March 21, 2005

I’m Shutting Up Now

I tried to write another long post about the Terri Schiavo case and decided half-way through that I need to delete it. It’s time to move on to something that’s either more important, more fun, or at least less gruesomely voyeuristic. Eric Deamer is right. Everyone needs to shut up - especially that id of reptilian conservatism otherwise known as Tom DeLay.

UPDATE: I would like to say one more thing in the "keep your mouth shut" department. Tom DeLay might find himself slapped with a libel suit if he doesn't watch it.

He followed with a torrent of invective against her "estranged" husband, Michael Schiavo, now living with another woman, a man with whom he had been trading insults since Thursday.

"No care for 15 years. No therapy. No nothing," DeLay said, his voice awash in scorn. "What kind of man is that?"

I'm no expert in this case, and I really don't know what's true and what isn't. But I have seen plenty of references to pieces of information that suggest what DeLay is saying from the bully pulpit of Congress about Schiavo - a private citizen - isn't true. You don't have to prove malice to win a libel suit. Reckless disregard for the truth is enough.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:56 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 20, 2005

To Save or Not to Save

Almost everyone knows about the Terri Schiavo case by now, so I won’t get bogged down in the details. But here’s a quick summary for those who are out of the loop: She’s been in some sort of vegetative state for fifteen years, her husband has fought to take her off life-support, and her parents have fought to keep her on it. A Florida court recently ordered her feeding tube removed, and now the Republicans in the White House and Congress want the issue decided in federal courts. George W. Bush is even mucking around with his schedule in order to sign legislation as quickly as possible.

It’s easy to see both sides of this one. Peggy Noonan does the best job summing up the “conservative” side: “There is a passionate, highly motivated and sincere group of voters and activists who care deeply about whether Terri Schiavo is allowed to live. Their reasoning, ultimately, is this: Be on the side of life.”

“Be on the side of life.” It sounds right and feels good. “Pull the plug” sounds wrong and feels horrible. I truly hate to say this, but I think I’m just barely on the “pull the plug” side in this particular case. I’m not proudly or happily on that side. Nor am I completely on that side. If the details were slightly different I wouldn’t be on that side at all. Just thinking about it is painful, and it isn’t my problem.

In any case, it’s none of my business. I wouldn’t tell somebody else what I think they should do in a dilemma like this unless they asked me to do so. I can only say what I would probably do if the decision were mine. Still, when you really get down to it, I’m not 100 percent sure I could order another human being’s plug to be pulled. I had to euthanize two of the koi in my backyard pond last summer. Even though I knew it was the right thing to do under the circumstances I still felt like an evil despicable bastard for doing it. I was shocked by how guilty that made me feel. And they were just fish. They were beautiful fish, but they still were just fish.

The only reason I’m thinking about Terri Schiavo at all is because her story has become a media and political circus. An excruciating philosophical and moral conundrum, one for which there are no easy or even right answers, has been turned into yet another partisan “culture war” bitch-fest. It’s all so degrading and corrosive.

I’m not at all impressed with either the White House or Congress right now. This is so obviously not the federal government’s business that I’m embarrassed to even point it out. Whether Terri Schiavo lives or dies is of supreme maximum importance to her friends and family. It’s only important in a symbolic and voyeuristic way to anyone else - and that’s only because the media refuse to let go of it and political activists refuse to stay out of it.

George W. Bush isn’t intervening to save one person’s life. I really truly hate to say this, but it’s true: he has more important things that he needs to tend to. For him this is all about politics.

Here’s how the White House or Congress can score some genuine points with me: do something about people who are taken off life-support because their families ran out of money. (See Mark Kleiman for some details about that gruesome business.) Now there’s a real national problem. And doing something about it requires a lot more than grandstanding. Where's the "right to life" crowd on that?

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:40 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 17, 2005

Right-Wing Idiotarianism Redux

Extremism is so easy. You’ve got your position, and that’s it. It doesn’t take much thought. And when you go far enough to the right you meet the same idiots coming around from the left. - Clint Eastwood to Time magazine. (Hat tip: Oakland mayor Jerry Brown, who now has his own blog.)
I’ve been vaguely aware of who Michael Scheuer is for a while, but I didn’t realize until now just how much of a whackjob the man really is. Andrew Apostolou read his book Imperial Hubris so I don’t have to. And he takes Scheuer’s latest outbursts apart in his newest Tech Central Station column.
Michael Scheuer, whose book Imperial Hubris lambasts US strategy in the war against al Qaeda, has attracted attention for recent public statements on Israel. The former head of the CIA's bin Laden unit, Scheuer claimed at the Council on Foreign Relations in February that Israel controls the debate on US foreign policy. As important as Scheuer's hostility to Israel is his underlying message: that to keep Israel happy, the US must kill innocent Muslims.

While Scheuer's views on the Middle East are unpleasant, they are not far from the orthodoxy among retired diplomats. The view of the superannuated foreign service mainstream is that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the core issue in the Middle East and that the stumbling block to a settlement is Israeli policy rather than Palestinian terrorism. No wonder that Scheuer went largely unchallenged at the Middle East Policy Council, which is headed by a former US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, with his remark in January that when the US deals with Israel it becomes "the dog that's led around by the tail."

Still, Scheuer has gone beyond the cocktail party consensus with coarser claims that Israeli diplomacy, and by implication its domestic and often American Jewish support base, is "probably the most successful covert action program in the history of man."

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations, Scheuer cited the US Holocaust Memorial Museum as evidence of the alleged Israeli "covert action" program. According to Scheuer, the museum is designed to make Americans feel guilty about the Holocaust, thereby preventing any questioning of US policy towards Israel. The ignorance of Scheuer's statement is nearly equal to its chauvinism. Anybody who has visited the Holocaust Museum will know that its entrance is bedecked with the standards of American army units that liberated concentration camps, which the museum is currently celebrating with a special exhibition.

The obvious inconsistencies of Scheuer's views are entirely lost on him. Replying to a like-minded questioner who called Israel "the spoiled child of Western civilization", Scheuer said in February that "I certainly, as an American, find it unbearable to think there's something in this country you can't talk about. That's really my spiel I guess on that, sir." Scheuer's use of the word "spiel" was an unintended irony on his part. Similarly, the most convincing refutation of Scheuer's notion that US-Israel relations cannot be talked about is the frequency with which Scheuer talks about them, in every public appearance and in a best-selling, widely circulated book.

Scheuer's views on Israel are not surprising given his politics. He is an old-fashioned Republican who scorns promoting democracy overseas. Speaking at the CFR, Scheuer called President Bush's State of the Union address "warmed-up Wilsonianism", which is not a compliment as he described Woodrow Wilson in Imperial Hubris as a "bloody-handed fantasist." Responding to a questioner at the same event who asked if killing terrorist enemies would not simply create more enemies, Scheuer replied that "My books are pretty nationalist, ma'am. I don't much care." Indeed, Scheuer is so "nationalist" that he has recently written for, a neoconfederate, isolationist website that vilifies President Abraham Lincoln.

So far, so far to the right of Pat Buchanan, but Scheuer is more than a new eruption of a mildly irritating cyst on the extremity of the American body politic. The truly dangerous and inflammatory aspect of Scheuer is that, in essence, he blames the mayhem and bloodshed caused by Islamist terrorism not on bin Laden and al Qaeda, but on those who built the Holocaust Museum.

There’s plenty more where that came from, and it only gets worse. Scheuer advocates a savage war against the civilian population of the Middle East because, in his crackpot mental universe, those pesky Zionists leave us no other option. He goes so far over the top I can't help but wonder if he's looking for an excuse to indulge atrocity fantasies. He doesn't seem to be bothered much by that sort of thing. After all, we're talking about a man who looks at the Holocaust Museum and, instead of thinking never again, weaves conspiracy theories.

He defensively says such "bloody-mindedness" is “neither admirable nor desirable.” But he’s the only “important” person I know of who advocates it, so…feh. And yet, at the same time, he wants the US to adjust its foreign policy in order to placate the supposedly legitimate grievances of Osama bin Laden.

He’s a man who somehow, incredibly, managed to cobble together an ideology that incorporates talking points from the far-left goon squad at International ANSWER and the darkest fantasies of the right-wing lunatic fringe. All this while heading up the CIA’s hunt for Osama bin Laden. He's the ne plus ultra of idiotarians, and has no business working anywhere near government ever again.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 11:28 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 16, 2005

Friends of Democracy is Back

Many of you already know that I edited the Friends of Democracy site before, during, and after the Iraqi election in January. The job was a temporary one, or so I thought then. But we decided to keep going and re-tool the site so we can continue publishing news and views from Iraq indefinitely.

We’re finished with the transition now, and the new-and-improved site is ready to go.

The articles we choose to publish are English translations from Iraq’s new and expanding Arabic-language blogosphere. If you don’t understand Arabic you won’t be able to read regularly-updated authentic Arabic-language blogging anywhere else on the Internet. We’ll be adding new articles almost every day. So please be sure to bookmark the site, tell your friends and family if they’re interested in this sort of thing, and – if you have your own blog – help spread the word.

In my opinion, the site is better now than it was. That’s partly because I’m doing more work on it. I’m not only selecting the stories we publish. I’m also thoroughly line-editing the translated pieces so that reading our site will be easier and more enjoyable.

Please give it a look. And don’t miss Al-Witwiti’s excellent Letter to the Next Iraqi President.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 3:43 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 15, 2005

The Arab Street Revolution

Jonah Goldberg recently wrote:

I love the CBS News forged-document story. To paraphrase the abominable snowman from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, I want to hug it and squeeze it and name it George. Okay, I don't want to name it

George, but you get my drift. If this story were hot fudge, I would smear it all over my body and then roll around in nougat.

That's how I feel about the revolution in Lebanon.

On that note, my new Tech Central Station column is up: Our Friend, the Arab Street.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 9:38 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

Dueling Photo Galleries

Glenn Reynolds likes to post photos of protestors in Lebanon, both for and against Syria’s military and intelligence personnel, and asks “who would you rather hang out with”? It’s a compelling question when you take a good hard look at who goes to each kind of rally.

I went surfing around Yahoo’s vast collection of images looking for more. (See here and here, for example.) It’s incredible, really, how uniformly pleasant the anti-Syrian demonstrators look compared with the nastiness of the pro-Syrians. If anyone thinks Glenn has been cherry-picking photos they haven’t sifted through the reams of those that are out there. I can look through the galleries and instantly guess with very nearly 100 percent accuracy whether a given image was from a pro- or anti-Syrian rally.

Check these out. They really do speak for themselves.

Those Who Want Syria Out








Those Who Want Syria In











Posted by Michael J. Totten at 8:12 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

The Return of Anne

Anne Cunningham vanished from the blogosphere for a while, but I expected her to come back and I was right. Some of you may remember her as one of the infamous liberal hawks, and I guess she still is. She's a bit more moderate about it than I am, though, and a lot less obsessive. Seems she would rather write about books and personal stories, for the most part, and that's a good thing. There is a lot more to life than politics, obviously.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 7:12 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 14, 2005

A Letter to Nancy Pelosi

Below is a letter to Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi posted by the author in my comments section. I’m promoting it, so to speak, to the main page because it’s way too much fun to leave languishing in obscurity at the tail end of a thread. Don’t miss Rep. Pelosi’s response at the end. (The following has been slightly edited for spelling and punctuation.)

Fri, 11 Mar 2005 23:12:15 -0800 (PST)

From: "Warren Windrem"

Subject: Re: Join Me in Welcoming Howard Dean to the DNC!

To: "Rep. Nancy Pelosi"

Dear Rep Pelosi,

If I had to pick one guy who was most responsible for driving me out of the Democratic Party and into the arms of the Republicans, it would be Howard Dean. Welcome him to the DNC? I'd just as soon welcome Noam Chomsky, the late Edward Said, or Ward Churchill, or Juan "Israel is always wrong" Cole, or Leroi What's His Name, former "Poet Laureate of New Jersey" ("The Jews didn't show up for work on 9/11, 'cause they were in on the secret – the CIA/Mossad did it!), or the Middle Eastern Studies Department of Columbia University, or the Chairwoman of the Duke University Middle Eastern Studies Department ("Let's boycott the International Gay Pride Celebration in Tel Aviv – we don't want to give any encouragement to the International Zionist Conspiracy!), or Representative Cynthia McKinney, or her Jew bashing (not just Israeli bashing, but in-your-face Jew bashing) daddy.

Hey, normally, my being a Democrat would be a lead pipe cinch. Pro choice? Check! Pro Gay Marriage? Check! Pro women's rights, whatever that is these days? Check! Do I have a pro-Democratic voting record? Check! (Voted for Jimmy Carter twice, Mondale, Dukakis, Clinton twice, and even, God help me, Al Gore.)

But the promiscuous, intellectually and morally slutty Anti-War Movement ("We don't care how bloodthirsty the Palestinian Extremist anti-war speaker is, he's a bastard, but he's our bastard" attitude) has driven me out. Now, Howard Dean probably doesn't share all of the above views, but he certainly has legitimized them, and that makes him totally unacceptable to me.

I turn 57 day after tomorrow. Back in the 50's and 60's I rejected Bull Connor, Orville Faubus, George Wallace, the White Citizen's Council, the Ku Klux Klan, and all the other people who murdered Condi Rice's childhood friend in the Birmingham church bombing of nineteen sixty something or other. The Civil Rights Movement more than anything else drew me out of my Goldwater Conservative family into the Democratic Party for a generation (at least 35 years, anyway). Too bad the No-Enemies-on-the-Left anti-war crazies are driving me right back to the Republican Party, isn't it?

You want me back? It will take a Sister Soulja speech straight to the black heart of the anti-war left. I suppose Hillary Clinton looks promising that way. She seems to have lowered the shouting on the abortion debate. (Interestingly enough, I personally would have been okay with a take-no-prisoners pro-choice position, but pragmatic compromise there is okay by me.) I do feel sorry for you. As a San Francisco politician you have to take the Neo-Stalinist idiots down at 24th & Mission (A.N.S.W.E.R.), and the disgraceful Medea Benjamin, and that Israel Bashing lady that runs a women's shelter on city funding somewhere in S.F. (no coverage of THAT story in the Comical, I had to read that story in the Baltimore Sun – maybe your dad can send you a clipping) and makes life miserable for Jewish employees and clients…you have to take them seriously. Fortunately, I don't, and I'm free to associate with people who, however much they might disagree with me on Social Security "reform", or taxation policy, or Supreme Court appointments, or reproductive rights, or bankruptcy legislation, at least they share my abhorrence of racism and Israel bashing and Jew bashing.

Yeah, yeah, don't tell me, I know, I know, Dean’s wife and teenaged kids are Jewish, so I shouldn't worry. Do you remember the question some network guy (Tom Brokaw?) asked Michael Dukakis in 1988? "Governor, if some man raped/murdered (I forget which, it was 17 years ago) your wife, what would your reaction be?"

Okay, here's my question for Howard Dean, and all you people who think he's okay: Governor Dean, speaking as the husband of a Jewish spouse and the father of Jewish children, what is your emotional reaction when you see some old line neo-Stalinist geek or some don't-know-any-better young protester carrying a sign that says, "Zionism is Racism", or "Smash the State of Israel"?

When I hear the Democratic party addressing my concerns in that area, we can talk about contributing money, and not one nano-second earlier.

Warren S. Windrem

Oakland, California

P.S. I am ethnically Scotch-Irish/WASP, from a Presbyterian family background, raised in at-that-time predominately liberal Protestant Olympia, Washington (yes, sigh, the home of "Let's burn the Israeli flag" Corrie What's Her Name). I don't belong to ADL, I don't dynamite abortion clinics, if I should ever be so lucky as to be invited to the wedding of a gay or lesbian friend I would be honored to attend (I've lived in the Bay Area since 1976, almost 30 years, and I hold the typical gay tolerant attitudes). I didn't grow up in Brooklyn, Queens, or North Jersey. I'd be happy to see the Israelis abandon most, if not all, the West Bank Settlements (BUT NOT THE WALL – a perfectly legitimate defensive measure against inexcusable murder). If you guys want to insult would-be liberals like me by endorsing Howard Dean, go ahead. Even here in the Bay Area there are more pro-war liberals than you think, even if the Comical, and Medea Benjamin, and Tom Meyer would never admit it.


Rep. Nancy Pelosi wrote:

Dear Warren,

On Saturday we elected a great Democrat as the chairman of our Party -- Howard Dean. Governor Dean has used the power of technology, the force of his personality, and the depth of his ideals to energize the grassroots, and bring more people into the political process.

I have seen Howard Dean's campaign strengths firsthand as he traveled across the country for House Democrats -- organizing voters and raising money. I have seen people who have stood in driving rain for hours to hear his message. We all thank Governor Dean for his enthusiasm and support for our candidates.

This is a critical time for our Party.

Governor Dean joins the DCCC's new Chairman Rahm Emanuel as a pair of visionaries who are already working quickly to reform our party and refine our message.

Our new Chairmen need you on board. The 2006 elections have already begun. We need the support of loyal Democrats like you to continue in our fight.

Please renew your support in the DCCC today.

Democrats are shaking up the status quo, reaching outside the Beltway for ideas and direction, and striving to strengthen the bonds with the great citizens of this country. We will restore a government that protects the interests of the people against the massive special interests that would use government to gouge them - rather than the other way around. You want real reform, and we will bring it to you. But we can only do it with your help.

We will fight together, and together we will prevail!


Nancy Pelosi

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 5:53 PM | Permalink | Comments Off

March 13, 2005

Pacific Northwest Fireball

I went sailing on the Columbia River this weekend with my friends Jeremy and Megan. After we tied up the boat and headed back toward the car I saw what first looked like a typical shooting star streaking across the early night sky. Then it got bigger. A lot bigger. And brighter. A lot brighter.


(Image captured from home video)

“Hey,” I said to Jeremy, “it’s a shooting st…HOLY SHIT LOOK AT THAT!”

“Whoa!” Jeremy said as he looked up.

It didn’t burn out, as shooting stars almost always do. It just kept going, both across and down the sky.

“Where?” Megan said. She was standing far off to our right and couldn’t see anything through the trees.

It finally vanished, either because it passed over the horizon or was about to impact on the ground.

Jeremy and I looked at each other, our heads slightly cocked. We were listening for the explosion. Nothing.

“Do you think it was a meteor?” Jeremy said.

“Oh yeah. What else would it be? It was way too big and bright and fast to be an airplane.”

We went home and checked the news. Sure enough, it was a meteor. It startled people all over the Pacific Northwest in a radius that stretched from Northern California to Canada. Portland was in the exact center of that radius. It was literally right over our heads.

Just a few days ago Mt. St. Helens had its biggest eruption since I was a child. Then a huge flaming rock fell out of the sky. Both happened during the same week within eye-shot of Portland. Forest fires are next. We’ve had almost no rain at all for two months. Our rainy season just vanished. A few days ago Washington declared a state of emergency. Feels like disaster blogging (with photos, of course) might be on the agenda this summer. We're a tinderbox here, and we're supposed to be soggy and dripping.

Posted by Michael J. Totten at 10:56 PM | Permalink | Comments Off
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Winner, The 2008 Weblog Awards, Best Middle East or Africa Blog

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