Freedom from Blog

Don't call it a comeback . . . .

Monday, April 30, 2007

A Tragic Anagnorisis

A while back I wrote on this blog:
I have long thought that W’s entire political career was built around the Oedipal urge to outwit his father’s ghost. So, if George 41 raised taxes once, George 43 lowered them 5 times; George 41 tried to balance the budget, George 43 let it balloon; George 41 didn’t finish off Saddam, George 43 would; George 41 was cool towards the evangelicals, George 43 embraced them; even George 43’s nickname “W” is reflective of this urge to distinguish himself from his father.

Woodward provides some more grist for the mill of W’s tortured relationship with his old man. As you may recall, in Woodward’s Plan of Attack the intrepid reporter asked W why he didn’t ask his father for advice for the invasion, and W answered that “You know he is the wrong father to appeal to in terms of strength. There is a higher father that I appeal to.” In Denial we learn that Bush says he really loves his father – a father who clearly is in anguish over his son’s poor judgment on Iraq. One comes away with the impression that Junior moved away from more benign manifestations of rebellion, such as drinking and cocaine, to waging a war that his old man wasn’t strong enough to fight. Scowcroft reads it this way, for he muses to Woodward that W “couldn’t decide whether he was going to rebel against his father or try to beat him at his own game” (p. 420). This brings up a very important historical question that some real archaeologist must eventually unearth. When did W first begin to have disdain for his father’s handling of the 1st Gulf War, and what role did the necons play in this? Of course the list of neocons in W’s administration is long and conspicuous for the fact that they were at odds with the important members of #41’s team: Cheney, Rumsfeld, Libby, Wolfowitz, Feith, Khalilizad, Abrams, Armitage, Hadley... When Bremer replaced Jay Garner in Iraq, Woodward reports that he brought along a large, young staff which Garner’s group dubbed the “Neocon Children’s Brigade” (p. 202). From Woodward’s account, however, it appears that W’s adoption of so many neoconservatives into his administration is almost an accident, as if he didn’t know them in advance and did not pick them for their neocon ideology. And yet, one of the original signatories of the neocon manifesto of 1996 was W’s brother, Jeb Bush, so W must have been aware of them and their basic tenets. Are we to imagine that W wasn’t in their circle too and wasn’t aware of what they were saying, which was basically that George H.W. Bush fucked up in Iraq and around the globe by his policy of “appeasement” and that he didn’t set about to “fix” his father’s mistakes?
Until now that was just my hunch, but today I finally came across some hard evidence (hat tip to Juan Cole's Informed Comment) that these views may be correct:
“He [W] was thinking about invading Iraq in 1999,” said author and journalist Mickey Herskowitz [Bush's ghost writer for his autobiography before he became prez]. “It was on his mind. He said to me: ‘One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander-in-chief.’ And he said, ‘My father had all this political capital built up when he drove the Iraqis out of Kuwait and he wasted it.’ He said, ‘If I have a chance to invade….if I had that much capital, I’m not going to waste it. I’m going to get everything passed that I want to get passed and I’m going to have a successful presidency.”

Herskowitz said that Bush expressed frustration at a lifetime as an underachiever in the shadow of an accomplished father. In aggressive military action, he saw the opportunity to emerge from his father’s shadow. The moment, Herskowitz said, came in the wake of the September 11 attacks. “Suddenly, he’s at 91 percent in the polls, and he’d barely crawled out of the bunker.” [snip] Herskowitz also revealed the following: In 2003, Bush’s father indicated to him that he disagreed with his son’s invasion of Iraq.

I have little doubt that deep down this is what truly motivated W to invade Iraq -- it is the most economical, feasible and comprehensive explanation for such an irrational act. I am particularly struck by the phrase "political capital", which if uttered by W before 2000 is just uncannily similar to what he said immediately after he won his second term in 2004 and would mean that consciously or subconsciously he viewed his winning a second term as slaying the ghost of father's alleged failure not to take out Saddam. Likewise, if these quotes are true and date before 2000 we must also view all of W's poses as a "great leader" and "commander-in-chief" in a new light as attempts to outshine the perceived weakness of his father's shadow.

By the way, the word anagnorisis means "recognition" and was singled out by Aristotle as one of the key components of a good tragedy, the other two being peripeteia/metabole (sudden swing in fortune) and pathos. Aristotle held up Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus as the finest example of such a plot structure (Oedipus recognizes his unintended error of killing his father and sleeping with his mother, has a sudden swing of good fortune to bad, and suffers). If George Bush Jr. is even capable of having an anagnorisis, I think it will be when he realizes that despite the fact that he beat out his old man in the area of winning a second term, nevertheless his presidency will be viewed as an utter catastrophe and failure while his old man's presidency in contrast will look better and better as the years, decades and centuries pass by.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

I Demand Satisfaction, Sir!

So General Bill "Kick-Ass" Kristol called George Tenet a "cry-baby" on Faux News Sunday this morning. I say, if Tenet is a real manly man, he should challenge the good General to put his glass chin where his mouth is. Er, I guess his mouth is in his glass chin.

AT Wildflowers

Wow, where have I been? Working, teaching (grading!), running, a little hiking . . . so here are some wildflowers growing on the Appalachian Trail, just north of Ashby Gap (US 50) in northern Virginia. I believe these are called Virginia bluebells, for obvious reasons. Just a short hike yesterday, solo. I'm doing some recon on trailheads, parking, driving directions for some point-to-point hikes this summer on the AT. Park one car at the finish trailhead, everyone load in the other car and drive to the start trailhead, that sort of thing.

The weather yesterday was interesting for the hike. It was cool and cloudy to start, but if it didn't rain on my Saturday hike . . . . By time I got back to the car, it was steadily raining.

Not today, though. What a glorious day in D.C. We went for a 10-mile run down to Hains Point and back. The highlight--the still-blooming trees, the bright-blue sky, and the S.U.V. that almost ran down a roller-blader. The cars at Hains Point really need to pay more attention, what with all the bikes, runners, walkers, and roller-bladers. And, people, it's a park. Drive carefully.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Quota Kerfuffle

I should have known better. The first rule of paper assignment is never give students the option of writing about either abortion or affirmative action. You're setting a bear trap for them: unable to resist the lure of the raw meat, they charge, saliva streaming through the air, into the iron teeth of irrationality.

My specific mistake: I picked an interesting-looking affirmative action case called Meredith v. Jefferson County, KY as the hook for one of my paper options for Honors American Government. The basic facts involve the desegregation plan in Louisville, where the public school system allows transfers within the system as long as they don't interfere with the racial balance of individual schools, each of which is expected to remain between 15 and 50% minority in order to maintain equity and prevent the kind of "tipping" where white parents abandon a school en masse. A white kindergartner was denied a parentally desired transfer on racial grounds, hence the lawsuit.

Not surprisingly, every single paper on this topic engaged in stem winding diatribes about the evils of affirmative action, how it crushes merit and imposes injustices on whites that rival slavery and Jim Crow, blah blah blah. I've said it before, but nobody does victimology in this country like privileged white people. Now I don't like quotas any more than the next privileged white guy, and I won't mourn much for affirmative action's eventual death. The decline in white whining would be a serious windfall. But let's get a little perspective here people. While AA surely imposes injustices, they are relatively mild, they target the otherwise privileged in the name of those less so, and the actual differences in qualifications b/w the boosted and the screwed are usually minor. But here's the thing: Meredith doesn't involve ANY trade-off of race vs. "merit." We're not talking about competitive college admissions as in Bakke or Grutter. In this case, race limits individual choice but nothing more. In oral argument, Ginsberg sensibly asked the plaintiff lawyer how you could possibly evaluate kindergartner qualifications "holistically" as called for in Grutter. Blinded by quota rage, not a single student managed to recognize this mitigating fact. Why won't I be surprised if Scalia and crowd prove similarly oblivious?

So how did I solve this problem of my own creation? Compensating for the deficiencies of white intellect, I artificially inflated their grades, of course. It was the system's fault. Who says conservative whites can't catch a break?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Airing the Killer

So, during the two hours or so between the first and second shootings at VT, the killer mailed a bundle of photos, videos, and writings to NBC News. And the Today show--which I just switched off--is going to run some of the video. This is, I think, a horrible idea.

Whatever one wants to say about the VT killer, there's no question that part of the attraction of his plans was that they would make him famous. Now, he would be dead, if the plans were fully carried out, but he would be famous, anyway. And for a disturbed, angry young man in a society obsessed with fame and celebrity . . . this might push him off the edge.

But there are other such folks out there--disturbed, angry young men (mostly men, I think), resentful, and they're seeing that, if you just kill a bunch of innocent people, you can become famous. You can, perhaps more correctly, become a celebrity. It's not that hard to buy the handguns, especially in Virginia, even if you have a history of mental problems, etc. If you do this, you will get your face on the frontpage of the newspapers, be the lead story on the television, etc. Everyone will read your (crazy) prose. From obscurity to celebrity in one short day.

There's probably no way to stop the crazies altogether. But let's not provide extra incentives. Plus, I'm sure that this is hurtful to the friends and families of the VT dead, too, which is another reason not to air this sh*t.

Two Years of FFB

Today is the second anniversary of Freedom from Blog. I was hoping to have some kind of big anniversary extravaganza, with links to old posts, etc., a kind of "Top Ten." But until the semester is over, I don't see that happening. So a scaled-back anniversary celebration is in order.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

D.C. Cab

Sometimes, when I'm tired after the night class, I cab it home. I know, lazy, but what can I say? Ten hours at one job, a forty minute slog to the second, and seventy-five minutes of teaching . . . I'm tired.

But I love D.C. cab drivers. Many, many of them are Ethiopian, and Ethiopians are always interesting to talk to. (In my experience, Ethiopean cab drivers tend to be very friendly, in general, especially if you ask where they like to eat Ethiopian food. Their preferences tend toward Dukem and Etete, which are also my favorites.) But tonite I had an African (or Caribbean?) driver who talked on his cell phone--hands-free--the whole way. I don't mind the talking, because I'm not an a-hole, and besides, it gives me an opportunity to listen to the driver . . . .

This guy tonite spoke an amazing series of languages. He spoke in at least one "foreign" language, whether it was an African tongue or something else, I don't know. But it was beautiful and clearly not English. Then he spoke in a heavily accented English, too. It took me awhile to get this, because it was hard to follow. And finally, he spoke in an almost-unaccented English in idioms, like "Take care of yourself." All of this in the same conversation, with the same person (I think). He also punctuated the interlocutor's comments with "Wow." His "wow" and mine, not accented differently.


The Dollar is getting Pounded

Today 1 British Sterling Pound will buy 2 US Dollars for the first time in 15 years. And it takes more than a $1.35 to buy 1 Euro, which is trading at the historic highs it reached in the first quarter of 2005. But the crazy thing is that more US goods aren't being bought. It's hard to see the dollar's value turning around anytime soon, given the Bush administration's penchant to spend away on war without raising taxes so that we must print greenbacks that are quickly becoming more worthless than the paper they're printed on. One wonders at what point investors will get worried and pull out of US markets (which by the way today are nearing record levels). But not to fear. I'm sure the Bush family and all his friends have switched many of their assets over to gold and other natural resources, like oil.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Extreme Sports Weather

As some of you may know, today is the Boston Marathon. And they're having a historic Nor'easter in Boston today. Forecast for race start (10 am, a shift from the traditional noon start), heavy rain/wind, temperature 47 degrees, but feels like 35. I'm sure glad I didn't qualify this year!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Off to Chicago

Maybe I've been wrong about this. Maybe the Don Imus story is the biggest news story of all time. That's how they're covering it on the Today show, where Tim Russert is now on discussing race in America. Lord help us.

But anyway, I'm off to Chicago for the weekend. Internets access will be mostly non-existent, so I won't be posting very often the next few days. TMcD and I will be in the bleachers tomorrow at Wrigley Field for a chilly day game. Look for us on the tv.

Thursday, April 12, 2007


So I'm watching the Today show, which has covered the Duke lacrosse players, Don Imus, and American Idol. But the apparent attack, inside the Green Zone, on the Iraqi parliament building this morning got a quick mention. I'm sure that this is a "developing story," but is it really the case that NBC News doesn't have someone in the Green Zone ready to cover a "breaking story"? That the Iraq clusterfuck is just not . . . newsworthy any longer?

This is how government can perpetuate a perpetual war . . . by keeping it off the front page. And off the television.

So It Goes

Kurt Vonnegut has passed away. If you've never read Slaughterhouse Five, or Cat's Cradle, it might be a good time to pick up a copy.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

War Czar!

The White House has a new idea: "appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies."

Don't we already have a high-powered official with said powers? He's called the president. I've become so sick of hearing folks talk about the commander-in-chief and his (or her) powers in wartime . . . but I didn't think that the actual commander-in-chief would want to hang up his codpiece before the job is done.

The WaPo reports this as a story that the White House "has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job." Well, no shit. But the real story here is that the president has decided--he is the Decider--that he doesn't want to be in charge anymore. I guess that the job really is "hard work." He's had enough. So he wants to find a retired four-star to be "war czar."

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

The Meaning of "Power"

Consider this. The Iraqi people want us out of Iraq. See also here. Here are my favorite grafs in the WaPo piece this morning:

At Sadrain Square, Abdul Razaq al-Nadawi, a Sadr spokesman, walked onto a stage and declared to the crowd: "A few days ago the father of evil, Bush, went out and said: We are staying in Iraq until the mission is accomplished according to the authorization of the U.N. and the request of the Iraqi people. So what would you answer?"

"No, no, America. Get out, get out, occupier," protesters yelled.

A clear majority of Americans has decided that the Iraq war was a mistake and want, at minimum, clear timelines for withdrawal. The father of evil's approval on Iraq is 28% in that most recent poll.

So, the Iraqis want us out, and we want out. But we aren't coming out any time soon. Not only that, but on the tv, the view that the U.S. should withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible is almost never heard. Most Democratic politicians won't express this view, either.

That's power. The administration has the power to not only continue a war supported by General Kristol and a small band of WarHawks . . . but also to control the terms of the debate here in the United States. Despite the lack of support for the war, here or in Iraq.

National Guard Deployment

The story of four National Guard combat brigades--one from Ohio--being called up for Iraq clusterfuck duty starting early next year should put to rest any hopes that the Bush administration, on its own, will bring the troops home before the end of Bush's second term. Because if these troops are going for a year, and they are leaving in the first couple of months of 2008, then they will be there when the next president is sworn in.

I haven't actually heard this point made on the tv. The story is framed around the politics of the supplemental and congressional deadlines, so the fact that what the president is actually doing, and plans to be doing for the rest of his term, is opposed by clear majorities of the American people is not the story. Hardly as important as the cold weather and the latest episode of American Idol.

I'm also really concerned that these troops are being sent into a meat grinder. Casualties in Baghdad have doubled in Baghdad during the so-called "surge." As John Kerry once asked, How do you ask a man (or woman) to be the last one to die for a mistake? The answer: You don't. Ask, that is. You order them to be the last one.

Monday, April 09, 2007

An Imus Thought

OK, so Don Imus is a jerk, and he's always been a jerk.

But beyond the fact that "nappy headed hos" is (1) racist; (2) sexist; and (3) just all-around, generally offensive . . . is the fact that Imus was kicking these ladies while they were down. The statements were made after the Rutgers womens basketball team had lost the National Championship game . . . to a much higher rated and much more storied program. Imus's comment essentially says, The order of the Universe is just. It's fair that these "nappy headed hos" [sic] get beat, because they don't deserve to play at that level, anyway. Like Gwen Ifill, they are the cleaning ladies. (Btw, I didn't know he had said this 'til today. Why does this man have a broadcast job? Jeebus.)

Imus, like many in the media elite, has lost the ability to see things from the underdogs' perspective. The Rutgers women, most African Americans, a lot of others . . . we'd like to think that we had a friend on the air. But no . . . instead . . . kick 'em when they're down.

Who Knew?

Another great Pat Lang post on the Iraq clusterfuck.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Elements of Do-Not-Fly Strategy

I've always suspected Walter Murphy of terrorist sympathies. I mean, the man was wounded in Korea--but was he a U.S. Marine Corps lieutenant, or a ChiCom commisar? Who can really know such a thing? I guess the answer is . . . the Department of Homeland Security, bitches.

Yes, my fellow Americans, this is where we're at. An eminent 80-something poli-sci prof, a wounded and decorated Marine vet, is identified by our Government as an Enemy of the People. Why? Because he exercised his constitutional rights. This needs to be said: That is not why Walter Murphy fought in Korea.

Semper fi goes both way, people. To treat a Marine this way . . . I want to hear Chertoff's answer.

Can't Anybody Here Play This Game?

George Will's column today offers a take down of Fred Thompson, the GOP's latest presidential savior. Of course, this is the same Will who accused a certain George W. of lacking"gravitas" back in 2000 before dancing chorus line in the lickspittle follies for five years. Like Orwell's Oceanians, Wingnuts can turn on a dime.

Nonetheless, the column is a useful window into the sad state of the GOP field right now. Will laments the dearth of viable "conservative" candidates and compares his party to a man clinging to a cliff-face, praying to God for help--and then not liking what he's told. Looking at this batch of wannabes, it is tempting to ask, a la Casey Stengel, can't anybody here play this game? Some of them may have high public favorability ratings, but their campaign weaknesses are glaring, and the primary season promises to be a bloodletting of Baghdadi proportions. Rudy has a crony/mobby problem. Johnny Mac needs a hundred troops, five copters and a flak jacket just to shop for dinner. The Mittster wins the all-important Ann Coulter primary but still has to explain away his "I'll out-gay Ted Kennedy" past and his gonna become a god and get his own planet future. Sammy B. couldn't find a quarter in the seat cushions of his Jesusmobile. Newt "Angel of the Cancer Ward" Gingrich no likely the Espanol. And Freddie isn't really a conservative, he just plays one on TV. Is Bush contagious? Have kool-aid cons gotten so accustomed to saying patently ludicrous things in public that they can't even imagine another campaign strategy?

I hate to say something positive about the Dem candidates: such optimism would violate all protocols of both the party and the MSM. But our guys look amazing by comparison. Meanwhile, Bush pursues one bad stratagem after another: "I know, we'll accuse the Democrat Congress of wanting to get our troops out of Iraq a year and a half from now!" "Hey, let's hang on to Gonzo at all costs, the longer this scandal drags out the better!" "I bet if we use a recess appointment for the Swift Boater, Congress will get the message and submit meekly to our will!" As a Democrat, I can barely keep my latte from spraying gleefully from every orifice as I read this stuff in the wingnut press (i.e., the MSM). Keep it up, guys. We've got a long campaign season ahead of us.

Blogging from Center Field

No, not a political reference. Just saw that Tigers centerfielder Curtis Granderson has his own blog over at ESPN.

Btw, got to listen to about half the Tigers game from KC yesterday. (I love satellite radio.) Granderson hit a solo home run, his second of the season. When Sean Casey bats seventh in your line-up, and you can bring in Joel Zumaya to pitch the seventh and eighth innings, that's a pretty good team. The bullpen has been a little shaky so far (I'm looking at you, Grilli), but it's still early . . . .

One final baseball note: TMcD and yours truly have bleacher tickets for next Saturday's game at Wrigley Field for the Cubs-Reds. I'm just hoping that I'm not forced to throw back a Ken Griffey Jr. home run ball by drunk and angry Cubs fans.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

D.C. Hospitality Bureau

Since we run in D.C. most days, especially on the Mall (probably three times a week, minimum) and in the heavily trafficked tourist areas, I tend to get asked for directions by tourists. A lot. I don't mind, of course--but I'm starting to feel like I should get some kind of "hospitality" badge or something.

The most frequent question, "Where is the nearest Metro?" Last week, I think it was Wednesday, there was a couple at Constitution and 12th--I don't think I've ever run past that D.C. tourism map when there weren't tourists looking at it trying to get their bearings. The woman--not the man, natch--stopped me to ask where the nearest Metro was. Now, if you're at Constitution and 12th, as you know, you're just two blocks from the Smithsonian Metro stop, and if you climb the (short) hill to the Mall, you can see the stop. So I said, "Oh, just up this hill and you can see it." Then we ran on. I looked back and saw the couple going the other way. I wondered why, and Frances explained to me that she had heard the man in the couple say, "Smithsonian isn't that way" as we ran off. Well, excuse me, sir. Please feel free to disregard my expert directions and to follow your (rather large) gut instincts.

Most of the time, I can provide pretty good directions. I know the names of most of the streets, and I have learned, for my own purposes, where most of the Metro stops are. But from time to time, I get stumped.

Btw, speaking of tourist sites, the cherry blossoms were beautiful Monday night, when we ran down to see them. Today, there were hundreds of people down around the Tidal Basin, but the cherry blossoms had really declined--a thunderstorm, heavy winds (Thursday night, I swear that there was a twenty-mph wind out of the west on the Mall), and today, snow. Not a lot--not like in Cleveland, where the Indians game was cancelled for snow--but not good for cherry blossoms.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

NYT's slap at Blogs

Here's the NYT's condescending and pathetic attempt at bitch-slapping blogs today. We've got them worried, evidently.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

People-Powered Politics

I wish that I could convince myself that B.O.'s amazing 1Q fundraising levels, especially his 100,000 contributors, signals that a real change is coming in American politics. But haven't we been here before? Back when B.O.'s name was Howard Dean?

That, at least, is one of the media memes I've been seeing. "B.O. is Howard Dean."

So, there it is. I'm waiting to see the Barack Obama is crazy stories start, or, maybe just more Barack Obama is all style no substance stories pushed by Drudge and his ilk (and the purveyors of High Broderism, a/k/a Guardians of the Establishment).

Kucinich in Cleveland

Dennis Kucinich briefly returned home from the campaign trail and gave a talk yesterday at CWRU entitled "Iraq and Iran: the Way Forward.". He's the most vociferous Democratic candidate for defunding the war, for ending America's occupation of Iraq by closing all American bases there, for having an international force come in and try to keep the peace, and for having Congress go on record to say that Bush can't start a war with Iran. While he's not the most charismatic guy and his views on these issues are not popular even within the Democratic party, which he severely criticised, in my opinion they are views and policies which are the most forward-thinking and would serve the interests of more Americans than any other candidate's views. It's a shame most of the country would never vote for him.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Late to their Own Funeral

Well WaPo finally got around to detailing how the Niger Uranium story was based on documents forged by an Italian named Rocco Martino and how an Italian journalist named Elisabetta Burba actually gave them to US authorities and then shortly thereafter determined they were forgeries herself. It also mentions how she reported that they were forgeries shortly after the Iraq War began. It's old news. Even bloggers like Juan Cole had picked this up more than a year ago. As the WaPo admits:
Not long after the invasion, other news media in Italy, elsewhere in Europe and then in the United States reported that the source of the information about a Niger yellowcake uranium deal had been a batch of bogus letters and other documents passed along several months earlier to an unnamed Italian reporter, who in turn handed the information over to the United States.
So where was WaPo and other American MSM back then? And the WaPo report this morning is not just too late, it leaves out some of the most significant elements of the story. Namely that (1) Martino had an accomplice in the Niger Embassy that stole the letterhead for him and (2) more significantly that Bush claimed that the information in his "16 words" was provided by the British Government. As it turns out, the Italians long ago reported that Martino -- hold on, let me rephrase that; Rocco Martino long ago confessed that -- he was the guy to peddle these same forgeries to both the French and British for cash, so the British intelligence is without a doubt built on the same pack of lies. The British, naturally still won't admit or deny this (must protect sources and Tony's ass you know), but Rocco has gone on record describing the date, time and bridge in London where he gave the dossier to an M16 agent. So the WaPo reports on the French involvement, but leaves out the more important British connection (they only say they interviewed folks in Britain but never say why), thus enabling the Bush Administration to still hide behind the idea that it was British intelligence that supplied them with this story, not Martino. For Christ's sake they should at least report Martino's confession.

WaPo's standards of reporting are so moribund they are beyond redemption from the grave.

Caveat lector.

Follow the Money

I generally find first-quarter fundraising stories pretty uninteresting. But Romney's massive fundraising quarter raises an interesting question: What percentage of his $21 million was contributed by fellow Mormons?

This as is close as the article gets to answering said question:

Ronald C. Kaufman, a lobbyist who has been advising Romney on his fundraising effort, said the candidate built on a range of connections he has made over his lifetime. He said donors included supporters from Michigan, where Romney's father served as governor; contacts from his career as a management consultant, running the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 and serving as Massachusetts governor; as well as fellow Mormons.

Of course, these "connections" may be overlapping. Salt Lake City Olympics contacts could be Mormons, as could business contacts. I don't mean to disparage fundraising from a religious minority, mind you. Just looking for an explanation for why so many people would contribute to a campaign that doesn't look like it's going anywhere. As a point of comparison, McCain's numbers suggest how things go for a campaign in trouble.

And Romney's campaign is still "in trouble." I still don't buy Romney, who is polling single digits in most polls, as a "first-tier candidate."

Final fundraising question: Do the astronomic numbers that Romney, HRC, etc., raised in 1Q 2007 serve as a deterrent to those still on the sidelines--especially Fred Thompson? If getting in means having to raise fifty million dollars in the next six months, does that throw some cold water on his presidential enthusiasm?

The media are fond of saying that "Thompson can raise the money, quickly," but doing so means (1) setting up the staff and infrastructure to do so, something that doesn't happen the day you enter the race (the same is true of ground operations in the early primary states--you might get on tv, but tv doesn't get you an actual campaign organization), and (2) putting in the time--phone calls, fundraisers, etc. The takeaway is that raising the kind of cash that it's going to take to be competitive this time around requires that you're already raising that kind of cash. Late entries seem implausible in this environment. And that includes, speaking of environment, Gore.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Mercenaries II

I had blogged here about the dangers of politically-tied American mercenary armies in Iraq and a lack of MSM attention after having read a story about Blackwater on IraqSlogger (linked to in my previous post). Well, a day after I wrote that entry this story popped up on Truthdig (nota bene: I had independently used the phrase "soldiers of fortune", which is a popular English translation of a Greek catch-phrase to describe Greek mercenaries during the Hellenistic period when the goddess of Fortune, or Tyche, was becoming quite popular and typified Hellenistic belief and politics). I hadn't heard of Jeremy Scahill's work or book until I read this, although now I see he had published some of his work-in-progress over at Alternet. I also saw him last night on C-Span 2 talking about his book. So obviously the story is starting to get some well-deserved attention. Once again lots of good work gets done and published on web sites, and the major outlets are slow to pick it up, and thus the American public.

Be that as it may, his research into Blackwater and other private outfits is extremely alarming – nay even shocking (BTW his comments on C-Span about the US using mercenaries to hide casualty figures and keep an unpopular war alive jibed well with #3's comments below). I'll just go on the record as saying that the extensive use of mercenaries, which if I heard Scahill right eats up 40% of the Iraq war budget on "security" to pay an army of 50K to protect officials and politicians, is a far more serious threat to the US's republican form of democracy than anything else could be. I'll go further. It's the most dangerous thing W and his Neoconservative undertakers have done while in office – the US Attorney scandal pales in comparison. We'll see how the lethargic, apathetic or enabling MSM handles this.

My first impression is not hopeful -- the guy who interviewed Scahill last night was a CBS newsman (can't remember his name) and he was asking questions about all these mercenaries over there as if there could be any justification whatsoever or this might not be a big deal. Ditto with the interviewers on Truthdig. Excuse me? There can be no legitimate justification here and the track record for mercenaries both as effective fighting forces and on politics is way beyond abysmal to downright disastrous. Have we been so inculcated by Republican talking points on privatization that we are blind even to this? It's like not taking a position on whether or not bringing back the divine right of kings is a good idea.

To wit, one of the universally-agreed-upon defining features of the malaise and sickness if the Greek city-states at the end of the Classical period and throughout the Hellenistic period was that they broke the relationship between citizen-army and state, corrupted and bankrupt the state, were ineffective, and thus left the Greek city-states powerless and eventually beholden to larger powers, such as the Macedonians and Romans. Lest we think that that was just the sissy Greeks, the same thing happened in late Republican Rome when various generals began competing with each other to run the sprawling empire, generals like Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, Caesar, Marc Antony and Octavian. Essentially they conscripted private armies who paid fealty to them and their own partisans more than the state and many of these brawls played out on the streets and polling booths of Rome.

You don't think it can happen here? Well, Scahill said something last night that blew me away. During Hurricane Katrina the Bush Administration hired Blackwater mercenaries who had worked in Iraq to patrol the Gulf. I see now he reported this before here and WaPo picked up on it in early September of 2005 as well here. So Scahill spent a lot of time trying to get info about their mandate in New Orleans and couldn't get much. Eventually he found out they were all making 300 bucks a day and Blackwater charged the government 900 bucks a day for each one (millions of bucks). He never found out what rules of engagement or legal authority they had. What happens if there's a big demonstration in DC in front of the White House as this war drags on and becomes more unpopular? Who is the Bush WH going to hire to do security in DC? How much you wanna bet we've got these private mercenaries already doing ops in Iran? Does Congressional authority and oversight extend to them? Apparently not, for at the hearings on funding last week several Congressional members complained they couldn't get any info on these groups.