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Conservative Political Commentary

Quote of the Day

Lady Liberty

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.


Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Who Needs Enron? We've Got Freddie Mac!
posted by lostingotham

Enron was small potatoes. For all their imaginative corporate structures and creative accounting, Ken Lay and company only managed to soak investors for a couple hundred billion dollars—not even as much as a Kerry tax increase. Imagine if the Enron debacle had been 20 times as big and you're talking real money. Now imagine that the U.S. taxpayer has to pick up the tab and you’ve got the sort of stuff global depressions are made of.

As it turns out, we may not have to imagine much longer. A new circus of dubious management and questionable accounting threatens to make us all look back fondly on the tiny market blip that was Enron.

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are the largest privately owned financial institutions in the nation. Together, they own or guarantee upwards of $4 trillion (with a “t”) in home mortgages (if your house cost less than $330 grand, chances are either Fannie or Freddie holds a piece of your note). What’s more, because of their special status as “government sponsored entities,” Freddie and Fannie don't have to follow all the rules that other privately owned companies do: they don't have to register their securities with the government, their securities receive special treatment for investment purposes, they don't have to pay state income taxes and—most importantly—because of Freddie and Fannie’s government sponsorship, the markets widely assume that the federal government (read Joe and Betty Taxpayer) guarantees all of their notes. In other words, should Fannie and Freddie screw up, you and I will end up holding the bag. And just to give you an idea of how big a bag we’re talking about, as of the end of last year Freddie and Fannie carried a combined debt in the neighborhood of $2 trillion (by way of comparison, the 2005 federal budget runs about $2.3 trillion).

Screw up is increasingly what it looks like the two lending giants are doing. Last year, Freddie “discovered” that it had “misstated” its earnings to the tune of over $5 billion. As regulators investigated, Freddie Mac President David Glenn, Chief Executive and Chairman Leland Brendsel and Chief Financial Officer Vaughn Clarke all found the door rather than cooperate with investigators (though not without pausing to collect more than $20 million in severance packages). Ken Lay wishes he’d had it so good! Nor is Freddie alone in its mismanagement. Frannie has seen 15% of its value—$10 billion in market capitalization—evaporate since March 1 (in one of the hottest home buying markets in history). Just last month Fannie Mae’s chief regulator, the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight, cited the company for accounting for its assets “in a way that fails to reflect losses.” Sound familiar?

Fortunately we’ve learned our lesson from Enron. No more will our leaders in Congress turn a blind eye to Enron-style accounting shenanigans. Just last week, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi trumpeted both her indignation and her resolve to settle the score:

We knew all along that Enron and the energy companies were gaming the system. The now notorious tapes, which every member of this body has an obligation to observe, of Enron traders confirm what we knew all along—Enron and the other energy companies were laughing all the way to the bank usas they stole from families and businesses of California. Enron and its kind lied, cheated, and stole, and it is long past time for Enron to pay consumers and the states back.

Surely with watchdogs like Pelosi guarding our interests, we don’t need to worry that Freddie and Fannie could brew up a new Enron disaster…or do we? Even in the wake of the accounting scandals at Enron, the attempts of federal regulators to tighten oversight of Freddie and Fannie have been thwarted in Congress. Just yesterday, Pelosi joined Barney Frank and other top Democrats in appealing to the adminstration to ease up in its efforts at regulatory reform.

What gives? How could the same Nancy Pelosi who was seemingly ready to go to work on Ken Lay with thumb screws and branding irons be so forgiving of Freddie and Fannie despite their growing accounting crises? Thomas Ryan may have the answer. Mr. Ryan has discovered that, in addition to misstating profits and providing multi-million dollar golden parachutes to disgraced management, Fannie and Freddie give piles of money to left wing causes. Lefty outfits like the Center for Policy Alternatives, the Alliance for Justice, and Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition head the long list of beneficiaries of their largesse—generosity amounting, in Rainbow PUSH’s case, to the purchase of a billion dollars worth of mortgages.

As Enron collapsed, its management reached out to every contact they had in a desperate attempt to save the sinking ship. They seem to have had contacts at some level with Vice President Dick Cheney, a fact that the Democrats have urged support dire conclusions of corruption in the very highest levels of the administration—despite the fact that Cheney and the administration don’t seem to have taken the smallest action on Enron’s behalf. Now Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have been caught cooking the books. The stock of both companies is falling fast, and their management aren’t just meeting with top Dems, they’re giving billions of dollars to lefty causes. Meanwhile, top congressional Democrats are asking regulators to “ease up.”

Enron was small potatoes.

posted by lostingotham | 6/30/2004 06:48:00 PM
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Monday, June 28, 2004

Whither NATO? Or Wither NATO?
posted by Bathus

Patrick Belton at Oxblog does a fine job cataloging NATO's past, present, and future deficiencies, but I think he misses the bigger picture.

Yes, it would be best if other NATO countries contributed more, if they cooperated more, if European domestic politics did not make NATO so unwieldy, etc., etc. Inasmuch as those circumstances are unlikely to change, the more relevant inquiry is whether NATO should be disbanded or preserved.

Many wise commentators, such as Victor Davis Hanson, have concluded that we should encourage NATO to wither away as quickly as possible and encourage "more European muscularity" in its place.

I disagree.

We should preserve NATO, no matter how weak and ineffectual it becomes because NATO's very existence tends to preclude the dangerous emergence of an independent European military force. The nascent version of that force is known by an appropriately bureaucratic moniker: "European Security and Defence Policy" or "ESDP." As Belton notes, "ESDP is France's baby, which it sees as the EU's alternative to NATO, without the pesky Americans."

So long as NATO exists, Europe will (correctly) assume that the United States will wield its military might to protect Europe in any genuine crisis, allowing Europe safely to remain militarily weak. But if NATO were disbanded, that proposition would become extremely less certain, and Europe would then be motivated to develop its own force, independently from the United States. That development would not be in our interests.

Though we are frustrated with NATO's dithering, that dithering serves as a distracting and valuable substitute for real military reform among the the Europeans. So long as we are not so foolish as to rely on NATO in any substantial way and do not commit to NATO any forces that we absolutely need to deploy elsewhere (two important caveats!), NATO as now constituted can do little for good or for evil that cannot be accomplished by member countries acting outside NATO. By contrast, a viable united European military, established independently from NATO, would have a power and the concomitant legitimacy that NATO does not command. And we might soon find that power and legitimacy is arrayed against our necessary interests. It would be foolhardy for the United States seriously to encourage a united Europe to arm itself. As Machiavelli says, "Whoever is the cause of someone else's becoming powerful is ruined."

As things now stand, though NATO as a whole might be unwilling to participate or support a particular military objective the U.S. wishes to pursue, individual countries within NATO remain free to assist us on a bilateral or multilateral basis outside the NATO framework. Each NATO member remains free, for all intents and purposes, to use its forces as it wishes outside of the NATO framework. Thus, in Iraq we have a majority of NATO nations participating, even though NATO itself has until recently been unwilling to support the undertaking in any meaningful way. Similarly, in Afghanistan, though the support was slow in coming, many NATO nations are now participating. As an added benefit, joint training among NATO countries facilitates the rapid integration of any willing nation's forces with the those of the United States. NATO has become, so to speak, a handy storehouse at which we can "shop" for coalition partners on an ad hoc basis as a military or (more precisely) a political need arises.

But if NATO were replaced by a united EU military, that EU structure might have command and control over a sizable portion, if not all, of the military capacity of its member countries. Bilateral arrangements between the U.S. and individual EU nations would become more difficult, if not impossible, to establish. A Poland or an Italy, as a member of a united EU force, would probably not be permitted, as they can as NATO members, to use equipment and personnel committed to the EU to support U.S. military activities without explicit EU approval. And a single EU nation might be able to veto any supportive action by every other individual EU country.

Imagine the present situation if, instead of NATO, there existed a united European military force. Instead of our efforts in Iraq being supported by a majority of European nations, our efforts might be supported by none of them, because all might be bound by any individual European nation's veto, or worse, our efforts might be actively opposed by the European group acting as a single entity. Instead of merely having to tolerate the impotent protests of a France and a Germany while enjoying the public support and actual assistance of an Italy and a Poland, we might be opposed by a united Europe, led by a France and a Germany and backed by considerable military wherewithal. Although it seems fantastical to imagine that the U.S. and a newly militarized Europe would become open antagonists any time soon, one cannot preclude that eventuality.

In any case, the emergence of a militarized Europe allied with the United States might actually tend to cause the United States to become weaker relative to any third emerging global superpower, such as China. Or the emergence of the EU as a superpower could generate a spiraling arms race between the United States and Europe on one side and the third antagonistic superpower on the other side. Here's how it might well play out: Assume that during the next twenty years both China and Europe emerge as global superpowers, with Europe militarily independent but allied with us and China a potential antagonist. The Chinese superpower would be likely to measure the sufficiency of its military might against the combined strength of the two ostensibly allied Western superpowers, i.e., the United States plus the united Europe. Similarly, each of the two Western superpowers, the United States and the united Europe, might tend individually to gauge the sufficiency its military strength by adding its ostensible ally's strength to its own.

To simplify the argument, let "x" equal a unit of military strength:

If at some point in the future the U.S. superpower possesses a military strength of 4x and the united European superpower possess a military strength of 3x, China will tend to seek to posses a military strength of 7x to balance against the cumulative strength of the Western allies. By the same token, if China achieves a military strength of 7x, while Europe possesses a military strength of 3x, then the United States--operating on the assumption it can always rely on its European ally to make up the difference between its own strength and China's strength--would tend to come to settle at a military strength of 4x. Having come to rely on the strength of its European ally, the United States might come to rest at a military strength vastly inferior to that of its primary antagonist. The danger in that calculus is obvious.

Alternatively, if the United States determined that it could not safely rely upon the strength of its putative European ally, but instead must on its own amass military strength sufficient to balance China without counting on its European ally, China would begin to feel threatened. As the US approached a strength of 7x, China would see itself opposed by the 10x combined strength of Europe plus the United States. China would then tend to seek to increase its strength to 13x to match the Western allies combined strength. In response the United States would seek to increase its military strength to 13x. Seeing the combined strength of Europe plus the U.S. at 16x, China would then seek to reach that same level. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. A spiraling arms race would ensue.

The obvious difficulty is that a tri-polar world is inherently less stable than a bi-polar world (at least that's what my manic-depressive friends tell me). The jockeying for a safe position would be constant--and constantly destabilizing.

Yes, an effective European military force within NATO is clearly "preferable" in theory, but remains clearly unrealistic in practice. Belton thinks that NATO "can be made to work again," and he puts the burden on Bush to make it happen. But Hanson knows better: Before NATO could be reformed, Europe would have to be reformed. Sadly, America's best efforts cannot reform Europe. Only Europe can reform the militaries and politics of Europe, and Europe has no incentive to reform itself so long as NATO exists. Yet the demise of NATO risks the dangerous emergence of a European superpower. There's the dilemma.

Given the reality that NATO's effectiveness will remain limited, the better remaining option is neither to abandon NATO nor seriously to rely upon NATO, but to do all we can to preserve NATO in its weak condition, so as to prevent the dangerous emergence of a united European superpower. (Incidentally, though the contributions of Poland and Italy in Iraq might seem miniscule, they serve the important purpose of confirming the present divisions within Europe, thereby further forestalling the emergence of a united European superpower. We must continue to seek these bilateral arrangements. Though in and of itself the actual materiel support we gain seems hardly worth the effort, the political advantages are of the utmost value.) A weak European military force within NATO, the present reality, is not only tolerable; it is in many respects advantageous to the United States. Yes, as Hanson explains, a militarily weak Europe is susceptible to an inferiority complex that causes "associate[d] pathologies of enablement and passive-aggressive angst" vis-a-vis the United States. However, as we shall never live in a perfect world, it is far less dangerous to administer frequent palliatives for those psychological disturbances than to confront the more palpable disturbances a militarily superior Europe would bring about. A powerful European military force outside NATO, which becomes possible only if NATO is disbanded, would create real difficulties for the United States in the short run and in the long run could be disastrous.

posted by Bathus | 6/28/2004 11:56:00 PM
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The Instant Rehabilitation of a Saddam Portraitist (Updated)
posted by Bathus

In his report on the transfer of sovereignty, Associated Press writer Tarek el-Tablawy includes the following quote to buttress his assertion that "the response [to the handover] in Baghdad was mixed":
"Iraqis are happy inside, but their happiness is marred by fear and melancholy," said artist Qassim al-Sabti. "Of course I feel I'm still occupied. You can't find anywhere in the world people who would accept occupation. America these days, is like death. Nobody can escape from it."
I am always suspicious of these man-on-the-street-type of quotes, which reporters too often use selectively as a device to interject their own opinions. Indeed, the above quote was the only one the AP writer used to illustrate the "mixed" reaction in Baghdad.

Don't get me wrong. I don't doubt that reaction to the handover was mixed in Baghdad, a city of millions. The issue I am exploring here is not whether opinions on the handover were "mixed," but whether the sole quote the AP writer chose to use to illustrate the presence of mixed opinions fairly represents those mixed opinions.

Being married to an artist and having had considerable experience of artists, who--on political matters generally hold opinions representative of their fellow artists and no one else--I was immediately suspicious of the implication that a quote from an artist could be representative of broader public opinion.

So I did some quick internet research on Mr. Qassim al-Sabti, the artist the AP writer presents as the sole example of Baghdad's "mixed" opinion on the transfer of sovereignty.

It turns out that for many years now the delightful Qassim al-Sabti (whose name is variously transliterated as Alsabti, al Septi, etc.) has owned and operated Hawar Gallery, widely described in Western press reports as "the best known" art gallery in Baghdad. As a pre-war report from peacenik Nathan Mauger inadvertently discloses, al-Sabti and his artsy pals did quite well under Saddam's patronage:
Saturday, Sept. 28; Baghdad

Back in Baghdad, the Voices delegation attends a dinner party given in our honor. It is in the courtyard of the house of a wealthy Iraqi art gallery owner. The art dealer, Qasim Alsabti, is incredibly articulate and enjoys hosting dinner parties. Last week there was a party for the Baghdad CNN bureau here.

We meet several prominent Iraqi artists Qasim has also invited. They speak excellent English, they're fluent in French, they have email addresses. Their drivers wait outside.

Qasim says more people were expected, but no one is going out any more because they are worried about the war.

Fish roasts over an open spit and I drink a glass of Arak, an Iraqi alcohol made from licorice. It's hard and clear, but when water is added it turns white. One of the artists raises a toast for world peace.
You might wonder how Mr. al-Sabti managed not only to survive but to flourish, yet still follow his muse as a working artist and art dealer during all those terrible years. One writer suggests al-Sabti survived and prospered under Saddam by remaining "notoriously apolitical":
Qasim is notoriously apolitical, which allowed him to run his gallery during Saddam's reign as a central meeting place for artists, collectors, diplomats (during the sanctions, UN personnel played a vital role as collectors and as a cultural lifeline to the West) and the general public. He freely admits to once painting a portrait of Saddam and says, "Look, no person was forced to do this thing, my dear. But the money! I took my friends out to dinners for weeks on the payment."
Fair enough, I suppose. One can't fault an artist if he is able, without actively doing harm, to find a way to pursue his art under an oppressive regime. More than that, al-Sabti's gallery was, so we are now told, a veritable "cultural lifeline to the West" during those tortured years. (We are heartened to learn that some of the UN muckabouts who skimmed billions from the Oil for Food Program might have put that money to good use buying art from al-Sabti.)

The problem is that al-Sabti is not so "notoriously apolitical" as his apologists claim to justify his soft collaboration with Saddam's regime:
To be sure, not everyone at the Hewar felt reborn, especially among the customers over 40, who remembered the good old days of government-sponsored awards and competitions, lucrative commissions for portraits of Father Saddam, and extra pocket money from spying for the Mukhabarat. "Under Saddam, we could do any kind of art, as long as it wasn't political; things were much better then," Septi, the owner, said nostalgically. . . .

Because of the despot's beneficence to artists -- advocates of government arts funding, take note -- support for the tyrant runs deep there. The same can't be said for the country as a whole.

And you would be wrong if you think that al-Sabti dropped his apolitical stance only after Saddam was removed from power. Before the war, al-Sabti was quoted thusly:
The conversation shifts to the impending war. Qasim says if the US attacks he will sit with his Kalashnikov and wait in his house, "because this is my home and no one will take it away from me."
To get the full flavor of al-Sabti's "apolitical" stand, read a September 2003 interview, in which he stated:
. . . We know the Americans' dirty plans. With their first steps inside Iraq, they took care of the Ministry of Oil only. I saw many American soldiers ask the looters to enter the centers of culture, the libraries and museums. The soldiers invited them with foolish smiles, allowing them to do anything inside these centers - to loot, to destroy, to burn. Believe me, this was a bad decision. Iraqis discovered a new kind of cowboy. These cowboys were taking an interest in petrol only. This is what happened during the war.

. . . . You know we need a strong man in government, especially for the police and the security. . . .

. . . .

. . . . the first thief in this world - Bush - has looted the whole country. The boss is America, you see, and it heads something like a big mafia. The Arab countries helped America destroy this country - Jordan, Egypt, Qatar, Kuwait. Really, it is good to give the Americans a good lesson, to show them the truth - that Iraq is not easy. I mean that they will pay with blood from the future of America in this land, at last.

. . . . My message is love, peace and justice. But here I am talking about American politicians, not the people. Always there is distance between the people and the politicians, like Iraqis and Saddam Hussein. They said to this world that Iraq is a dangerous country and that Saddam is a terrorist - many lies. Until now, nobody can find anything dangerous, only poor people who have lost 30 years of their lives.

. . . .

Of course, I don't believe in Saddam either, in his regime. I hated that time. I am happy when I look at my boy now because I can hope that my boy will not become a soldier. I can help him to learn computer skills or do something else.

Before the war, in the Saddam regime, we as artists had freedom to do any kind of art.
Yes, this artist who thrived under Saddam is the man whom an Associated Press uses as the sole representative of "mixed" opinion in Baghdad!

Al-Sabti's most recent "apolitical" artistic venture at his Hawar Gallery is (you guessed it!) an exhibition on Abu Ghraib:
"The Americans behaved in an incredibly revolting manner," Sabti said. His exhibit shows the body of a woman under a white shroud smeared with blood between the thighs. "She was raped and murdered," he said.
In addition to being "apolitical," al Sabti's art is also subtle.

Yet contrary to what you might think from reading most press reports, some Iraqi artists do disapprove of al-Sabti and his Abu Ghraib exhibit:
. . . . "I am against it, because none of these artists did anything to show the exactions perpetrated by Saddam Hussein," said 28-year-old sculptor Haidar Wady.

"Being against the Americans has become the trendy thing. But they brought us freedom. Just imagine for one moment if they had gathered here to depict Abu Ghraib in the time of the dictator. What's more, these works are really ugly," he added.
I suspect that under Saddam's regime Haidar Wady did not fare so well as al-Sabti.

UPDATE: I'm scheduled to appear on the internet talk show "Cam & Company" at 2:40 Eastern Time today (Wednesday, June 30th) to discuss the al-Sabti piece. You can watch and listen at:

http://www.nranews.com/nra.html

Also I want to thank Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit for linking to this post. (If you happen to be one of the four people in the world who don't yet know about Instapundit, you need to surf there right now!)

posted by Bathus | 6/28/2004 01:34:00 PM
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Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Bill Confesses to Hillary (Early Draft from "My Life")
posted by Tom

It was three a.m., and the bedroom was dark, dark as a wealthy Republican’s heart. Hillary was asleep beside me. I had been listening to her snore for what seemed like an eternity (but everything with Hillary seemed like an eternity). It sounded like a zipper opening and closing over and over again. I sat up in bed and turned on the light.

Here I was, the first Black President of the United States, adored by millions, and what had it come to? A Grand Jury subpoena. I was to be interrogated later that day, and the questions wouldn't be like those softballs I was used to in press conferences, where friends like Wolf and Helen and other media sycophants praised me for bringing the American economy back from the brink of a second Great Depression, for rescuing hundreds of thousands from poverty, for slashing deficits, for inspiring a shitty John Travolta movie. No, I was going to be grilled by prosecutors about "that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."

As I sat on my side of the bed watching Hillary sleep, I realized I had to tell her the truth. Yes, damn it, the truth. Whatever that meant. She didn’t know the truth. Ever since Drudge first broke the story after I convinced Newsweek to spike it, I had succeeded in keeping the truth from her. With the help of my staff, my friends in the media, dozens of lawyers and other hangers-on, I made Hillary believe that Ms. Lewinsky was a stalker who had invented all of that stuff in her telephone calls to Linda Tripp because I, the Alpha Male, had rejected her advances on numerous occasions.

Hillary, the love of my life, the mother of my child, the woman once named one of the top 100 lawyers in the country by the ABA despite the fact she never tried a case of any importance, wasn't the least suspicious or even curious about how a loon like "that woman" ever got a job in the White House in the first place, let alone access to the President. She never admonished the staff for their lackadaisical screening process.

Of course, she never asked why the Oval Office door was locked when Eleanor came to visit. She would stand out there for 20 minutes or more, pounding on the door, frantically yelling, "Bill, are you all right?!"

"Yeah," I replied. "Oh, yeah, baby, yeah…"

Once I allayed her fears, she either went back to the White House kitchen to bake the cookies we loved so much or retreated into her private office, where she shredded documents to the music of Tammy Wynette.

But that was my girl. She trusted me implicitly. She was confident that my affairs with Gennifer Flowers and the other women we counted among the "problems in our marriage" in that "60 Minutes" interview back in 1992, the one that rescued my bid to become the first Black President of the United States, were a thing of the past. She was sure my tomcat days had ended once I got into the White House. Yes, only Hillary would have believed a compulsive adulterer who used his authority and celebrity as Attorney General and later Governor of Arkansas to pick up chicks would never use the Presidency of the United States in that way. Is it any wonder I could never leave her for a Gennifer, or a Dolly, or even a Ms. Lewinsky?

It had been so easy to fool this quintessential feminist ("Is there an Alpha Female?" I wondered as I watched her sleep), this brilliant, analytical woman, whom many saw as Eleanor Roosevelt, Jacqueline Kennedy, and Rosalyn Carter all rolled into one (yes, it’s true she was that fat, still she was my wife) that I almost felt - dare I say it? - guilty. Many said she was more qualified than I to occupy that sacred Oval Office where I had betrayed our vows numerous times, but knowing how gullible she was, I thought to myself, "No, not President. She’d make a great Senator, though."

The entire country knew I had diddled "that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." Our friends knew it. Our own daughter knew it. But Hillary, one of the top 100 lawyers in the country at one time, qualified to become the first female President of the United States (and if I could get her to take up the saxophone, the first Black female President of the United States), never suspected for an instant that it might be true. She was so unsuspecting, in fact, that in one of those exquisitely controlled interviews only Hillary can give after pre-screening all of the questions, she told our dear, dear friend in the media, Matt Lauer, that a President having sex with an intern half his age and lying about it under oath in a civil case is a serious matter, and the American people have a right to know about it. But, she told Matt (who drooled less than usual during that interview), the American people were going to find out it wasn’t true, that her husband was the victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

As I watched her sleep the sleep of the innocent, I couldn't help but think, "Who better represents American feminism than this idiot?" It brought tears to my eyes, and I hadn’t laughed much during those trying months.

Rain started beating against the bedroom window like rain against a bedroom window. In the middle of a particularly loud snore, I shook her gently. She snorted, gagged, but still didn’t wake up. I continued shaking her as you would shake one who refuses to wake up, with my hands. She finally opened her eyes when blood started trickling from her ears. She looked at me as any woman would look at a man who had just given her a cerebral hemorrhage.

“Huh?" she said, a bit dazed. "W-what? Vince?"

“No, my love," I said, taking her in my arms. "It’s me, Bill. I’m sorry, my love, but I had to wake you."

“B-Bill? Since when do I have to be awake for sex?"

“No, my beautiful and brilliant Esquirette," I said, caressing her matted hair as one would brush a horse’s mane. "I have something I must tell you."

I drew her closer.

"It’s true, my dearest. It's all true. I had relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."

I held her tightly against my chest.

"They weren’t sexual relations according to the definition accepted in the federal courts, but they were relations. Of a sort. They did entail contact with the genitals, lips, tongue, and/or anus of another. Kind of."

She mumbled something, and I squeezed her tighter.

"Oh, my love," I went on, with the confidence of a man accustomed to talking to liberal democratic women who were half-asleep and willing to buy anything I said, "she tempted me, and in a weak moment, when I was overcome by the burdens of the Office of the Presidency, I gave in. She sought my manhood, sweetcakes, and I gave it to her. She smoked it like a cheap cigar, you might say."

I held her as tightly as I ever held her in my life (though not as tightly as Gennifer, whose casabas used to feel better pressed against me) and wailed, "Can you ever forgive me, my love?"

“I – I can’t – breathe," she gasped, and went limp in my arms.

The truth had been too much for her. I had shocked her into unconsciousness. I didn’t revive her because I knew she needed her sleep. We both needed sleep. I would be giving my testimony later in the morning. She would be addressing the Washington D.C. chapter of Women United Against All Forms of Humor. There would be plenty of time to discuss "that woman, Ms. Lewinsky" over morning coffee, and now that Hillary knew the truth, she could be more helpful in preparing my evasive answers before the Grand Jury. She was always better at protecting me when she knew exactly what to hide.

I slept like a baby.

posted by Tom | 6/22/2004 07:15:00 AM
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Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Washington Post's John F. Harris nails Clinton in another big lie:
In February 1998, after Hussein blocked U.N. inspectors from entering Iraq, Clinton warned: "What if he fails to comply, and we fail to act? Or we take some ambiguous third route, which gives him yet more opportunities to develop this program of weapons of mass destruction and continue to press for the release of the sanctions and continue to ignore the solemn commitments that he made? Well, he will conclude that the international community has lost its will. He will then conclude that he can go right on and do more to rebuild an arsenal of devastating destruction. And some day, some way, I guarantee you he'll use the arsenal."

In the Time interview, Clinton said "I never really thought" Hussein would use his weapons but did worry that Iraqi weapons might be sold or given away.
Was Clinton lying in 1998 when he "guaranteed" that Saddam would use his WMDs, or is he lying now when he says "never really thought" Saddam would use them?

The correct answer is Clinton was lying then, and he's still lying now. For Clinton, truth is irrelevant. If he happens to speak the truth, it is only by coincidence.

Clinton's latest lie is simply part and parcel of the never-ending process of "triangulation," the process though which Clinton constantly modifies his message to maneuver himself as close as possible to whatever point of view can encompass the largest share of popular opinion at a particular moment.

In this instance, the opinion toward which Clinton is triangulating is summed up precisely in the title of Harris's Washington Post article: "Clinton Backs Bush on Iraq War But Questions Invasion's Timing". If one believed that Saddam did intend to use WMDs, and the threat was as real and as pressing as Clinton's "guarantee" suggested, then the question of timing would be a minor quibble. But if one did not believe that Saddam intended ever to use his WMDs, which is the position Clinton now takes, then one cannot make the case that it was better to attack sooner rather than later.

This weasely triangulation entails the additional benefit of allowing Clinton to assert that, contrary to appearances, he did not lack the will to stand up to Saddam Hussein. His failure to do so was not a lack of fortitude, but a problem of timing. "I had the balls to take on Saddam, but my eight years in office ended before the time was ripe."

Maybe it really was somehow a difficulty Clinton had with timing. Clinton did earn his reputation as The Great Procrastinator. The lovely thing about procrastination is that it allows one always to have it both ways. A postponed act is neither fully chosen nor fully rejected. Even after the moment for action has passed, we can comfort ourselves with the thought of what we intended to do and excuse ourselves with the recollection of the barriers that prevented completion. If events happen to turn out well despite our failure to take matters in hand, we can congratulate ourselves for the wisdom of our restraint. If, heaven forfend, we are finally forced by events to take some action, if things don't go smoothly, we can protest that we opposed the decision.

That's what makes Clinton's triangulation so appealing to popular opinion. He positions himself to congratulate popular opinion if the war turns out well ("we all supported it"), but to relieve popular opinion of responsibility if the war turns out badly ("we all thought the timing was bad"). If we are only willing to adopt Clinton's position on the matter, we can take credit for the good and avoid responsibility for the bad.

In the meantime, while excusing his own past dilatoriness, Clinton's triangulation permits himself unlimited scope for criticizing those, like Bush, who did have the fortitude to take action, while at the same time claiming to support him. According to Clinton, Bush should not have attacked Saddam before "allowing the United Nations to complete the inspections process." Yet Clinton forgets the "inspection process" was "completed" at one time, back in 1998 when inspectors were withdrawn because Saddam made the "process" too obviously a charade. Did Clinton take action then? Well, yes, don't you remember? He bombed Iraq for four whole days, and then followed up by doing . . . exactly nothing. What was the purpose of that bombing? Was it to remove Saddam? No, Clinton avoided any claim of that purpose. Instead he justified the bombing this way:
. . . over the past year, Saddam has repeatedly sought to cripple the inspections system. Each time, through intensive diplomatic efforts backed by the threat of military action, Saddam has backed down. When he did so last month, I made it absolutely clear that if he did not give UNSCOM full cooperation this time, we would act swiftly and without further delay.

For three weeks, the inspectors tested Saddam's commitment to cooperate. They repeatedly ran into roadblocks and restrictions, some of them new. As their Chairman, Richard Butler, concluded in his report to the United Nations on Tuesday, the inspectors no longer were able to do their job. So far as I was concerned, Saddam's days of cheat and retreat were over.
Sure, Clinton claimed that the aim of the bombing was to degrade Saddam's WMD capacity, but that was an after-the-fact justification. In Clinton's eyes, Saddam's unforgivable offense was not that he was threatening the entire civilized world with WMDs, but that he was refusing to cooperate with a "process."

Yet, for Clinton, the termination of a process is no reason to abandon that process and resort to sustained action. One can always hope that a process can be revived. As Clinton said at the close of his four day bombing campaign:
we would welcome the return of UNSCOM and the International Atomic Energy Agency back into Iraq to pursue their mandate from the United Nations
The attempt to revive a process itself becomes a process. Thus, at this very hour, we read of those who want to revive the middle-east peace process, while warning Israel to avoid "actions" that might interfere with the process of reviving the peace process.

"Process" is such a reassuring word. By providing the illusion that something substantial is happening, it insulates us from actually having to commit to the messy and unpredictable business of dealing with the problems we face. Thus, twelve years into the on-again-off-again inspection process, Clinton would have waited for that process to be "completed" (and then presumably restarted, terminated, resumed, postponed, revived, etc. ad nauseam) before taking action. Procrastinators love process, and, as we have become a nation of procrastinators, Clinton's triangulation promises just the sort of comfort so many are looking for. How convenient.

posted by Bathus | 6/20/2004 12:37:00 PM
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Saturday, June 19, 2004

The New York Times' book reveiwer Michiko Kakutani seems not to care much for Bill Clinton's memoirs:
The book, which weighs in at more than 950 pages, is sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull--the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history.

. . . it devolves into a hodgepodge of jottings: part policy primer, part 12-step confessional, part stump speech and part presidential archive, all, it seems, hurriedly written and even more hurriedly edited.

. . . Mr. Clinton confesses that his affair with Monica Lewinsky was "immoral and foolish," but he spends far more space excoriating his nemesis, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, and the press. He writes at length about his awareness that terrorism was a growing threat, but does not grapple with the unintended consequences of his administration's decisions to pressure Sudan to expel Osama bin Laden in 1996 (driving sent the al Qaeda leader to Afghanistan, where he was harder to track) or to launch cruise missile attacks against targets in Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the embassy bombings in 1998 (an act that some terrorism experts believe fueled terrorists' conviction that the United States was an ineffectual giant that relied on low-risk high technology).

. . . Mr. Clinton tries to characterize his impeachment fight as "my last great showdown with the forces I had opposed all of my life" - with those who had defended segregation in the South, opposed the women's and gay rights movements, and who believed government should be run for the benefit of special interests. He adds that he was glad that he had had "the good fortune to stand against this latest incarnation of the forces of reaction and division."
If Kakutani's review is accurate, Clinton's book fails as a work of history, yet succeeds (albeit accidentally) in fulfilling the first and highest purpose of autobiography--to hold up a mirror to its author's character: the self-serving manipulations, the smarmy self-indulgences, the pusillanimous pseudo-confessions, and especially, most especially, the utter triviality that forms the empty core of the man:
It is only because Mr. Clinton was president of the United States that these excavations of self--a staple of celebrity and noncelebrity memoirs these days--are considered newsworthy.

. . . . And yet the former president's account of his life, read in this post-9/11 day, feels strangely like an artifact from a distant, more innocent era.

Lies about sex and real estate, partisan rancor over "character issues" (not over weapons of mass destruction or pre-emptive war), psychobabble mea culpas, and tabloid wrangles over stained dresses all seem like pressing matters from another galaxy, far, far away.
Kakutani is not quite right to say the Clinton era was "more innocent." Yes, in "this post-9/11 day," the Clinton years might have seemed more innocent, if by "innocent" one means a neglect of serious matters, as Clinton absorbed the nation's attention in struggles defending and opposing his banalities, both political and personal. Indeed, in history's indictment of the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton, Count One will be a charge of reckless triviality for eight years frittered away in self-absorption. Exhibit A will be his autobigraphy.

posted by Bathus | 6/19/2004 02:38:00 PM
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Friday, June 18, 2004

Came across an interesting story. It seems that Rochester, New York Democrats are conspiring with a local brewery to offer two free two-ounce beers to those who register to vote. Ah, but alcohol treatment counselors frown upon the idea. According to Elaine Milton, director of the chemical dependency clinic at the Family Service of Rochester Inc, ”[T]here are other ways to motivate people to vote other than give them alcohol."

Indeed there are, Elaine. Democrats attracting voters (the living ones, anyway) and creating dependence with freebies is nothing new. They've been offering free housing, free medical care, free money for bearing illegitimate children ...

Where the heck have you been for the last 35 years?

posted by Tom | 6/18/2004 03:26:00 PM
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Reagan's Other Legacy
posted by Tom

He revived the American economy and the American spirit after the disasters of Viet Nam, Watergate, and Jimmy Carter. He brought the GOP back from the dead after Nixon. Oh, and he defeated the Soviet Union. As remarkable as Ronald Reagan’s accomplishments were in life, one can’t help but appreciate an equally remarkable accomplishment, one that assures conservative Republicans' occupation of the White House and Congress for a good long time if they have the guts to take the baton he passed to them in the race to save the country from the left.

Or maybe I'm the only one in awe of Reagan’s ability, even in death, to completely unhinge liberals and liberal media.

An attack launched by internet columnist, cartoon(ist), and leftist Ted Rall before the ink on Reagan’s obituary was dry is representative. Rall’s ‘crispy brown' Reagan-in-hell comment in a typical moronic rant he calls a column achieved the short-term goal (the only goal Democrats ever set) of getting his weenie self on TV, but also completely exposed him as a brainwashed liberal pissant. He’s 40 years old now, meaning he was around 15 or 16 when Reagan was elected the first time in 1980 and (if my math is correct, never a certainty) 23 or 24 when Reagan left office in 1988. Okay, I admit that my overriding concern between the ages of 16 and 24 was getting laid, but far be it from me to assume that Ted Rall was (for want of a better term) normal. (I’m seven years older than Rall, by the way). Perhaps he was a precocious liberal intellectual buried in public policy in 1980, concluding that four more years of Jimmy Carter, and the gas lines, double-digit inflation and interest rates, Soviet expansionism, and selling out of Israel that were the hallmarks of that sniveling, Jew hating windbag's administration, were infinitely preferable to a Reagan presidency.

Rall would have voted for Carter, too, if he had been old enough. At 15 or 16, Rall probably didn’t own a car (and if he drove at all, mom and dad paid for his gas), wasn’t applying for a mortgage, and was probably learning about the joys of Marxism in high school, where he also learned that Israel, since it was a Middle Eastern democracy run by white people, just had to be evil. After Carter’s defeat, this wunderkind decided to forsake all of the pleasures of youth to follow the Reagan presidency in minute detail. For eight years he surrendered to his obsession, until he achieved total Nirvana at the ripe old age of 23 watching the Democrats raise grandstanding and demagoguery to a high art during the Iran-Contra hearings.

Perhaps this explains why he is now rattling off the most asinine opinions he can come up with: He gets himself on national TV and uses that to pick up the chicks he ignored 20 years ago.

At first glance, his stint on Fox News Channel's Hannity & Colmes the very day his anti-Reagan diatribe appeared on the web provided this idiot with an altar from which to preach to the loony left faithful. There was one problem: The loony left faithful don’t watch Fox News Channel, at least not in any great numbers. Surely Rall is aware of this, so his appearance on Hannity & Colmes could only be a narcissistic exercise. Unless he seriously thought he was going to convince the Reagan-loving conservatives who are the network’s primary audience that the man who brought about the collapse of the Soviet Union belongs in hell, in which case therapeutic drugs need to be prescribed. In truth, I think Rall was totally unaware that he was part of the long-term strategy conservatives are able to implement now that, thanks to Reagan, they have a stronger media voice: Casting the spotlight on raving left-wing idiots and exposing them as the true face of the Democratic Party.

Would Fox News, conservative talk radio, and the hundreds (if not more) of conservative internet news and commentary sites have been thinkable before 1980? Reagan proved there was a conservative majority out there; they voted for him in overwhelming numbers in two elections. It's with this audience that today’s media conservatives connect. The political burden has been on post-Reagan establishment Republicans to fan the flame of passionate opposition to liberalism – what it has done to the country and what it hopes to do. Unfortunately, they’ve been somewhat spastic in this regard. Sure, they got a little bit of their spunk back when Newt Gingrich engineered the takeover of Congress in 1992, but then they backed down to Bill Clinton over the government shutdown in 1994 and ever since have been trying to portray themselves as “moderate” (more about that later). It is conservative media that has kept the Reaganites fired up by using the divide and conquer strategy that resulted in Reagan's two landslide victories and his departure from office with the highest approval rating of any American president despite the Democrat and liberal media co-production of Watergate II (i.e., Iran/Contra).

If only the damn Republican Party would help them out.

To any audience outside a university TV lounge, where undergraduates rant and rave against capitalism during the commercial breaks on MTV, Ted Rall, Michael Moore, and others of that ilk come across as lunatics. Congressional Republicans and George Bush should be having a field day with the appearance of these twitchy flakes on highly rated political talk shows like Hannity & Colmes, The O'Reilly Factor, etc. They're better than reruns of Ted Kennedy explaining why it took him so long to report the accident in Chappaquiddick or Black race hucksters telling us OJ was framed. Emphasizing their support for John Kerry, preferably by getting them to emphasize it, would be worth about six RNC campaign commercials. While it’s probably true that guys like Rall are Deaniacs who believe Kerry’s only notable accomplishment as a Democrat is becoming the first embalmed corpse to get the Party’s nomination, they’re still “anyone-but-Bush” androids. Used wisely, one can tar any Democratic candidate with their paranoid, over-the-top rhetoric and demonstrate that the Democratic Party asks only one thing of its members: Solemnly swear you're a left wing whack job.

The liberal media understand this and do their best to keep these guys in the closet – so to speak. Or, when they do interview them, they feign a toughness you never see with so-called mainstream Democrats. A recent example of this is Matt Lauer’s interview with left wing basket case Michael Moore on the DNC’s - I mean, NBC’s “Today Show.” Lauer imitated an intrepid reporter badgering Moore about withholding evidence of Iraqi prisoner “abuse” used in his latest fantasy film, "Fahrenheit 9-11". Apparently, Moore had video and/or photos of naked Iraqis in his possession well before the story broke on the DNC’s - (damn) I mean, CBS’s “60 Minutes”. Granted, the subtext of Lauer’s questioning was: “Why didn’t you try to help Democrats by releasing that material and embarrassing the Bush Administration sooner?” Still, flakes like Moore always get the “treatment” on liberal Democrat chat shows in order to distance them from the Party. And they play along, as Moore did by responding to Lauer’s question as to why he didn’t give the evidence to "Today": “I don’t trust big media.” Moore's implication, of course, is that Democratic PR operatives like Lauer and his brilliant and eclectic co-host, Skipper, are part of the “right-wing” media. Sure, Mike. And I bet you really look like Tom Cruise under the make-up.

Basically, this whole stupid game started when Reagan shellacked Carter and Mondale by capturing conservative Democrats in 1980 and ’84, respectively. The liberal media couldn’t acknowledge that it was a question of conservative trouncing liberal lest they admit that the majority of Americans don’t dig abortion on demand, homosexuality as the norm, socialist government in every aspect of their lives, etc. So, they created the myth of the “independent” voter, who was either disaffected with his own Party or belonged to no Party and voted depending on which way the wind blew on Election Day.

(Of course, everyone knows the only true independents are the aforementioned MTV-addicted undergraduates. They are really liberal Democrats that think the term "independent" connotes "rebel", so they spout all of the liberal Democrat clichés, but the only way to get them to vote is to book Britney Spears at the polling place.)

The independent voter invented by the only media players back then – the Big Three networks, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc. – chose Reagan over Carter and Mondale because, depending on what the reporters and anchors were drinking or smoking on a given day, Reagan was either a brilliant manipulator of an angry and greedy electorate that simply didn’t accept the Utopian vision of the Socialist Party’s candidates, or he was a dimwit charming other dimwits. (Read all of their current retrospectives on Reagan and you come to the conclusion they still don’t know what the hell they believed.) For the eight years of his presidency, liberal media wet dreams produced the fantasy that a Reagan voter was either a white trailer trash redneck whose only desire in life is to drink beer, attend NASCAR races, and shoot Blacks on sight, or a rich Republican who likes to watch poor kids starve. Pre-Fox, pre-talk radio, pre-internet liberal media used this absurdity to assuage the fears of the left wing Democrat constituency comprising the minority underclass, hysterical feminists, gays, the elderly that really and truly believe The New Deal ended the Great Depression (who would in 2000 have trouble reading a ballot that didn’t have a big red arrow pointing to the name of the Democrat they were supposed to vote for), union thugs, teachers, and trial lawyers. But no matter how often and arrogantly left-wing networks, newspapers, and magazines mischaracterized the gold mine Reagan had tapped into as the racist/sexist/homophobic “independent” vote, they knew in their hearts there was a conservative majority ripe for Republican picking. Reagan had the (to put it delicately) guts to tell the American people that radical left-wing Democrat is a redundancy and sailed into office. What if the Republican Party as a whole did the same thing?

Today’s liberal media still refer to the “independent” voter, but the late 20th century image of persons easily charmed by an “amiable dunce” who taps into their greed and deeply rooted racist hate doesn’t work with the sophisticated 21st century voter with more choices when it comes to political viewpoints. More popular now is the liberal media's Platonic “moderate” voter, an ideal all good citizens should aspire to, one who abhors “extreme positions”, which are defined as any conservative Republican challenges to Socialism, buggery, infanticide, etc, and despises anyone whose views are out of the “mainstream”, which can be defined as liberal Democrats committed to Socialism, buggery, infanticide, etc. This new myth’s effectiveness depends upon hiding true mainstream Democrats – i.e., raving left-wing lunatics – in a secret room with the rest of the family’s inbred deformities. It was easy pre-cable, pre-Fox News Channel, and pre-talk radio, when the Big Three and the major dailies and weeklies controlled whose ideas were heard and to what end. Thus, the Democratic Party could offer up liberal loonies like Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis, and the liberal media would present their half-assed world views to the people, because these guys knew how to dress it up for the public. Those who would betray the Democratic Party’s true face were relegated to the pages of The Nation, Rolling Stone, NPR, etc. No more. With the rise of cable, Democrat flakes get as much face time as the Party’s smarmy candidates trying to come across as level-headed politicians of the people; conservative talk radio repeats their paranoid stupidity over and over again; conservative internet sites publish, republish, and dissect their manifestos. Conservatives remind everyone that these people are Democrats, and the Democratic Party’s reluctance to explicitly condemn these clowns for their excesses is so conspicuous that it can mean only one thing: These are the voices of the Democratic Party.

Okay, so what the hell is a “moderate” exactly? What the liberal media call a “moderate” Republican is simply one who is uncomfortable with some – repeat, some – of his Party’s positions. For example, they deem a Republican who thinks the federal government should not outlaw abortion and who thinks that gays shouldn’t be discriminated against when it comes to housing, employment, etc. a “moderate.” They will of course ignore that he also believes doctors who perform partial-birth abortions are murderers; that he’d rather have nails driven through his eyes than see homosexual relationships afforded equal status with heterosexual marriage; that he despises the welfare state; that while he may not think Ted Kennedy should have died in jail (as Ted Rall wished on Reagan), he believes Teddy should be just coming up for parole; that he thinks the IRS makes the old Soviet KGB look committed to democratic principles. In other words, because he doesn’t toe the Republican line on one, at most two issues, liberal media zero in on the disagreements and try to claim this person is not, you know, really conservative. This is absolute nonsense. Would anyone, especially in liberal media, call Black Democrats, the majority of whom are against abortion and gay marriage, but are frothing-at-the-mouth supporters of racial quotas in hiring and college admissions, who believe the federal government should pay for everything from the birth of their children to their own funerals, who wouldn’t have required the insanity defense to find John Hinckley, Jr. not guilty, and who think Jews own America and “keep them down” moderates?

Please.

These “moderates” still vote for conservative and liberal candidates, respectively, because their discomfort with some aspects of their respective Parties is infinitely surpassed by the general repulsiveness of the other side. I may not eat chicken, but I’m still a meat eater. The thought of becoming a vegetarian makes me ill.

Reagan proved that conservatives in both parties outnumber liberals. Or, to put it in terms the cockamamie liberal media would understand, he proved there are far less “moderates” among Democrats, and that a “moderate” Democrat is a liberal Democrat and a liberal Democrat is a leftwing Socialist anti-American kook – basically. Ever since establishing this fact – twice – liberal media have been trying like hell to sweep it under the carpet, but the conservative media that sprang up post-Reagan and came into their own after George H.W. Bush squandered every political advantage Reagan had bequeathed him, have kept their foot on that rug. They continue to highlight the fact the Democratic Party doesn’t merely include the Ted Ralls, the Michael Moores, the zany Hollywood left, and various others who remind one of Rodney Dangerfield's "Caddyshack" line: “Now I know why tigers eat their young.” They demonstrate that there would be no Democratic party without these goofs.

Had the conservative media of today existed in the 1980s, we would have needed a new term to describe Reagan’s victories - “landslide” wouldn't have cut it. The Republican Party today has media Reagan could only dream of, but what it needs is another Reagan who knows how to use them. Some would argue that the 2002 elections giving Republicans control of the Presidency, House, and Senate for the first time in almost half a century reflected their ability to follow Reagan’s lead. Perhaps, but they shouldn’t need 3000+ dead Americans and a memorial service for a dead liberal Democrat that turns into a Nuremberg Rally to gain seats. This election year will test whether or not the Party really knows what Reaganism was all about.

posted by Tom | 6/18/2004 07:30:00 AM
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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A Rowback Sighting at the New York Times (Updated!)
posted by Bathus

"Rowback!"

"Where?"

"Right there! Didn't you see it?"

"No, are you sure?"

"I think so. It sure looked like a rowback, but I'll have to go back and check the archives to make sure."

There's a good chance you've never heard about rowbacks before, but I'm almost certain that you've witnessed at least one rowback with your very own eyes, even if you weren't quite sure what it was when you saw it. Rowbacks are usually pretty small, and they can be so quick and so slick that they zip right by without you ever noticing a thing.

Well, I spotted a really fine one just the other day. For a rowback, it was huge, yet it was so quick that I would have missed it if I hadn't been watching closely when it first popped up. Right there in front of my eyes, it morphed into something else and then blended into its surroundings so well that I never would have been able to pick it out if I hadn't caught sight of it before it morphed.

That's what a rowback does. It morphs itself into something else. And after a rowback morphs, you wonder if your eyes were deceiving you about what you saw the first time around. Unless you get a good hard look at a rowback, when you do happen across one, the experience feels like deja vu, except that instead of having a vague sense that something is exactly the same as it was in the past, you have a vague sense that something has changed, but you can't put your finger on what it was. If you don't see a rowback change right in front of your eyes, you won't have much way of knowing that it really was a rowback. So like I said, I'm pretty sure you've seen one before, even if you didn't know it was a rowback.

Rowbacks aren't that uncommon. The only thing unusual about the rowback I spotted the other day was that I reported it to the New York Times. I rarely report my rowback sightings to the media because the media conspiracy doesn't want the public to know rowbacks exist. And it’s hard to nail down solid proof because rowbacks are so slick. But I reported this one to the New York Times. After all, it was their rowback, it was big one, and I figured they would want to get it under control before it morphed again.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First I need to explain more clearly what rowbacks are and why they matter.

A rowback is not some strange mythical beast. A rowback is a journalistic creation that a newspaper uses surreptitiously to correct a mistake in a previous story. A rowback comes into being when a newspaper prints
"a story that attempts to correct a previous story without indicating that the prior story had been in error or without taking responsibility for the error." A less charitable definition might read, "a way that a newspaper can cover its butt without admitting it was ever exposed."
When a newspaper uses a later story to "fix" a mistake in an earlier story, but fails to tell its readers about the mistake in the first story, most readers will never notice either the mistake or the "correction." If the rowback is slick enough, most readers never realize that they've just had a rowback experience.

The definition of "rowback" that I quoted above comes from a New York Times article titled "Setting the Record Straight (but Who Can Find the Record?)" by Daniel Okrent. Okrent was appointed as the Times' first ever Public Editor last autumn in response to the Jayson Blair fiasco. According to Okrent, his function as the Times Public Editor is "publicly evaluating, criticizing and otherwise commenting on the paper's integrity." (At other newspapers, the job Okrent has at the Times is titled "Omsbudsman" or "Reader Representative.") Integral to the Public Editor's function as watchdog of the paper's integrity is his role as "reader advocate." He's the one who's supposed to make sure readers' legitimate concerns, including rowback sightings, aren't ignored.

When Okrent first took on the job of Public Editor, he wrote an article introducing himself to Times readers, describing his role as reader advocate, and explaining his standards of journalistic integrity:
Journalistic misfeasance [i.e., the factual error] that results from what one might broadly consider working conditions may be explainable, but it isn't excusable. And misfeasance becomes felony when the presentation of news is corrupted by bias, willful manipulation of evidence, unacknowledged conflict of interest--or a self-protective unwillingness to admit error. That's where you and I come in. (bold emphasis added)
Under the journalistic standards Okrent espouses, a rowback--an attempt by a newspaper to "cover its butt without admitting it was ever exposed"-- is a journalistic felony because "the presentation of news is corrupted . . . by a self-protective unwillingness to admit error." The rowback "corrects" the story, but doesn't tell the reader what has been corrected or even that a correction has been made. The rowback takes the place of a proper correction, but prevents the reader from easily realizing that something he read earlier was incorrect and is now being corrected. A rowback leaves it to the reader to try to figure out on his own whether the two versions were actually contradictory and, if so, which version is the correct one. Indeed, the very process of creating a rowback can bias the reporter to "correct" an erroneous story in a way that makes his error less noticeable: If the original story reported "Z," but the true fact is "A," a writer hiding behind a rowback will be biased toward producing a story that reports something that looks like "N." In his next story, he can rowback to "G," and then a couple of stories later maybe he gets around to reporting "A." Even if a rowback morphs straight from "Z" to "A," by creating two contradictory, yet unretracted, versions of the same story, the rowback confuses the record. It corrupts the news. It's a journalistic felony.

For the benefit of reporters and editors who slept through Ethics in Journalism 101, Public Editor Okrent explains that when a fact has been incorrectly reported, there are lots of easy ways to avoid doing a rowback:
Online and in archives, connect the second version of a story to the first. In print, take care to insert the words "as reported in The Times yesterday" when the cross-reference is germane. When appropriate, the insertion of "mistakenly" or "erroneously" between "as" and "reported" wouldn't be such a bad thing either.
Okrent leaves the impression that he despises rowbacks and that he considers it is his duty as Public Editor to point out rowbacks publicly when readers bring them to his attention. "That's where you and I come in," he said.

So when I spotted a rowback in a story the Times covered a couple of weeks ago, I sent Okrent the following email:
From: [Adeimantus]
To: public@nytimes.com
Subject: Why the Times Flubbed the Allawi Story
Date: Sat, 29 May 2004

Dear Mr. Orkent:

The New York Times has completely changed its story on how Allawi was tapped as interim Iraqi prime minister.

A certain NY Times article now reads:
The decision to name Dr. Allawi was made with the approval of Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, though it was unclear how enthusiastic his support was. At United Nations headquarters in New York, officials contended that they were caught unawares by the announcement but said that they endorsed the choice."
But the version of the same NY Times article earlier in the day read:
The decision to name Dr. Allawi was made by Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy, and the governing council was then summoned to be informed of the choice. The council more or less showed its approval, some officials said, with one member saying the decision was unanimous. But other people said a vote did not really take place, because the decision had already been made.
Simply put, the NY Times writers changed their story 180 degrees,

from:

"Brahimi chose PM, and the Governing Council acquiesced,"

to:

"the GC chose PM, and Brahimi acquiesced."
After pointing out this 180 degree rowback, my email to Mr. Okrent went on to point out the bias that I believed caused the Times reporter, Dexter Filkins, to get the story wrong the first time around:
This is all-too-typical of NY Times' recent reporting on the Iraq handover, where the desire to achieve the "right" spin seems to muck up the reportage. In this case the Times writers' "right" spin was to have Brahimi and the UN appear to be dominating the process of selecting the interim Iraqi PM, with the GC hinting displeasure at the way he was selected, and the whole thing being riven with chaos and dissent. That original spin didn't last long, because it was immediately completely contradicted by everybody under the sun, so the NY Times has rewritten the article.

The NY Times' new spin, (in the lede of the . . . newer article on the same topic) is:
After turning to the United Nations to shore up its failing effort to fashion a new government in Baghdad, the United States ended up Friday with a choice for prime minister certain to be seen more as an American candidate than one of the United Nations or the Iraqis themselves." (The italics are mine; the passive voice is Times' writers'.)
Using the passively voiced "seen as" to veil an expression of their own views and preferences, the NY Times writers posit a false dichotomy with the "bad" side being an "American candidate," which is set up in opposition to the "good" side, which is a "candidate of the UN or the Iraqis themselves." The grouping of that dichotomy further insinuates that (1) there is no difference worth noting between "a candidate of the UN" and "a candidate of the Iraqis themselves," and (2) a candidate of the Americans could not at the same time be "more" a candidate of the Iraqis themselves than he is a candidate of the Americans. But the relevant dichotomy is not "an American candidate" versus "a candidate of the UN or the Iraqis themselves," which your writers want to have us accept as the ground for analysis. The relevant dichotomy is "more a candidate of the Iraqis themselves" versus "less a candidate of the Iraqis themselves."

With the truly relevant dichotomy in mind, ask yourself who--Brahimi or the GC--is in a better position to choose a PM who would not only be "seen more as" a candidate of the Iraqis themselves, but would actually be more of a candidate of the Iraqis themselves (so far as that is possible under the present circumstances)? Why do the Times' writers want to insinuate that a man chosen by Brahimi (who is not an Iraqi himself and who was appointed by the UN Secy General, also a non-Iraqi) would have been "seen more as a candidate of the Iraqis themselves" than a man chosen unanimously by the all-Iraqi Governing Council, a body whose extraordinarily diverse membership includes at least one representative of every group with any possible standing within Iraq? Try to name one group with a halfway legitimate claim to participate in Iraqi government that is not ardently represented on the GC. You can't do it! Now name one group that is not represented by the UN's Mr. Brahimi. The Shias! The GC voted for Allawi unanimously, but your writers imply that the GC's unanimous choice will have less legitimacy with "the Iraqis themselves" than would a candidate chosen by Brahimi.

Even Brahimi seems willing to concede (albeit grudgingly) what the NY Times writers still won't concede: If the GC unanimously wants Allawi, then Brahimi is in no position to question that choice, because Brahimi knows that the GC is more representative of the "Iraqis themselves" than Brahimi ever could be!

So why do your writers spin it the way they do? Because they are disappointed that the UN does not appear to be so vitally relevant to the process. When the UN gets cut out of the process a little, it offends your writers' internationalism, even if it is the best existing representatives of the "Iraqis themselves" who are cutting the UN out. Given the choice between having the "Iraqis themselves" decide their own fate or having a UN muckabout decide the Iraqis' fate, your writers can't help but prefer the latter. But they still feel uncomfortable with that preference, so they want to make it appear that it is not the "Iraqis themselves" exercising their own choice, but that the Iraqi choice is really an American choice (or will be "seen more as" the American choice, which to them amounts to the same thing).

The revision of the Times' original article reflects how badly the Times writers bungled this story from the start. More remarkable is the extent to which the NY Times writers continue to spin the story to convince its readers that the handover process should not be "seen as" legitimate unless controlled by the UN. The real story (or a least a major part of the real story) is the story of how the GC, by the astoundingly bold and statesmanlike act of unifying around Allawi, gave both the US and the UN no choice but to accept that decision, thereby establishing Iraqi independence from both of those entities and expressing the Iraqi people's right and intention to govern themselves. That's a big story, maybe the biggest story yet of the Iraq saga, but instead of writing it, your guys opted for the predictable, conventional spin.

[Adeimantus]
Houston, Texas
I wrote that email about two weeks ago and had pretty much given up on receiving a response, when, lo and behold, the Times favored me with a reply, not from Public Editor Daniel Okrent, but from his right hand man,
From: public@nytimes.com
To: [Adeimantus]
Sent: Thursday, June 10, 2004
Subject: 5/29 Changing Passage in article

Dear Mr. [Adeimantus],

Thank you for your message and your patience-- I apologize for the delayed response.

Breaking news articles change during the period when they first appear on NYTimes.com, to when they appear in print the next day as a result of further reporting and more time to check up on facts and follow up on thing.

That said, I will inquire further with the foreign desk regarding your concerns.

Sincerely,
Arthur Bovino
Office of the Public Editor

Hmmm? Bovino seemed to be implying that the Times doesn't feel obliged to make public corrections of errors in "breaking news articles" when the errors "appear on NYTimes.com." In other words, rowbacks are an acceptable way to "correct" errors in a "breaking news article" the Times puts on the internet, just as long as the erroneous story never makes it into print the next day? But that didn't strike me as consistent with Okrent's description of the easy ways to avoid rowbacks in online articles: "There are ways to correct this. Online and in archives, connect the second version of a story to the first." No, the Times didn't connect (i.e., link) the second version of the Allawi story to the first. Instead, the Times removed the first story and replaced it with the second story, which was 180 degrees different than the first one. So when I clicked on the link the first time, I read about how Brahimi had selected Allawi over the Governing Council's objections. But when I clicked on the same link later that day, the story was that the Governing Council had selected Allawi and Brahimi had acquiesced in their choice.

(I should mention that I was not the only blogger to notice the Times' rowback of the Allawi story. Several other, including Josh Marshall's TalkingPointsMemo have been wondering what the heck the Times was doing with the Allawi story.)

This kind of internet rowback is actually worse than a print rowback. When a printed story gets rowbacked in the next day's paper, you can go back and read yesterday's paper. But when an internet story gets replaced by a rowbacked version, the first version disappears altogether. In this instance, although the Times deleted the erroneous story and replaced it with a rowbacked version tied to the same link, I was able to track it down on the Lexington Herald-Leader, which picked up the story off the Times wire service before the Times rowbacked it. And that brings up another reason that a paper like the Times that runs a wire service should scrupulously avoid rowbacks: The poor Lexington Herald-Leader is still running the Times original version as gospel truth because the Times never informed them [or us] that it was inaccurate.

Anyway, I figured Bovino's unsatisfactory reply would be all I would get out of my disappointing correspondence with the office of the Times Public Editor. But, lo and behold, two days ago I received another email from Bovino:
From: public@nytimes.com
To: [Adeimantus]
Sent: Monday, June 14, 2004
Subject: 5/29 Changing Passage in article 6/10 Bronner

Dear Mr. [Adeimantus],

I raised your concern with Mr. Okrent and Mr. Bronner, deputy editor of the foreign desk.

Mr. Okrent instructed me to provide you with Mr. Bronner's response below:
When ever a story is breaking, early versions tend to prove false and get updated. Think of the first dispatches out of Madrid when the trains blew up in March -- Reuters said ETA had done it. As you get it right, you move forward.
I hope this helps.

Sincerely,
Arthur Bovino
Office of the Public Editor
Wow! This was getting interesting. You have to understand that I have sent countless letters for publication in the Times Letter's section, and never once have they printed a single word I've written. (Okay, maybe my letters are too damn long!) But now little ol' me had commanded the attention of not just Daniel Okrent's right hand man Arthur Bovino, but of the Times' Public Editor himself. And not just the Public Editor, but also the Times' "deputy editor of the foreign desk." Three big shots at the Times worrying about what I think!

In a flight of truly pathetic megalomania, I imagined Bovino, Okrent, and Bronner had spent two whole weeks meeting late at the office worrying about how to respond to my brilliant critique. Flattered by the attention, I began to think that the New York Times really did want to be a shining beacon of truth for the Western world.

But then I noticed that the Times foreign editor was trying to excuse the rowback by pointing out an even more glaring error Reuters had made. Pardon me for saying so, but my momma taught me that it is craven chickensh*t to try to avoid responsibility for a screwup by pointing your finger at someone who's an even bigger screwup. Besides which, no self-respecting news organization would ever, ever, ever compare itself with Reuters.

And then I noticed that the Times foreign editor never clearly admitted that its first story was wildly mistaken. Instead he dismissively fell back on a generic statement that, "early versions tend to prove false." Starting tomorrow, the Times should print a disclaimer in bold above its nameplate.



I'm sure that would cement the Times' reputation.

And then I realized that the upshot of the foreign editor's response was an implication that rowback is an acceptable journalistic technique, not just for breaking internet stories, but for all breaking stories. The main thing is, just get something into print. It can always be "updated" later. And after it's "updated," don't bother with a correction. Just "move forward" to the next "update."

So now I've written the Public Editor's office another email about this Allawi story, this time a short one:
From: [Adeimantus]
To: public@nytimes.com
Sent: Monday, June 14, 2004
Subject: Re: 5/29 Changing Passage in article 6/10 Bronner

Dear Mr. Bovino,

Thanks for your reply relaying Mr. Bronner's explanation for The Times' erroneous reporting on the story of how Allawi was chosen as the interim Iraqi PM. Yet I'm still wondering, did the Times "move forward," or did the Times "rowback?"
. . . a classic example of the rowback. The one definition I could find for this ancient technique, from journalism educator Melvin Mencher, describes a rowback as "a story that attempts to correct a previous story without indicating that the prior story had been in error or without taking responsibility for the error." A less charitable definition might read, "a way that a newspaper can cover its butt without admitting it was ever exposed." (Daniel Okrent, New York Times, March 14, 2004)
[Adeimantus]
Houston, Texas
I'll let you know if I hear back from him.

UPDATE (June 23, 2004, 2:15 p.m.):

Okrent has honored me with a response to my last email:
From: public@nytimes.com
To: [Adeimantus]
Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2004 11:57 AM
Subject: Changing Passage in article 6/10 Bronner

Dear Mr. [Adeimantus],

This is not a rowback -- stories get updated from edition to edition all the time, and I'm glad they do. It's the final edition that is the official one and that stays in the archives.

Yours sincerely,
Daniel Okrent
Public Editor
Impressed by the quantity of hooey Okrent packed into such a brief message, I emailed him back:
From: [Adeimantus]
To: Public
Sent: Tuesday, June 22, 2004 7:10 PM
Subject: Re: Changing Passage in article 6/10 Bronner

Dear Mr. Okrent,

Thanks for your reply explaining that the second version of the Allawi story was not a "rowback," but was merely an "update."

Let me see if I've got this straight:

1. If a factual error appears in an early edition of the Times, but does not make it into the final edition, the error is not considered official.

2. Unless an error becomes official, there is no need to make any sort of explicit public correction.

3. In such cases, a rowback is an acceptable journalistic technique for dealing with an unofficial error, and is in fact not truly a rowback, but is more properly classified as an update.

But now it occurs to me that consistency in terminology suggests that an update, when employed surreptitiously to correct an unofficial error, should more precisely be termed an unofficial rowback. On the other hand, I can see how the use of the term unofficial rowback would tend to engender even more confusion inasmuch as all rowbacks are, by their very nature, unofficial.

Alas, it's so hard to know just what is the right name to call things. Contemplating your distinction between official and unofficial, I sense the misty presence of one of those "obfuscating cloud formations that befog modern journalism."

[Adeimantus]
That poetic phrase ("obfuscating cloud formations that befog modern journalism") comes straight from a column Okrent himself wrote. How aptly that metaphor describes the substance of Okrent's email! To avoid acknowledging that the Times did a rowback of the undeniably obvious error in the first Allawi story, Okrent relies on a distinction between an official final edition and an unofficial earlier edition. But that distinction is completely irrelevant to the question of whether the factual error in the first Allwai story needed a proper (i.e., conspicuous) correction. The words from a different piece of Okrent's own writings dispel the fog:
"Because its voice is loud and far-reaching," the paper's stylebook says, "The Times recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small (even misspellings of names), promptly and in a prominent reserved space in the paper."
I'll let you know if Okrent honors me with a further response.

posted by Bathus | 6/16/2004 12:56:00 AM
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Monday, June 14, 2004

Victor Davis Hanson has another fine article on the strange "paradoxes" of the West's confrontation with Islamofascism:
. . . bin Ladenism trumpets contempt for bourgeois Western society. . . . indolent infidels, channel surfers who eat, screw, and talk too much amid worthless gadgetry, godless skyscrapers . . .

. . . .

It was hard for the Islamic fascists to find ideological support in the West, given their agenda of gender apartheid, homophobia, religious persecution, racial hatred, fundamentalism, polygamy, and primordial barbarism. But they sensed that there has always been a current of self-loathing among the comfortable Western elite, a perennial search for victims of racism, economic oppression, colonialism, and Christianity. Bin Laden's followers weren't white; they were sometimes poor; they inhabited of former British and French colonies; and they weren't exactly followers of the no-nonsense Pope or Jerry Falwell. If anyone doubts the nexus between right-wing Middle Eastern fascism and left-wing academic faddishness, go to booths in the Free Speech area at Berkeley or see what European elites have said and done for Hamas. Middle Eastern fascist killers enshrined as victims alongside our own oppressed? That has been gospel in our universities for the last three decades. . . .

. . . .

Nearly three years after 9/11 we are in the strangest of all paradoxes: a war against fascists that we can easily win but are clearly not ready to fully wage. We have the best 500,000 soldiers in the history of civilization, a resolute president, and an informed citizenry that has already received a terrible preemptive blow that killed thousands.

Yet what a human comedy it has now all become.

The billionaire capitalist George Soros — who grew fabulously wealthy through cold and calculating currency speculation, helping to break many a bank and its poor depositors — now makes the moral equation between 9/11 and Abu Ghraib. For this ethicist and meticulous accountant, 3,000 murdered in a time of peace are the same as some prisoners abused by renegade soldiers in a time of war.

Recently in the New York Times I read two articles about the supposedly new irrational insensitivity toward Muslims and saw an ad for a book detailing how the West "constructed" and exaggerated the Islamic menace — even as the same paper ran a quieter story about a state-sponsored cleric in Saudi Arabia's carefully expounding on the conditions under which Muslims can desecrate the bodies of murdered infidels.

Aristocratic and very wealthy Democrats — Al Gore, Ted Kennedy, Howard Dean, and John Kerry — employ the language of conspiracy to assure us that we had no reason to fight Saddam Hussein. "Lies," "worst," and " betrayed" are the vocabulary of their daily attacks. A jester in stripes like Michael Moore, who cannot tell the truth, is now an artistic icon — precisely and only because of his own hatred of the president and the inconvenient idea that we are really at war. Our diplomats court the Arab League, which snores when Russians and Sudanese kill hundreds of thousands of Muslims but shrieks when we remove those who kill even more of their own. And a depopulating, entitlement-expanding Europe believes an American president, not bin Laden, is the greatest threat to world peace. Russia, the slayer of tens of thousands of Muslim Chechans and a big-time profiteer from Baathist loot, lectures the United States on its insensitivity to the new democracy in Baghdad.
Hanson is accurate when he points to the current of self-loathing among the comfortable Western elite that enervates the West's capacity to respond to the Islamofascist challenge. At its core, our battle with Islamofacism is a battle of the principles of Western liberal democracy against the principles of religious fascism. We have the physical means to win--the technology, the armaments, the manpower. But do we have the will to win? Do we think we deserve to win? The "current of self-loathing" inspires within Western societies doubts about ourselves. As to whether we are more deserving of victory than our enemies, the cultural relativists answer openly, "No, we cannot be better or more deserving than our enemies because no culture can be said to be superior to any other." Then, paradoxically, the relativists go on to proclaim that not only are we no better than the Islamofascists, we are actually worse than them because we are powerful. In the relativists’ cosmos (which is not a "cosmos," but a "chaos" in which nothing can be judged as morally different from anything else), where no one can be judged as better than anyone else, one exception is made in the case of “the powerful,” who are always, unquestionably, and oppressively evil. That is the core of their logic: We are powerful; therefore, so we are evil. But at their emotional core is the paradox of a complacent self-loathing.

Yet the deeper paradox is that Hanson himself, and those who think as he does, are now part of the paradox in that they, too, participate in Western self-loathing. When, for example, Hanson writes that the West long-ignored the terrorist threat so that "we could go from Dallas to Extreme Makeover and Madonna to Britney without too much distraction or inconvenience," the loathing that he expresses for Western moral laxity differs little from that expressed by a bin Laden. Indeed, moral laxity is somehow the cause of self-loathing among those on both the right and the left. The shapers of opinion on the left embrace the contemporary moral laxity, which allows them openly and freely to pursue and enjoy the personal and financial fruits of debauchery while ridiculing their critics as "judgmental moralistic bigots." Yet at some deep level they feel ashamed of themselves and this shame manifests itself in self-loathing. Those on the left, lacking steadfastness of moral principles of their own, find something attractive in the steadfastness of the moral clarity the Islamofascists claim for themselves. Thus, twenty-five years ago the political and intellectual leaders of the Western left made their pilgrimages to Paris to sit cross-legged at the feet of Ayatollah Khomeni. In domestic economic matters, this phenomenon of leftist self-loathing has long been correctly identified as "limousine liberalism." They sense that, morally speaking, we are all going to hell in handcarts. But the ride is too pleasant to resist, so they assuage their guilt by fretting over whether the upholstery of some handcarts is too plush compared to some others.

On the right, the self-loathing is perhaps not so personally self-directed, but aims more at the whole of Western culture, as when a Victor Davis Hanson complains about what the "postmodern West" has become. Hanson ostensibly targets his critique only at "the comfortable Western elite," but when he uses bin Laden's voice to mock the "channel surfers who eat, screw, and talk too much amid worthless gadgetry," we know it is really Hanson himself talking about the lot of us. When we conservatives in the West ridicule the flacid Europeans, we are somehow ridiculing ourselves because we are children of the same father. Yet such criticism of the West's moral decline feeds the enervating doubts no less than the leftist's self-loathing, and perhaps more so because the criticism is all too valid. Hanson’s criticism, true enough as to the West’s present condition, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of the West’s future prospects. It seems that Hanson-like railing cannot succeed and, therefore, seems only to contribute to the West’s internal doubts and divisions.

And there's the dilemma: To sustain ourselves for what will be a very long fight against the Islamofascists, we in the West must first reform ourselves morally, but it seems that the precondition of that reform is a Hanson-like self-criticism which only increases our self-loathing and undermines our will to maintain the struggle.

What is the way out of the dilemma of the post-modern paradox? I do not know. I do know that for a few brief moments after 9/11, the more immediate concern for survival made most of us, even many of those on the left, give up the indulgence of self-loathing. That makes me fear that the threat to survival would have to be much worse--much more obviously, intensely, and prolongedly worse--before we could summon and sustain the will necessary to overcome our enemies. But, as Hanson points out, our enemies are too clever to make us to live with the sense that our culture is being pushed to the brink of extinction; theirs is a strategy of "threaten, hit, pause, wait; threaten, hit, pause, wait." When they hit us hard, we all want to fight back at first, but then we settle into our old habits. Then they hit us again. At the end of each cycle, we find ourselves moved closer to the abyss, we become more confused and disgusted with ourselves, and the abyss becomes alluring.

What's needed now is a Reagan-like figure to save us from the abyss of self-negation, someone who can lead to what we can become without making us feel quite so dispirited about what we are.

posted by Bathus | 6/14/2004 12:43:00 PM
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Sunday, June 13, 2004

From a Weekly Standard interview with Natan Sharansky, a Soveit dissident who spent thirteen years in a Siberian gulag:
Were there any particular Reagan moments that you can recall being sources of strength or encouragement to you and your colleagues?

I have to laugh. People who take freedom for granted, Ronald Reagan for granted, always ask such questions. Of course! It was the great brilliant moment when we learned that Ronald Reagan had proclaimed the Soviet Union an Evil Empire before the entire world. There was a long list of all the Western leaders who had lined up to condemn the evil Reagan for daring to call the great Soviet Union an evil empire right next to the front-page story about this dangerous, terrible man who wanted to take the world back to the dark days of the Cold War. This was the moment. It was the brightest, most glorious day. Finally a spade had been called a spade. Finally, Orwell's Newspeak was dead. President Reagan had from that moment made it impossible for anyone in the West to continue closing their eyes to the real nature of the Soviet Union.

It was one of the most important, freedom-affirming declarations, and we all instantly knew it. For us, that was the moment that really marked the end for them, and the beginning for us. The lie had been exposed and could never, ever be untold now. This was the end of Lenin's "Great October Bolshevik Revolution" and the beginning of a new revolution, a freedom revolution--Reagan's Revolution.

We were all in and out of punishment cells so often--me more than most--that we developed our own tapping language to communicate with each other between the walls. A secret code. We had to develop new communication methods to pass on this great, impossible news. We even used the toilets to tap on.
Sharansky reminds us that when Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire, "a long list of all the Western leaders . . . lined up to condemn the evil Reagan." (Reagan's critics also called him a "unilateralist" and complained that neocons were infesting his administration.) So when Bush called Iraq, Iran, and North Korea "the axis of evil," many of our "allies" fell into their familiar places in the same old line of appeasement. The names and the faces change, but the story remains the same. Orwell's Newspeak is not dead. But we'll win this one, too, and in ten or twenty years, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone bragging about how they opposed "Bush's illegal war in Iraq."

posted by Bathus | 6/13/2004 06:38:00 PM
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