I’ve always found something particularly bracing and beautiful in essays that manage to be simultaneously self-righteous and self-flagellating. Via Atrios, I see an especially timely example of such an essay: “Shoveling Coal for Satan,” Matt Taibbi’s gorgeously aggrieved screed against himself and his pundit peers (most notably Christopher Hitchens) that appears in this week’s issue of The New York Press.

Especially memorable is Taibbi’s peroration:

One friend I know describes working in the media as shoveling coal for Satan. That’s about right. A worker in a tampon factory has dignity: He just uses his sweat to make a product, a useful product at that, and doesn’t lie to himself about what he does. In this business we make commodities for sale and, for the benefit of our consciences and our egos, we call them ideas and truth. And then we go on the lecture circuit. But in 99 cases out of 100, the public has more to learn about humanity from the guy who makes tampons.

I’m off on this tangent because I’m enraged by the numerous attempts at verbose, pseudoliterary, “nuanced” criticism of Moore this week by the learned priests of our business. (And no, I’m not overlooking this newspaper.) Michael Moore may be an ass, and impossible to like as a public figure, and a little loose with the facts, and greedy, and a shameless panderer. But he wouldn’t be necessary if even one percent of the rest of us had any balls at all.

If even one reporter had stood up during a pre-Iraq Bush press conference last year and shouted, “Bullshit!” it might have made a difference.

If even one network, instead of cheerily re-broadcasting Pentagon-generated aerial bomb footage, had risked its access to the government by saying to the Bush administration, “We’re not covering the war unless we can shoot anything we want, without restrictions,” that might have made a difference. It might have made this war look like what it is—pointless death and carnage that would have scared away every advertiser in the country—rather than a big fucking football game that you can sell Coke and Pepsi and Scott’s Fertilizer to.

Where are the articles about the cowardice of those people? Hitchens in his piece accuses Moore of errors by omission: How come he isn’t writing about the CNN producers who every day show us gung-ho Army desert rats instead of legless malcontents in the early stages of a lifelong morphine addiction?

Yeah, well, we don’t write about those people, because they’re just doing their jobs, whatever that means. For some reason, we in the media can forgive that. We just can’t forgive it when someone does our jobs for us. Say what you want about Moore, but he picked himself up and did something, something approximating the role journalism is supposed to play. The rest of us—let’s face it—are just souped-up shoe salesmen with lit degrees. Who should shut their mouths in the presence of real people.


(UPDATE – July 1, 1:14 AM: There are now some specific reasons for hope.)

When one examines the international community’s present response to the humanitarian catastrophe in the greater Darfur region of Sudan, there are some reasons for hope and many reasons for dismay.

The main reason for hope is the joint diplomatic mission that US Secretary of State Colin Powell and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan will undertake next week. To the extent one can use the word “serious” to describe a diplomatic response to genocidal actions, the planned US response appears serious:

The announcement of Powell’s unexpected trip came as U.S. officials disclosed that the Bush administration was drafting a U.N. Security Council resolution that would sharply criticize Sudan for failing to halt the violence and demand that it grant broader access for humanitarian relief workers. Senior U.S. officials met in Washington yesterday to flesh out details of the new resolution, which could coincide with Powell’s visit.

U.S. officials said they are considering a range of measures, including an arms embargo and a freeze on the financial assets of individuals linked to the atrocities. But they say they have not decided whether to impose the sanctions on Sudanese government officials or just on commanders of the Janjaweed militia responsible for most of the violence.

Administration officials said that while they believe Sudan continues to hinder the efforts of aid workers seeking to provide relief in Darfur, they are confident that Sudan will bow to international pressure to respond to the humanitarian crises.

“The Sudanese government does respond to unified international pressure,” said Andrew S. Natsios, head of the U.S. Agency for International Development. “We want to put more public pressure on the Sudanese government to restrain the Janjaweed.”

[Source: “Powell to Go to Sudan Over Regional Strife” by Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch, The Washington Post, Friday, June 25, 2004; Page A24 ]

Unfortunately (as highlighted today by Jesse Taylor at Pandagon), the initial response of the Sudanese government to this pressure has not been capitulation but a clumsy attempt to keep its crimes secret:

ABU SHOUK, Sudan, June 27 — The Sudanese villagers in this western region of Darfur were bombed. They were raped. Their huts were burned and their grain pillaged. Now, those who fled the chaos say they are being silenced.

The Sudanese government dispatched 500 men last week to this sweltering camp of 40,000 near El Fashir, capital of North Darfur state, the refugees and aid workers said. The men, some dressed in civilian clothes, others in military uniforms, warned the refugees to keep quiet about their experiences when Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan visit the region this week.

[Source: “Sudanese Refugees Told to Stay Silent On Government, Militia Abuses” by Emily Wax, The Washington Post, Monday, June 28, 2004; Page A16]

Hopefully, this ugly attempt at intimidation implies that the Sudanese government is scared now and will soon capitulate. Unfortunately however, it may just mean that it is angered now and will instead escalate. With that frightening thought, we now turn to the many reasons for dismay.

First and foremost is the following shameful fact. When Secretaries Powell and Annan conclude their mission to Sudan next week, it will be nearly the ninth anniversary of the surrender of UN peacekeepers at the supposed “safe haven” of Srebrenica and the subsequent massacre of the Bosnian Muslims who sought refuge there. Despite all these years, the international community still does not have any ready force that is capable of establishing a safe haven bordering a region of ongoing genocide that could deter a ground assault from the genocidaires. Even more shameful, despite the incontestable superiority of modern American or European military aircraft over their Third-World counterparts, the international community still is tremendously reluctant to consider establishing no-fly zones to stop those horrendous instances–of which Sudan is currently one–where a government turns its military aircraft against its own citizens.

Second among the reasons for despair is that many urgent pleas for help before the onset of the rainy season went unanswered. The rains essentially prevent large-scale land transport of humanitarian aid, and they virtually assure that there will be some significant outbreak of disease and starvation among the refugee populations.

One could continue, but a catalog of reasons for despair would serve no point. We cannot save everyone, but we must try to save everyone we can.

So what is to be done?

The best specific course of action I have seen advocated came in the following letter to The Washington Post Editorial Page:

Sens. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are correct in their call for a more resolute U.S. policy to end Sudan’s ethnic cleansing of its Darfur province [“It’s Happening Again,” op-ed, June 23]. However, the sort of sanctions and diplomatic action they call for alone have never halted an incipient genocide. To stop the killings, rapes and expulsions, force must enter the equation.

France maintains a substantial air base at N’Djamena in Chad, including Mirage fighter aircraft. This base should be the launch pad for a “no-fly” zone over Darfur province, akin to what the U.S., British and French maintained over northern Iraq from 1991 on.

American and other allied powers could augment the French contingent with European-based air assets. Khartoum would be warned that any sorties over Darfur would be shot down and that the bases from which they are launched, such as that at El Fasher, would be struck decisively, with an emphasis on eliminating Sudanese air power.

Furthermore, Janjaweed militia formations should face airstrikes if they continue operations. With this air umbrella firmly in place, humanitarian access and peacekeeping force deployment could move forward. The French garrisons in Chad and Djibouti, along with the American task force in Djibouti*, could form the nucleus of a Darfur safe area force, to be followed by troops under U.N. or other auspices.

The summoning by Mr. DeWine and Mr. McCain of the shameful example of Rwanda a decade ago was apt.

There is still just enough time to prevent another African genocide. To do so, the United States, France and other capable states must act now.


To Mr. Bassuener’s proposal I would only add one thing: the international community must make a wholehearted effort to indict, arrest, and prosecute war criminals. Another lingering shame that we’d do well to recall on the upcoming ninth anniversary of Srebrenica is that Radovan Karadzic is still at large, and indeed, is probably living large in his infamously flamboyant style somewhere in Republika Srpska, lording over an organized crime syndicate. (See this excellent May 30, 2004 article by Russ Baker in The San Francisco Chronicle.) Those indicted for crimes against humanity should know that they will not depart this mortal coil in a bed of their own choosing. Rather, they will be pursued with at least the tenacity with which the Mossad pursued Eichmann, and that if they really piss us off, they will be pursued with the ruthlessness with which Stalin’s KGB went after Trotsky.


* For more on the French presence in Djibouti, which in fact constitutes the largest overseas basing of the French military, and the part of these bases–namely, Camp Le Monier—that is already in use by US forces, see the following links of GlobalSecuity.org: the general Djibouti page (with much nifty satellite imagery) and the specific Camp Le Monier page.

** Mr. Bassuener was not identified by the Post. However, looking on the internet, he appears to be the man described in this biography as a former Balkans specialist for the US Institute of Peace (which is “an independent, nonpartisan federal institution created by Congress in 1984 to promote the prevention, management, and peaceful resolution of international conflicts”)

Oy! I repeat, Oy!

June 23, 2004

According to Seymour Hersh’s newest article in The New Yorker (posted on the web on June 21, will appear in the June 28 print issue), leading Israeli politicians (of both Labour and Likud), intelligence officials, and generals warned the Bush Administration in the summer of 2003 that a full-blown insurgency was about to erupt in Iraq. Moreover, by the end of the fall of 2003, a similarly broad swath of Israeli political, intelligence, and military leaders concluded that the insurgency had essentially suceeded, and the US would now have to settle merely for disengaging from Iraq in the least damaging way possible.

Here’s the key parts of the first 10 paragraphs of the Hersh article:

In July, 2003, two months after President Bush declared victory in Iraq, the war, far from winding down, reached a critical point. Israel, which had been among the war’s most enthusiastic supporters, began warning the Administration that the American-led occupation would face a heightened insurgency—a campaign of bombings and assassinations—later that summer…


The warnings of increased violence proved accurate. By early August, the insurgency against the occupation had exploded, with bombings in Baghdad, at the Jordanian Embassy and the United Nations headquarters, that killed forty-two people. A former Israeli intelligence officer said that Israel’s leadership had concluded by then that the United States was unwilling to confront Iran; in terms of salvaging the situation in Iraq, he said, “it doesn’t add up. It’s over. Not militarily—the United States cannot be defeated militarily in Iraq—but politically.”


In early November, the President received a grim assessment from the C.I.A.’s station chief in Baghdad, who filed a special field appraisal, known internally as an Aardwolf, warning that the security situation in Iraq was nearing collapse. The document, as described by Knight-Ridder, said that “none of the postwar Iraqi political institutions and leaders have shown an ability to govern the country” or to hold elections and draft a constitution.

A few days later, the Administration, rattled by the violence and the new intelligence, finally attempted to change its go-it-alone policy, and set June 30th as the date for the handover of sovereignty to an interim government, which would allow it to bring the United Nations into the process. “November was one year before the Presidential election,” a U.N. consultant who worked on Iraqi issues told me. “They panicked and decided to share the blame with the U.N. and the Iraqis.”


Ehud Barak, the former Israeli Prime Minister [and before that, the most decorated soldier in the history of the Israeli Defence Force], who supported the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq, took it upon himself at this point to privately warn Vice-President Dick Cheney that America had lost in Iraq; according to an American close to Barak, he said that Israel “had learned that there’s no way to win an occupation.” The only issue, Barak told Cheney, “was choosing the size of your humiliation.” Cheney did not respond to Barak’s assessment. (Cheney’s office declined to comment.)

In a series of interviews in Europe, the Middle East, and the United States, officials told me that by the end of last year Israel had concluded that the Bush Administration would not be able to bring stability or democracy to Iraq, and that Israel needed other options. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided, I was told, to minimize the damage that the war was causing to Israel’s strategic position by expanding its long-standing relationship with Iraq’s Kurds and establishing a significant presence on the ground in the semi-autonomous region of Kurdistan. Several officials depicted Sharon’s decision, which involves a heavy financial commitment, as a potentially reckless move that could create even more chaos and violence as the insurgency in Iraq continues to grow.

For all of us who were licking our lips in anticipation of the soon-to-be-released book Imperial Hubris, a purported insider’s account of the failures of the Bush Administration’s counterterrorism policy that almost unbelievably is from someone still on the inside—namely, one of the CIA’s top analysts, today’s Talking Points Memo post by Spencer Ackerman and its addendum on Kevin Drum’s blog gave us something very bitter to chew on: the image of an intelligence community that is incredibly mad at our current President because he has not been ruthless enough:

…[The author, “Anonymous,” of Imperial Hubris] does believe, and states at numerous points in the book (and reiterates in our interview), that we have no choice but to fight a very bloody battle. He writes in the concluding chapter, in a section titled “Cant Will Kill Us,” that:

Our principles stop us from fighting bin Laden as he fights us. ‘We must fix the sources of al-Qaeda’s support — poverty, illiteracy, and hopelessness.’ ‘Bin Laden is attacking the civilized world; we must work with others and respond in a manner in line with international law.’ Cant, all cant — the obfuscating and ahistorical language of cowardice and defeat….

America is in a war for survival. Not survival in terms of protecting territory, but in terms of keeping the ability to live as we want, not as we must….There are two choices. We can continue using and believing the cant cited above, or we can act to preserve our way of life — what Mr. Lincoln said is man’s last best hope for self-government — by engaging in whatever martial behavior is needed. We owe this to ourselves, our heritage and our posterity. We protect none of these by cloaking cowardice with canting words about international comity, civilized norms, and high moral standards. Such words are proper only in a suicide note for the nation.

Messrs. Ackerman and Drum have already expressed their alarm at such a line of thought, as have other notable bloggers such as Matthew Yglesias, Daniel Drezner, and Adam Mordecai on the “Change for America” blog (the blog started by Joe Trippi, noted adviser to Howard Dean in the glory days of the Dean campaign).

Hence, I don’t think it would serve the Blogosphere all that much for little ol’ me to merely second all these motions for alarm. Instead, as a hopefully useful service to the Blogosphere, I now offer three (relatively) charitable ways of looking at Imperial Hubris:
Read the rest of this entry »

Remember the classic Saturday Night Live sketch from 1988 with Jon Lovitz and Dana Carvey playing Mike Dukakis debating George H.W. Bush, the one in which Lovitz/Dukakis ends up exasperated by Carvey/Bush’s inept, banal rhetoric and says, “I can’t believe I’m losing to this guy!”?

Well, 2 things today reminded me of this sketch:

First (via Kevin Drum), I see that Andrew Sullivan (everyone’s favorite thoughtful, openly gay conservative pundit) has posted this on his blog early morning today:

My only dilemma now is whether to support Kerry or sit this one out. It still is.

Later in this same early-morning batch of posts, Mr. Sullivan elaborates:

Could it be that Bush has not governed as a conservative in critical ways – and hasn’t even governed competently in others? Let’s list a few: the WMD intelligence debacle – the worst blow to the credibility of the U.S. in a generation; Abu Ghraib – a devastating wound to to America’s moral standing in the world; the post-war chaos and incompetence in Iraq; an explosion in federal spending with no end in sight; no entitlement reform; a huge addition to fiscal insolvency with the Medicare drug entitlement; support for a constitutional amendment, shredding states’ rights; crusades against victimless crimes, like smoking pot and watching porn; the creeping fusion of religion and politics; the erosion of some critical civil liberties in the Patriot Act. I could go on. Is there any point at which a conservative might consider not voting for Bush? For the editor of National Review Online, the answer is indeed “fairly obvious.” But for people not institutionally related to the G.O.P., the only question is: where would that line be?

How can it be that the Democratic Party in general and John Kerry in particular cannot win Mr. Sullivan’s support?!

Second (via Billmon), seeing this deliciously detailed poll by Stanley Greenberg (author of the influential The Two Americas), led me to ask, “Why–oh why!–must we be cursed with the following discrepancy?”:

8. Overall, do you think the country should continue in the direction Bush is headed or go in a significantly different direction?
Among self-described…

“Independents” —
Continue in Bush Direction (Strongly Agree): 23% (16%)
Go in Significantly Different Direction (Strongly Agree): 67% (42%)
Don’t Know / Decline to State: 9%

“Liberal and Moderate Republicans” —

Continue in Bush Direction (Strongly Agree): 56% (38%)
Go in Significantly Different Direction (Strongly Agree): 34% (18%)
Don’t Know / Decline to State: 10%

6. Thinking about the elections in November, if the election for President were held today and the candidates were Republican George Bush and the Democrat John Kerry — for whom would you vote — George Bush or John Kerry?

Among self-described…

“Independents” —
Bush: 36%
Kerry: 36%
Other: 3%
Undecided: 22%
Don’t Know / Decline to State: 4%

“Liberal and Moderate Republicans” —

Bush: 79%
Kerry: 14%
Other: 2%
Undecided: 6%
Don’t Know / Decline to State: 0%

Note how the percentage of “independents” who have concluded that the country should go in a “significantly different direction” than “the direction Bush is headed” is 5% higher than the percentage of independents either for Kerry, still undecided, or don’t know/won’t say. Note that even more alarmingly the analogous discrepancy for “liberal and moderate Republicans” is 14%.

UPDATE 4:05 AM: Now that I look at it, there’s even a 5% discrepancy for self-described “conservative Republicans” that a highly optimistic Democrat might think are swayable. And speaking of potentially swayable, look Ralph Nader’s current support in this same poll:

7. If the candidates for President were Republican George Bush, Democrat John Kerry and Independent Ralph Nader, for whom would you vote?

Support for Ralph Nader among self-described…
Liberal Democrats: 8%
Moderate and Conservative Democrats: 4%
Independents: 13%
Liberal and Moderate Republicans: 7%
Conservative Republicans: 2%


How can it be that John Kerry can’t just win these people’s support already and walk away with this election in a landslide?

An eminent quartet of left-leaning bloggers (Mark A.R. Kleiman, Brad DeLong, Kevin Drum, and Matthew Yglesias) have recently opined that the world should wholeheartedly embrace nuclear fission as a viable option to meet its energy needs without exacerbating the problems of global warming and air pollution.*

Judging from the many comments and trackbacks on these blogs, many are clearly wondering:

1) What’s a reliable source of information on the pros and cons of nuclear fission, both as it’s implemented now and as it might most intelligently be implemented?

2) What about renewable sources of energy? How much of the world’s energy needs could renewables conceviably meet? How much could they feasibly meet in, say, the next 20-40 years?

As a PhD student in the Physics Department of MIT, I’m proud to declare: I am vaguely competent to answer these questions!

As an answer to Question #1, I highly recommend the book Megawatts and Megatons: A Turning Point in the Nuclear Age? by Georges Charpak and Richard L. Garwin, which quite nicely is full-text viewable on Amazon.com through its Search Within the Book feature. (Dr. Charpak is the 1992 Nobel Laureate in Physics. Dr. Garwin is a man who almost assuredly has forgotten more about nuclear physics than most anyone else has ever learned. This includes an interesting controversy over whether he played critical but usually unsung role in working out the actual details necessary to make the first H-bomb**—at the precocious age of 23, no less. In any case, in later life he has been an ardent advocate of arms control and of the careful stewardship of nuclear power.)

As an answer to Question #2:

First of all, the above reference by Charpak and Garwin (specifically Chapter 8) is an excellent reference for this question too.

Second of all, the short answer to the question of how much energy could renewables conceivably produce in the very long term (i.e., the one in which we’re all dead as Keynes would say) and how much could they feasibly produce by, say, somewhere between 2025 to 2045 is as follows:

Conceivably, renewables could produce 4 times more energy annually than the world’s current annual energy consumption! However, a complete move to renewables is generally not thought to be even remotely feasible in the next 20-40 years. Rather, in that time frame it’s plausible to think with significant focused investment by the government, major commercial wind power (i.e., annual production of 1,000 terawatt-hours or about 1/3 of the US’s current annual electricity consumption) could be achieved around 2025 and similarly major commercial solar power could be achieved by around 2045. However, if no special investment is made and we follow a “business-as-usual” scenario, one should estimate that wind and solar energy production circa 2025 and 2045 will be an order of magnitude less.

(References for the answer above as well as the footnotes * and **, which will be in regard, respectively, to…

* : the respiratory health problems from coal power which occuring today in the developing world and are only expected to get worse

**: the controversy of who played what role in the design of the American H-bomb

… will alas have to come later since it’s already 4 AM! Sorry.)

As is being reported throughout the world, Ronald Reagan passed away today.

The Washington Post and the New York Times have extensive obituaries.

May his family find peace, and may his legacy receive the fate due any honorable man: an honest, respectful appraisal.

My own appraisal will come in the days ahead as I’ve been intending for a long, long time to sort out several issues about the Reagan presidency, notably:

1) How strong is the case for saying Reagan’s policies accelerated the end of the Cold War?

2) During his presidency, did Reagan believe his arms buildup was a brilliant scheme to accelerate the USSR’s decline by encouraging it to spend beyond its means, or did he view it merely as a necessary measure to prevent the US from falling behind a USSR that supposedly was about to take the lead in the arms race? What did Reagan’s subordinates believe?

3) To what extent were there significant further possibilities for US/USSR nuclear disarmament during the Reagan era that were squelched by Reagan’s insistence on the continuing the Strategic Defense Initiative?

4) What were the merits of Reagan’s tax cuts and reforms considered separately from the fact that they contributed to increased income inequality, massive federal debt, and the current unholy incarnation of the Republican Party as the All-Tax-Cuts-All-The-Time Party? (For example, were marginal taxes creating horrid economic inefficiencies in the 1970s?)

5) On that note, how much blame for increased income inequality in the 1980s should be put on Reagan’s domestic policies (as opposed to more general and ineluctable societal factors)?

More questions will come to me, I’m sure. I’m almost equally sure that when all’s said and done, I’ll have come to essentially the same conclusion as Brad DeLong’s short-and-sweet summary of the Reagan legacy:

He tried hard, but by and large he didn’t have the brainpower to think his way out of the boxes that his prior commitments and initial personnel choices handed him.

The economic policy the neoconservatives handed him was a disaster: the tax cuts made America a more unequal place, and the deficits slowed economic growth in the 1980s significantly–as even Larry Lindsey’s numbers show. The best you can say about social policy is that it was a tremendous waste: a lot of misery could have been prevented had not fears of alienating the base kept the Reagan administration from reacting swiftly and intelligently to the coming of AIDS.

Foreign policy looks better. Reagan’s foreign policy was horrible for the Nicaraguans, and horrible for the Iranians and Iraqis. But George Shultz proved a good Grand Vizier for Foreign Affairs. And Reagan’s decision to help rather than try to hinder Gorbachev was the right one, even though few in his administration agreed with it.

P.S. On that note of recalling it does no honor to a honorable man to exaggerate his accomplishments, I humbly beseech FOX News to keep Grover Norquist off the air. Ronald Reagan does not need anyone to claim his works exceeded those of Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Franklin Roosevelt—as Mr. Norquist claimed in his interview with Shepard Smith tonight—in order to be remembered well by posterity.