May 27, 2008

Fear Inflation

The War on Terra narrative is starting to break down.

In the beginning, it was only security experts trying to calm people down, and recognize that WTC attack was unique, not replicable, and that al qaeda did not have the resources to pose a serious threat. Bruce Scheier, for example, was one of the voices of calm, as James Fallows pointed out earlier this week (after, ahem, I reminded him about Bruce's work. Aha. I also see he read the same article in the Times I read yesterday.)

When I say the narrative is breaking down, I mean that legacy media people like Fareed Zakaria are writing (and getting stories past their editors) about the excess of fear has been driven by the US government brazenly exaggerating the terrorist threat. In this case, the Bush administration has done so by counting civilian deaths in Iraq as victims of terroism:

[T]here is a reason you're scared. The U.S. government agency charged with tracking terrorist attacks, the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), reported a 41 percent increase from 2005 to 2006 and then equally high levels in 2007. Another major, government-funded database of terrorism, the Memorial Institute for the Prevention of Terror (MIPT), says that the annual toll of fatalities from terrorism grew 450 percent (!) between 1998 and 2006. A third report, the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), also government-funded, recorded a 75 percent jump in 2004, the most recent year available for the data it uses.

The Simon Fraser study points out that all three of these data sets have a common problem. They count civilian casualties from the war in Iraq as deaths caused by terrorism. This makes no sense. Iraq is a war zone, and as in other war zones around the world, many of those killed are civilians. Study director Prof. Andrew Mack notes, "Over the past 30 years, civil wars in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Bosnia, Guatemala, and elsewhere have, like Iraq, been notorious for the number of civilians killed. But although the slaughter in these cases was intentional, politically motivated, and perpetrated by non-state groups—and thus constituted terrorism as conceived by MIPT, NCTC, and START—it was almost never described as such." To take just two examples, Mack pointed out that in 2004, the Janjaweed militia killed at least 723 civilians in Sudan (as documented by independent studies). The MIPT recorded zero deaths in Sudan from terrorism that year; START counted only 17. In Congo in 1999, independent studies identified hundreds killed by militia actions.

If you subtract out the war victims in Iraq, terrorist incidents are down.

But Bush is still flogging the War on Terror meme, still insisting that Iraq is the front in the a war directed at the United States by a few thousand stateless, resourceless people hiding in caves.

So is McCain. Obama is going to have to confront this directly.

Fear and Fantasy

Yesterday's New York Times had an article describing conflict between state governments and the Department of Homeland Security. States, like Massachusetts, want to use DHS grants to enhance citizens' safety from actual threats. DHS insists they spend a quarter of their grant money on, wait for it.....

defense against Improvised Explosive Devices:

Juliette N. Kayyem, the Massachusetts homeland security adviser, was in her office in early February when an aide brought her startling news. To qualify for its full allotment of federal money, Massachusetts had to come up with a plan to protect the state from an almost unheard-of threat: improvised explosive devices, known as I.E.D.’s.

“I.E.D.’s? As in Iraq I.E.D.’s?” Ms. Kayyem said in an interview, recalling her response. No one had ever suggested homemade roadside bombs might begin exploding on the highways of Massachusetts. “There was no new intelligence about this,” she said. “It just came out of nowhere.”

More openly than at any time since the Sept. 11 attacks, state and local authorities have begun to complain that the federal financing for domestic security is being too closely tied to combating potential terrorist threats, at a time when they say they have more urgent priorities.

“I have a healthy respect for the federal government and the importance of keeping this nation safe,” said Col. Dean Esserman, the police chief in Providence, R.I. “But I also live every day as a police chief in an American city where violence every day is not foreign and is not anonymous but is right out there in the neighborhoods.”

It gets harder and harder to figure out whether these people are venal, idiotic or both. Is the need to hype a Terra Threat so deeply seated that it drives all public policy? Or do people like Chertoff actually believe that the good citizens of Amhearst or Brockton need to worry about Iraqis will sneak past the terrorist watchlist and attack them here using the methods they use to attack us there?

May 26, 2008

Speaking Clearly

In Rick Perlstein's Nixonland, he recounts a television address on the eve of the 1970 midterms, given by Ed Muskie, who was expected to be the frontrunner for the nomination in 1972:

Calmly, he said the charge Democrats appeased thugs was "a lie, and the American people know it is a lie"--a lie about the party "which led us out of depression and to victory over international barbarism ; the party of John Kennedy, who was slain in the service of the country he inspired; the party of Lyndon Johnson, wh0 withstood the fury of countless demonstrations in order to pursue a course he believed in; the party of Robert Kennedy, murdered on the eve of his greatest triumph. How dare they tell us that this party is less devoted or less courageous in maintaining American principles and values than they are themselves?"...

His tone turned rueful: "This attack is not simply the oversealousness of a few local leaders. It has been led, inspired and guided from the highest offices in the land."

"Let me try to bring some clarity to this deliberate confusion."... The Republicans? "They oppose your interests" and really believe that they can make you afraid enough or angry enough, you can be tricked into voting against yourself. It is all part of the same contempt, and tomorrow you can show them the mistake they have made."... [The debate is between] the politics of fear and the politics of trust. One says you are encircled by monstrous dangers. Give us power over your freedom so we may protect you. The other says the world is a baffling and hazardous place, but it can be shaped to the will of men."

There's quite bit here. First, of course, the song remains the same, nearly forty years later. Then the bogeymen were the dirty hippies and the commies. Now it's scary brown people wearing turbans. But the deal the Republicans proffer hasn't changed. Just the cover story has changed. It wasn't true then. It's not true now. Still the same deal. And still the same calumnies directed at the patriotism of Democrats.

Second, what has happened to our party's leadership? I challenge you to find a speech by Pelosi or Reid that calls out the president for his "lies," or for the contempt for voters that is inherent in their tactics of thuggish threats. Why can't our leaders speak out with this kind of directness and clarity?

The administration's favorability rating and the right track/wrong track numbers make it clear that Americans are ready to hear a direct attack on the Republican party, the President and McCain's plans to continue the contemptuous disregard for the democratic process and voters themselves that has characterized this administration.

Paging Howard Dean.

May 24, 2008


The problem with what Clinton has been doing is not just that she is tilting at windmills. 

She's making bad arguments while doing so.  Silly arguments.

Saying that 1968 and 1992 prove that it is common for the process to continue into June is ridiculous. In 1992, Tsongas had suspended his campaign in March, leaving Clinton well ahead of Jerry Brown.  In 1968, the nomination process did not much reflect primaries--the eventual nominee entered no primaries.  The convention really did make the candidate selection, with a large number of uncommitted delegates, with power-wielding delegation chairs.  This method of insulating the nominating process from rank and file democrats led to some unpleasantness at the '68 convention, which is what led to the reforms implemented in 1972.  The 1972 primary-driven process is still the basic template we user today.

But none of that really is all that important, because in '68 the incumbent president withdrew his candidacy after losing a primary to an insurgent. There's no way that wasn't going to be a messy process of selection, or that it would not go to the convention.

So this is a bad argument.

But she has a good one to make.  The race is very close. It's closer than any nomination process since the primary system was put into place.  Carter had a 600 delegate lead over Kennedy in 1980.  And the superdelegates make no sense if they are not meant to arbitrate a close race.  

Her case is a simple one. Her candidacy is as popular with the rank and file as Obama's is, certainly within the margin error of the arcane process involved. So, she can say, leave it up to them.

At the very least, she deserves to have her delegates at the convention, she can say. The convention is not just about choosing a presidential candidate. It is about, among other things, reviewing the nominating process.

If she had kept her focus on the delegates, she would not sound so, frankly, desperate and illogical as she tries to weave tales of electability and which states count.

Obama's religious preference

Simple answers to simple questions

NYC Public Transit

Atrios talks about getting from  A to B as missing the point when discussing/designing mass transit. The system in Manhattan, as he says, works because you can get from anywhere to anywhere. It's an interlocking network of bus lines and subway lines that has no center.

This is in contrast to Philadelphia, where everything goes through Center City. There's no easy way to get from one part of the system to another if they are not on the same line.    It really is "commuter rail" while the NYC system serves everybody, not just commuters.

This is partly because (or has caused it be) that there is no "downtown" in NYC, no Centrum, as they call it on the European highway systems.  "Downtown" means "South" not a destination. Instead there is a collection of geographical centroids, neighborhoods, that are fully equipped with all services for businesses and residences.  I am not exaggerating the fully equipped part. It's not surprising, I suppose, that I'm a block away from half a dozen dry cleaners or places that will make me a pizza. But I'm also only a few (4) blocks away from a lumberyard and a place that sells marble and granite, and one block away from the most fully stocked plumbing supply store you'll ever see.

Not to mention the place where I get my shoes resoled. 

So travel is between these neighborhoods, all mixed residential and commercial, with some neighborhoods, like mine, more residential than not, while others more commercial than residential, like the financial district.  This can only work, or can only have come about, if you can get anywhere from anywhere.

Out in the Boondocks

It was fun hosting at Eschaton, but now it's time to return to this drafty place.

Boondocks, by the way, is derived from the Tagalog bundok,  referring to remote and inaccessible areas in what we now call the Philippine Islands.  The Philip part in the name refers to Philip the Second.

Allawi thinks this is the appropriate occupation that will help you understand what the US is doing in Iraq:

I sat with Allawi for two hours, sharing coffee and chocolate pastries. It was a deeply depressing experience. Allawi tried as hard as any Iraqi to make a go of the new Iraq, and he is thoroughly disillusioned. He says he is resigned to the likelihood that Iraq will end up a sort of protectorate of the United States for the next several decades, not unlike the Philippines was for much of the 20th century — dependent, violent, crippled. “The history of the Philippines,” he noted, “is not a happy one.”

So I'll clean up the digs, add some blogroll, and post daily.  

Fer shure. Next coupla days.