tempted to believe "action before thought" accounts for the parade of arguments for war in Iraq. I also hope Colin Powell will bring us better material next week, but we can only work with what's on the table.

Some Ground Rules
For purposes of this discussion only, we confront the issue on narrow consequential grounds: Does invading Iraq make the US foreseeably more secure, or less secure?

We exclude several popular bases of argument, or truncate them unceremoniously, claiming the central question can be settled without them. (These are the CP's rules -- love 'em or leave 'em -- though objectors are encouraged to stick around out of curiosity.)

Moral argument is out of bounds. We may lose a few dogmatic pacifists and pilgrims on the road to Armageddon, in order that the rest of us can communicate in terms of least common denominator precepts.

On the other hand, the real-world dynamics of competing belief systems and their effects on various players' motives, reactions and affiliations, etc., are very much in bounds. So are pragmatic pacifist considerations (warfare's proclivities for miscalculation, contagion and unintended consequences), and likewise "peace through strength" arguments.

Compassion is out of bounds. Saddam characteristically tortures and kills innocents, often in front of their loved ones. War characteristically tortures and kills innocents, often in front of their loved ones. Postwar score-settling does likewise. US policy apparatus has been happy to abide (and abet) all of the above, and has promised Saddam uncontested tenure if he disarms. The human tragedy is real; the sentimental argument is an illusion.

Legalisms are out of bounds. "Material breach" and "burden of proof" are window dressing. To go, or not to go -- that is the question. US can devise satisfactory rationale for either option, and overwrought fears of irreparable harm to UN legitimacy are not dispositive.

Ordinary economic effects are out of bounds. Dollar costs of invasion and occupation won't derail the US economic juggernaut. Same for visions of plunder on one side and "War for Oil" accusations on the other. Ultimately, similar volumes of Iraqi oil will reach world markets at similar prices regardless of US action. If we expropriate oil as spoils of war, the financial upside pales next to the geopolitical downside.

On the other hand, the prospect of large-scale disruption of Gulf oil production (Iraq + Kuwait + Saudi + Iran) is in bounds. It is a distinct possibility (either way), it has large-scale security implications, and it figures prominently in Pollack's argument.

Extraordinary economic effects are out of bounds. If some chain of events induces a major reversal of US fortunes, or lights the fuse on a massively expensive WW III, we'll have a lot more than red ink on our hands.

Speculative futurology is out of bounds. If you enjoy thinking through Rube Goldberg historical scenarios, you have an inquiring mind and should consider a career as a video game designer. If you think you know how these chain reactions will play out, you have a deranged mind and should be allowed nowhere near the levers of power.

Short-range knock-on effects are fair game. For instance, a US presence in Iraq would give us political, military and market leverage with Saudi Arabia.

Raise taboo arguments, and you are arguing from premises not shared widely enough to win the day, or you are claiming superhuman foresight, or seizing on fine points in a coarse-grained landscape ... or you are simply rounding up palatable arguments in service of a predetermined conclusion.

Where the case hangs on controversial estimates, we'll grant the hawks any reasonable benefit of the doubt -- and sometimes more. For instance, we'll score the war itself as a non-cost item in either dollars or blood, and we'll ignore the prospect of immediate stateside reprisals. The case for invasion is so riddled with error, we are comfortable spotting the hawks many valuable debating points.

We will call "foul!" when midrange probabilities are inflated to perfect certainty, or deflated to dismissal, or compounded with no respect for the steepening odds against longer parlays.

Series Outline
I. Unpacking Saddam's threat inventory. We'll post separate segments on each major weapons category: chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear. We'll survey the interplay of development, production, delivery, and operational strategies for each. We do not assume Saddam's strategic intentions are sound, but we do assume they are purposeful.

In each category, we'll review Saddam's threats to America (and American interests), and place them in perspective against Saddam's threats to Others, Others' threats to America, and Post-Saddam's threats to America.

Conclusions in brief: in each category, what Saddam can do isn't likely to hurt us, what ends up hurting us is more likely to come from other hostile actors, and Saddam's successors are nearly as likely to hurt us as he is.

II. Unpacking Pollack's Case. We'll show that some key links in Pollack's chain of inference are stretched, bent, badly forged or just plain missing. We'll take up an explicit ad hominem angle, one we believe has explanatory legitimacy in this case.

Starting from the premise "something must be done about Saddam", Pollack convincingly eliminates a series of noninvasive alternatives, and reluctantly concludes "something must be done about Saddam". Not surprising -- he spent the most intense years of his career assigned to do something about Saddam, and Saddam is still with us. Pollack shuns the hysterics that color most popular discussion, but his support for the main premise is unsatisfactory. Saddam, in his eyes, is a problem -- necessitating a solution -- in closed context. Downstream consequences get short shrift.

III. Inspecting National Security Impact. This is a big payload. Rather than unpacking the whole thing, we'll pry open selected crates from selected pallets. It should become clear there is much at stake outside the Iraq regional "bubble".

IV. Unpacking arguments of last resort. There are a handful of arguments that some see as bulletproof clinchers, and others see as grasping at straws. These include "What's your alternative?", "Bet your city!", "Appeasement!", and various permutations of Pascal's Wager.

What's My Alternative?
If we invade Iraq on current public evidence alone, if we proceed with few partners, if we look trigger happy, we incur adverse national security consequences that are extensive, severe and long-lasting -- even if we are eventually proven right on most points.

If we invade Iraq on the boldest stretch of plausible insinuation, and it all turns out to be well-founded, we incur very serious adverse national security consequences.

If we do nothing, severe adverse national security consequences are unlikely.
In all cases, the future history of Iraq is highly unpredictable. OK, but what's my alternative?

In terms of US national security, "nothing" beats the heck out of "invasion" ... but US and friends can do better than "nothing", and we'll have some suggestions.

Wednesday, January 29, 2003

--- S.O.T.U. Review ---

Give Bush credit -- he found an acceptable tone, avoided pitfalls, and pulled a couple of velveteen rabbits out of the hat. He may get his SOTU bounce after all. [UPDATE: ABC News has the first legit response poll, giving W about a 3 point bump (within MOE).] Will it stick, or is it (as one MSNBC commentator speculated) a "sugar high"? [Bad decisions pile up ... he'll never make the play-off's.]

One rabbit was a threadbare stuffed bunny, but it plays surprisingly well in early reviews. Did the Hydrogen Car sound familiar? It should. In dailyKOS comments, "olds88" notes that Bush announced this US Council for Automotive Research FreedomCar subsidy last January, using it to run Clinton's quicker-starting USCAR Partnership for a Next Generation of Vehicles (PNGV) off the road.

The other was AIDS funding for Africa. $15B over 5 years, of which $5B was previous committed ... so it's a $2B/year rabbit out of the $2000B/year federal hat. Will it displace other "hearts and minds" expenditures? How much ends up in Big Pharma coffers? (Or is US going to bell the drug-patent-waiver-for-poor-countries cat? Unlikely.) How much is earmarked for condoms? (Or is "prevention" a windfall for Christian conservative abstinence missions?)

The tone of delivery was serious, subdued, almost leaden ... successfully avoiding flippancy on the one hand and hysteria on the other. This was no mean feat.

The economy? What economy? Glad to hear "our economy is recovering" but we still need tax cuts, what with "unemployment rising" and all. Deficit? We have a deficit? OK, more tax cuts.
Response by Washington Governor Gary Locke provided a study in contrasts ... the affirmative action Yalie versus the legacy admissions Yalie ... and oh, yeah, that economy! CP suspects several Republican governors were tuned in and muttering "You tell him, Gary!".
Social Security? Privatize it. Medicare? Privatize it. An odd passage railed against bureaucrats and HMO's. (The proposed reform involves herding seniors into HMO's, by holding prescription drug benefits hostage).

All that was just warm-up. The feature act was Iraq. "If war is forced upon us ..." we'll kick ass. If war is not forced upon us ... we'll find another pretext to kick ass.

SOTU coinage can be disastrous, but it's never accidental. New coinage: "Hitlerism", as in "Hitlerism, militarism and communism" ... the Axism of Evil? What happened? Was that Hitler fellow giving "fascism" a bad name?

And tubes? The Boy Who Cried Wolf cried "ALUMINUM TUBES"! Bush's "intelligence sources tell us that he has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes suitable for nuclear weapons production", but CP's intel says the "centrifuge tube" story was doubtful from day one, and recent inspections refute it decisively ... or so it seems. (Does Bush have even more secret secrets up his sleeve?) Not to worry ... Colin Powell is scheduled to break out the good stuff next week, and we'll all have a snort before we hit the Road to Baghdad.

In light of this development, we'll interrupt our regular programming (OK, not very regular) to unpack the case for war with Iraq. And then we'll get back to those staggering deficits -- in finance, marketing, personnel and elsewhere.

Tuesday, January 28, 2003

--- "Big Hat ... No Rabbit" ---

The Bush43 Presidency is on the skids. People with a nose for these things can smell it, and several of them are becoming honorary citizens of New Hampshire. With the exception of two minor bounces ("Bush takes Iraq resolution to UN" and "Bush rules in midterm electoral contests"), his poll numbers have been in sustained decline from stratospheric heights post-9/11.

Polls don't begin to hint at the depth of underlying problems, but the polls alone require a tactical response. Bush has been playing winner-take-all on thin margins, and the polls are an indispensable part of the act. What does Bush do to regain momentum?

One classic answer is "invade something". The Commander in Chief usually gets a rally-round-the-flag boost in the polls and a free pass on minor controversies while troops are in harm's way. Problem is, troops are already in harm's way. We're still taking casualties in Afghanistan (and Kuwait). Folks are still asking "Why Iraq?" and "What about Korea?". If Bush has better answers, it's time to trot 'em out ... but folks are starting to feel like they've had enough cowboy talk for the moment, and more isn't necessarily better.

Another classic is "reorganize". Been there, done that. We have a new Homeland Security department ... two dozen old agencies, doing the old same things they did yesterday, trying to figure out where they report today. Pretend it was your idea, George, and take your bow, but avoid details.

Another answer: "stimulate the economy" and/or "fire the economic advisors". Did that, too, and then introduced a "not-a-stimulus" growth plan that didn't pass the laugh test. [My guess is that Bush commissioned a stimulus plan, and his right-wing think tank advisors gradually -- maybe even unintentionally -- morphed it into yet another tax revolt initiative, and the not-a-plan was out the door before the boss knew the difference.] Speechwriters will do their best to deliver applause lines about "not punishing the winners" and "it's your money", but there's only so many ways you can dress up the trickle-down pig before people realize she's the same old pig.

The State Of The Union is a biggie in its own right ... always good for a bounce in the polls, right? Right? It's a time to hand out goodies, a time to unveil bold new initiatives ... a time to astonish the crowd by pulling a rabbit or two out of the federal top hat. Stirring phrases, bold delivery ... but what about content? What's in the hat? Where's the damn rabbit?

A lot of Bush's bold talk may not wear well on today's audience. War talk ... we're not too excited about that. The economy ... I wouldn't spend too much time on that. The deficit ... you can blame it on terrorism, or on your political opponents, but tomorrow's fact-checkers will have a field day. Social security reform ... no, those numbers don't work anymore (as if they never did).

What's next? A half-baked Medicare reform -- give 'em drug coverage if they'll take the HMO route in lieu of traditional Medicare (the only segment of US health care that delivers world-class outcomes). Again, go light on details -- promise 'em another bipartisan commission or something. It will look like action, and it may bump the polls before the geezers find out you really are out to kill Medicare just like those shameless "MediScare" Democrats always said.

Even the S.O.T.U. tone is problematic. Bush can't come on looking too confident ... things are bad, people know it, they want answers. He can't look too fretful -- there's no room for bunny-in-the-headlights paralysis. He can't show too much bravado ... last year's "follow me!" won't cut it this year. He can't point the finger of blame, or play the "pass my program or lose your job" card.

Bush made the big time as a cheerleader -- not as a player. Last year we wanted a cheerleader. Now we want answers. We want solutions. We want results.

My guess is he'll talk the talk again. The talk will be BIG and bold, but the talk is getting old. He may make even register a negative S.O.T.U. bounce. It's not a man on the moon, but it is sho'nuff a historic achievement!

What keeps Bush from pulling a rabbit out of that hat? He has a nice, shiny hat -- it's his to keep until 2004 -- but he doesn't have any rabbits. Can't he beg, borrow or breed one? The prototypical profligate son, Bush hocked the family jewels to throw wild parties, cover his gambling debts, make friends and influence people ... and when the bills came due there was nothing left to feed the rabbits.
Starting from unprecedented heights of positional advantage, Bush managed to run the nation into a sea of red ink, squander a king's ransom of international good will, frittered away the flexibility to make discretionary "friend or foe" decisions, gave the policy development pipeline a bad case of vapor lock, spent down his own credibility inside and outside the Beltway, and allowed unmanaged issues to overtake the White House's limited management bandwidth resources.
More on these fundamental deficits tomorrow. For now, as a famous man once said, "this looks like a re-run of a bad movie". Grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy the show!

Monday, January 20, 2003

--- The Devil's in the Denials ---

Though it recycles interminably in hothead circles, the Patty Murray "Tribute to Osama" hubbub fizzled out quickly in mainstream discourse. Today, of all days, what draws us back to this graffiti-covered eccentric outcrop on the political landscape?

As always, the visible landscape is a superficial projection of underlying geologic formations and processes. Every pebble has a story, and every story has a story, and so on back to the beginning of time.

Context blocks in this case include a rash of astroturf McCarthyism ... an imaginary martyr's bloody shirt ... a reluctant penitent's premature redemption ... a Faustian bargain ... sympathy for the Devil ... a Civil War by other means ... the Great Chain of Denying ... freedom from truth ... a commentariat's toadying antics ... national agendas driven without headlights ... a proscription on painful questions ... and the painful question of how we all ought to behave when this proscription inevitably runs out.

Behind it all, there's a Dark Wizard dazzling us with parlor tricks ... putting notions into our heads and yanking them back out again ... materializing large wild creatures and then rendering them invisible.

For instance, there's this elephant in the sitting room.
The central figure in the Murray flap is none other than Trent Lott. Hothead writers press the explicit parallel, and cry 'foul'; mainstreamers validate it by playing dumb. Both are senators, see ... and both made remarks in informal settings ... "outrage" ensued in both cases ... the inning's over ... and on the level playing field of reputational demolition derby -- the score is tied, sportsfans!

Or is it? Lott never offered a plausible alibi, while the benign take on Murray's remarks -- as discussion of strategic investments on the "hearts and minds" front -- was made explicit in the original appearance. Abundant evidence before and after the fact corroborates Lott's conviction, while nothing else under the sun hints at Murray's "sympathies", much less "loyalties", to Islamic terrorist networks. [TalibanOnline gave the story positive play, but ironically -- I am not making this up -- only when they echoed up a "Senator Praises bin Laden" item from WingNutWorldNetDaily.]

The game is far from over. Expect more "remarks" scandals, with the Right taking scalps where they can and crying "liberal bias" where their rubbery knives fail to draw blood, hoping Lott's political felony record will get lost on a messy desktop strewn with "political incorrectness" citations.

And expect mainstream commentators to politely pretend they don't see the connection.
Next, there's the beached whale behind the elephant.
To buy into Lott-Murray parity theory, you have to think Lott was the victim of unjust, opportunistic, politically motivated attack. You have to think "I'm sorry" was -- or at least should have been -- a false confession, extracted under duress. And to think that, you have to invest in the full panoply of comment-board denials and deflections.

The "Southern Heritage" movement is about history trivia, not racism, right? GOP neocons would still enjoy (marginal) majority status even without a Southern Strategy, which is a thing of the past, though it never really existed ... but if it did exist, it had nothing to do with code-word racism ... which isn't the rotting residue of die-hard segregationism ... which wasn't the last refuge of Jim Crow's "genteel" separatism ... which wasn't a cover for apartheid wage slavery ... which wasn't the vestige of supremacist chattel slavery ... which, after all, was much better for the Negro than "they" would have you believe. But nobody here thinks the wrong side won the Civil War -- which wasn't fought over slavery, mind you!

Either you buy all that, or you really think the wrong side won the Civil War. OK. Let's take a quick side trip to that corner of Fantasy Land.

Suppose the post-war South escapes recolonization. Slavery soon becomes inefficient, but it's still a low-wage, low-skill economy. The Great Migration is blocked. Mobile whites seek opportunity (and liberty) elsewhere. What then ... hobble along with hardcore apartheid? Eradicate the new black majority? Expatriate/subjugate the white minority? Any answer leads to banana republics and police states. Up north, the residual USA is a second-rate power. North-central and northwest territories fall under British rule. Tables are turned in a Spanish-American War that loses California thru Texas. [Students of American Exceptionalism can work out the 20th-century consequences as an exercise.]

Those who imagine a Confederate victory avoiding "all these troubles" might just as well daydream the Stars and Bars flying over something that looks more like today's Cuba. "Northern Aggression" saved the South's bacon, and the South may never forgive 'em.
There's a brontosaurus behind the whale.
The "race problem" shaped our colonial development, nearly deadlocked the Constitutional Convention, nearly destroyed the USA. Everybody -- North and South, black and white -- pitched in to bungle slavery's aftermath, but a sizable faction has always clung to the idea that each step forward is one step too far.

Monumental harm was done. Monumental repairs are warranted -- and would be needed even if that Harm were accidental in nature. Still, any social repair effort attracts a rally squad of code-word cheerleaders to labor against it. ("DEE-fense! DEE-fense! HOLD THAT LINE!")

Make no mistake: secession was all about slavery. Everything since has been all about foot-dragging. Yesteryear's inhumane philosophy gets by the best it can, "living in reduced circumstances", mixed with adolescent resentment at being reminded (time after time) to clean up its room.

It's a resistance movement -- the permanent army of a make-believe Nation. They'd have no place to go if they ever won -- but they proudly give ground as grudgingly as possible ... burning bridges, poisoning wells, sniping from cover. Mostly it's just symbolic acting out -- raising the old battle flag -- but they'll take hostages and extract tribute where they can get away with it. Keeping blacks off voter rolls, behind bars ... seating crypto-Confederate partisans on the bench ... and always, always, always propagating Denialism's richly layered folklore.

It's a mixed rabble -- true believers, outcasts, hustlers, everything in between. All shades of Grey fading together ... when you're in no danger of winning, you have no need to sort out the fine points of collective dogma. Some have no truck with the Old Cause ... just some gripe against the New Order, and a bone to pick with all those who created it, and their friends and allies, and their ilk and their kith and their kin, and anyone who would say a kind word about any of 'em. Many would be "shocked! shocked!" at the explicit racist views of those they make common cause with.

You don't have to believe in Tarot to make a living telling fortunes. You don't have to be a racist to make a political fortune playing to racism. It probably works better (in both cases) if you don't really believe -- it gives you a more flexible batting stance.

Lines of defense change with the times. Contemporary themes include "racism is ancient history", "meddling liberal race pimps are the real racists", and "Martin Luther King would have opposed racial preferences". ["Affirmative action" had not yet entered the lexicon when Dr. King was assassinated, but he spoke clearly -- while others hesitated -- of the need for race-conscious "special compensatory programs".]
We'll take a closer look at the jackals of Southern Strategy (and the hyenas of Southern Strategy Denialism) another time, but look! A herd of yaks grazing near the brontosaurus!
Mainstream editors chided Murray for discounting US aid, even as they pooh-pooh the incident's scandalometer reading. Problem is, Murray has it right. The paucity of US aid is a significant fact about the world we live in. The fact that most editors don't know better is another significant fact.

There's leeway for creative accounting on both sides of the total aid issue, but Murray's civics-lesson topic was what "we" (a democracy) spend, and how we spend it. The matter at hand, therefore, is US government foreign aid -- not charity, not private investment, not export financing.

Nonmilitary foreign aid is roughly 1/1000th of US GDP. Much of that is multilateral aid (World Bank, IMF, UN contributions) where no direct impressionable recipient ever sees the "made in USA" logo. Most bilateral aid goes to a handful of nations, as negotiated quid pro quo for specific military or diplomatic concessions. [Afghanistan and Pakistan were in this select group once, and now they're back -- acutely aware we abandoned them when the USSR folded its hand.] Much of the rest is aimed at (or commandeered by) foreign elites and US corporations. What's left is slanted to "loan a man a fish" programs. Not much grass-roots development.

Half the world's people live on $2 a day or less. Each lucky ducky's US development share adds up to pennies per year. I know it, Murray knows it, area specialists know it, charitable NGO's know it, our astonished friends know it, our astonished enemies know it, the news division usually knows it. Most editorialists -- stewards of conventional wisdom -- conveniently fail to fact-check before sounding off on US generosity.
There's a bunch of drunken chimps swinging from the chandelier.
Editorial boards are the habitat of social climbers -- higher primates in J. Fred Muggs plaid sportcoats and crumpled fedoras. They are self-consciously "even-handed" lest certain readers write off their chatterings as "biased". Most of them felt compelled to slap Murray around a bit before noting that her conservative antagonists have no case. [For an extended example, see the post below.] Here they are caught in the curious stance of bidding for credibility by propagating misinformation.
A troupe of ravening baboons is keeping the chimps away from the buffet table.
If Brand X was eating our lunch in the market for beer or widgets, we'd want to know why. But with national security at stake, 9/11 "rally mode" ruled out after-action review of how the US got blindsided with the key demographic. Self-interested policy adjustments were tabled In the immediate aftermath -- perhaps wisely so at the time -- lest they signal that terrorists can pull our strings.

Cause-and-effect inquiry was pre-emptively driven out of the public square by jungle-noise hoots of "appeasement!", "moral equivalence!", even "treason!". Permissible analysis was stripped to the bare essentials: "They're evil, I tell you! E-E-E-V-I-L-L-L!" [A small irony here: most mainstream commentary concedes Murray's main points, but suggests she should have said something else instead, thus -- blaming the victim -- she "brought this on herself".]

But that was then. This is now. As we did in the face of prior national security shocks, we will come to our senses. It's OK to backtrace the trajectory of what hit us. It's OK to ask "What If?". It's OK to face all the facts, and game out all the scenarios. It's OK to be tough AND smart.

The Murray "scandal" fell flat. That means the post-9/11 norms of discourse are renormalizing, and somebody out in right field didn't get the memo. How do we re-open taboo subjects? Should there be a formal exorcism? Was this it?
Here's the wide shot -- the proverbial Big Picture.
A lot of influential people think two wrongs make a Right.
A lot of influential people think their Lott was wronged.
A lot of influential people think race issues deserve benign neglect.
A lot of influential people think everything after abolition was misguided social engineering.
A lot of influential people think the US is a foreign aid spendthrift.
A lot of influential people think they can buy credibility by spinning tall tales.
A lot of influential people think it's disloyal to ask whether we could have played our hand better.

Each of these is a BIG STORY in its own right. And most people think it's impolite to interrupt our lovely national dialogue by mentioning the elephant (and his friends) in the sitting room.

(P.S. That Dark Wizard may not be who -- or what -- you think. More in future posts.)

--- Inept but Entitled ---

The Washington Post sticks it to Senator Patty Murray, and CP sticks it to the Post. In their defense, it's only fair to note that the editorial below was filed Christmas Eve, and the responsible editorialist may have handed it off to an intern, who may already have had a drink or two in the course of office merriment, and was probably in a hurry to get on to the next party.

Inept but Entitled to Her Say (Wednesday, December 25, 2002; Page A28)
THERE IS POLITICAL criticism, there is political attack, and then there is political political correctness: the massive overreaction to perfectly useful ideas that have been badly stated or misinterpreted. We could devote the whole blog to this sentence alone. What is it that warrants reaction, or even overreaction, but not "massive overreaction" -- bad ideas, badly stated ideas, innocent misinterpretation, or deliberate misrepresentation? One branch of the parse tree reads "overreaction to misinterpreted ideas is political P.C." Something's evidently wrong with P.P.C., but what? The "correctness" part, or the "political" part? And which "political", the first or the second? What is the right-sized overreaction to a misinterpretation of "perfectly useful ideas"?

Playing dumb, the Post concedes scalp-for-scalp equivalence with the Trent Lott matter.

There is a danger, for instance, that people will become afraid to criticize any aspect of American foreign policy, lest they be branded "anti-American." Hmmm. There is a danger, for instance, that the Post will become afraid to call McCarthyism "McCarthyism".

That, at any rate, is the conclusion many will reach after reading of Sen. Patty Murray's experience. That, at any rate, is the editorial voice lurking behind an overgrown hedge of presumptive vicarious passive-case indirection. But the editorial is built on a classic formula: tell 'em what you're gonna insinuate, insinuate it, and tell 'em what you insinuated.

Sen. Murray's (D-Wash.) crime, it seems, was to make an ill-worded and rather silly
When building a case for "extraordinary ineptitude" (as below), choose your words and facts with all the eptitude you can muster. No "rather", no "seems" about it, the whole editorial is ill-worded.
An ill-facted assumption. No, not a speech ... just extemporaneous remarks in small-group Q&A. What's the diff? Critical standards for brief impromptu utterances are necessarily looser than for set piece composition (a prepared speech, for instance, or a published editorial).
last week to a high school in Vancouver, Wash., that was then excerpted by the Columbian, a newspaper in Vancouver, Canada.
The Post ill's the facts again. A local daily like the Post might extend more professional courtesy to a local daily like the Columbian (the "Daily Columbian") in Vancouver ("the other Vancouver") Washington ("the other Washington"). Vancouver Washington lies opposite Portland Oregon ("the other Portland"?), across the Columbia River (far from the District of), about 300 miles south of Vancouver British Columbia (Canada).
The Post may have an alibi, since New Westminster's British Columbian is sometimes dubbed the "Daily Columbian" ... though that usage declined sharply after the masthead change in 1910. Cincinnati OH had its own Daily Columbian back in the '50s (the 1850s), and the 1893 Chicago World's Fair (the "Columbian Exposition") published yet another "Daily Columbian" on site.
In a normal week, the Columbian's Web site receives 60,000 to 70,000 visitors. The day following the paper's story about Sen. Murray's speech, it had 230,000 visitors. As the Web site put it, "There are top stories, and then there is Patty Murray." Other Web sites, Web logs and talk shows picked up the story, Another classic "top story" formula: fabrication, repetition, repetition. When the Mighty Wurlitzer wheezes, the Post gets the fever. and by the weekend, the chairman of the Republican Party in Washington state had publicly questioned Sen. Murray's patriotism.
Great, Chris Vance impugns Patty Murray's patriotism. Whatever happened to the "dog bites man" rule?

What did Patty Murray actually say?
The Post doesn't actually know, exactly. Low fidelity audio samples are wafting about the web. The Columbian's transcript begins (and ends?) in mid-passage, marked by missing connectives, qualifiers and possibly whole phrases (without the usual "[inaudible]" notations). The surrounding thread of discussion is not on record, so we don't actually know what issue Murray calls "very highly debatable" when she says "I don't know which way I fall on it. But I want you to think about it."

According to the Columbian, she said that Osama bin Laden has "been out in these countries for decades, building schools, building roads, building infrastructure, building day-care facilities, building health care facilities, and the people are extremely grateful.
Subject matter experts agree, excepting the term "day care" (which might more appropriately read "child care"). [Extra credit if you spotted the transcript discrepancy.]

. . . How would they look at us today if we had been there helping them with some of that rather than just being the people who are going to bomb in Iraq and go to Afghanistan?"
No doubt, bin Laden stole a march on us in the battle for hearts and minds. For perspective, we spent twenty-some years in Vietnam before it occurred to us that hearts and minds mattered. [And BTW, what are these ellipses doing . . . here?]

Sen. Murray got a few things very wrong. And the Post is going to tell us what these wrong things are, isn't it? Or is it? I'll be so disappointed if they forget.

Osama bin Laden spent a lot more money on terrorist training camps than on day-care centers; Behold, the power of Glennuendo! Yes, of course ... Murray must be a naif, since she most certainly would have raised this point if she was aware of it -- even though training camp budgets have no bearing on the "hearts and minds" problem. So is Murray "wrong" in the sense that she should have chosen a different topic ... or "wrong" in the sense that she should have interjected talking points irrelevant to her defined topic?
the senator appears to have confused him with the fundamentalist charities that have won so much support for the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas on the West Bank. The Post demonstrates the mind-reading skills for which it is so justly famous! No such confusion is evident. Full-time expert first-person accounts support Murray's view.

Nor did she seem to have considered the possibility that the "bombing" of Afghanistan and Iraq might also, in the long term, be in the interest of the Afghans and the Iraqis. More mind-reading, of a deeper sort, since Murray said nothing at all about bombing Afghanistan ... but the Post knows she was thinking it, and they know that she did so heedless of the Afghans' long term interests, too. Afghans were heedless, too, in decades past when bin Laden was winning "hearts and minds" ... which seems to be the theme of Murray's remarks.

Nevertheless, there is a deeper point that Sen. Murray, with extraordinary ineptitude, seemed to be trying to make -- a point that is worth preserving: One last chance WaPo: identify Murray's point, and discuss.
At the very least, it ought to be possible to discuss America's image in the Islamic world, and the kinds of mistakes the United States has made there. There's no indication Murray -- or her young audience -- ever doubted or debated whether such discussion "ought to be possible". So her point was ...

For decades, American governments have spent remarkable amounts of money in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, relatively little of which is visible on the ground. No, that's not her point ... that's not even true, and she says as much. The US spends remarkably little on direct foreign aid, and little of that on direct humanitarian development. Debate can be educational but, as we were saying, Murray's deeper point was ...

Yet if successive American administrations had identified the United States more closely with good works in the Middle East and had tried more assiduously to explain American values, then American relations with the Islamic world might look different today. No, that's not it! Murray was talking about reality, not perception (though we neglected perception, too), and primarily about reality in Al Qaeda strongholds, not the Middle East, and about how it might cost more to spend more, and how this might also, in the long term, be in the interest of the Americans.

Or they might not. Outstanding! A bank-shot editorial hedge fund diversifies its holdings against political currency risk. Or not.

Either way, this is a point worth debating, Which point? That our policy mix is debatable? That money can buy off unhappiness? That things might look different today if things were done different yesterday, or they might not? C'mon, Posties! If, for instance, the editors have, it seems, a deeper point ... they should, at any rate, have, at the very least, seemed to be trying to make it. Or they might not.
and no one should be called "unpatriotic" for bringing it up. The "liberal" Post lowers their picayune boom on Murray's critics, after compulsively filling the column with misdirected swipes at her ... an ironic bid for credibility, paid for in small-denomination counterfeits. "Turnabout is fair play, because we're, y'know, balanced". In doing so they fed the even-the-liberal-Washington-Post-says beast of a million bleating e-mails, and helped the Right negotiate a hostage exchange -- Lott's radical race-baiting (with abundant supporting history of consistent sentiment) for their radical "Patty Loves Osama" distortion of Murray's remarks (with no supporting history).

The Portland Oregonian rendered mixed commentary. On one hand, she "brought it on herself". On the other hand (in a column essentially apologizing for not raising a bigger stink) "we need to think about and debate such matters".

In more enlightened commentary, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer's Joel Connelly invokes Sun Tzu ("If you know yourself but not your enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat") and Central Asia Institute founder Greg Mortenson, who actually funds and develops schools in the affected areas ("Senator Murray has not stuck her foot in her mouth," Mortenson responded. "She has placed Uncle Sam's shoe in his mouth. Lots of talk, but no action.").