Friday, January 31, 2003


No war without credible proof.

I'll be away from the machine for a bit. Let me leave you with this repeat post, from Rep. Abraham Lincoln (R-Ill.):


WASHINGTON, February 15, 1848.


Your letter of the 29th January was received last night. Being exclusively a constitutional argument, I wish to submit some reflections upon it in the same spirit of kindness that I know actuates you.

Let me first state what I understand to be your position. It is that if it shall become necessary to repel invasion, the President may, without violation of the Constitution, cross the line and invade the territory of another country, and that whether such necessity exists in any given case the President is the sole judge.
Before going further consider well whether this is or is not your position. If it is, it is a position that neither the President himself, nor any friend of his, so far as I know, has ever taken. Their only positions are--first, that the soil was ours when the hostilities commenced; and second, that whether it was rightfully ours or not, Congress had annexed it, and the President for that reason was bound to defend it; both of which are as clearly proved to be false in fact as you can prove that your house is mine. The soil was not ours, and Congress did not annex or attempt to annex it.

But to return to your position. Allow the President to invade a neighboring nation whenever he shall deem it necessary to repel an invasion, and you allow him to do so whenever he may choose to say he deems it necessary for such purpose, and you allow him to make war at pleasure.

Study to see if you can fix any limit to his power in this respect, after having given him so much as you propose.
If to-day he should choose to say he thinks it necessary to invade Canada to prevent the British from invading us, how could you stop him? You may say to him,--"I see no probability of the British invading us"; but he will say to you, "Be silent: I see it, if you don't."

The provision of the Constitution giving the war making power to Congress was dictated, as I understand it, by the following reasons: kings had always been involving and impoverishing their people in wars, pretending generally, if not always, that the good of the people was the object. This our convention understood to be the most oppressive of all kingly oppressions, and they resolved to so frame the Constitution that no one man should hold the power of bringing this oppression upon us. But your view destroys the whole matter, and places our President where kings have always stood.

Write soon again.

Yours truly,


posted by Fred Clark 12:45 PM


Readings from American Hero, by Larry Beinhart.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden has broken out the Reynold's Wrap for aluminum foil hats. (Conspiratorial tidbit: Tom Kean -- Dr. Death's replacement as chair of the no-frills, $3 million 9/11 probe -- turns out to have ties to an oil company owned by Osama bin Laden's brother in law. Al-Qaida and you, puuuahfect togethah.)

The lively discussion in Electrolite's comments section led me to take down from the shelf Larry Beinhart's over-the-top-yet-almost-convincing novel American Hero. The book is sharper, more vicious -- and therefore funnier -- than Barry Levinson's anemic adaptation Wag the Dog. (Levinson didn't want to give Beinhart a writing credit for the film -- perhaps partly because he gets tweaked, by name, in the novel.)

Beinhart is nowhere near the stylist that David Mamet is (Mamet scripted Levinson's film), but his aim is truer. Wag the Dog was about a fictional war with a fictional president. American Hero is about the Gulf War and the first President Bush. Beinhart's book is a paranoid fantasy, a work of fiction, yet it accounts for many of the facts of the Gulf War better than the official history that played out on CNN.

Pity poor Larry Beinhart. First, someone else -- Mamet -- gets to write the screenplay of his novel. Then someone else -- Karl Rove -- gets to write the sequel.

Here's a taste of American Hero, pp. 203-204:

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Beagle wrote a note on a yellow pad: "Scenario: The president is kidnapped by terrorists."

This had a certain appeal. Beagle had learned not to let his imagination be incarcerated by cost or practicality. Still, it seemed to him that with this reality shit, getting the cooperation of a foreign country prepared to enter into a war with the United States, with the United States scripted to win, might be difficult. But having the president participate in, or fake, his own kidnapping would be a piece of cake. How could he refuse? It was all being done for the benefit of his reelection.

Then the waiting. The drama of not knowing. Whip the country into hysteria. Then the ransom demands. Do we bow to ransom? Do we stand on principle?
Millions for defense, not one red cent for tribute! The negotiations. Deliberately dragged out. While, secretly, the Delta Force (or Navy Seals, or Vegas Bimbos or even the FBI) is maneuvering to burst in on them and they rescue Bush in a perfectly timed and executed ...

What a thought! Have the terrorists execute Bush! Then Dan Quayle becomes president, declares War on Terrorism. Not like the War-on-Drugs war. But real war where we go in and obliterate entire cities. Search and destroy. If they want to hide in Libya, invade Libya. Syria. Anywhere they tried to hide!

Obviously, the client was not going to go for that. Bush had to stay alive. But that's what he needed -- an incident that would kick the whole affair into higher gear. If the Delta Force rescued the president, then what? Then it becomes a police matter. Measured force. Investigations, waiting, arrests, and years later -- long after Bush won or lost his reelection -- a trial. Probably in Italy, where the terrorists would only get 10 years anyway and then be traded to Libya after 18 months for a boatload of oil and support for the lira. Or would the American public be outraged enough -- that is to say, could the American public be whipped up to a sufficient frenzy -- that they would be willing to go to war?

What if they took Bush and Quayle? Delta Force rescues Bush, but the terrorists kill Quayle.

That was a happening concept.

Bush, in anger and grief, leads the nation -- the nations, plural, of the West -- in a Holy Crusade against terrorism. So that no wife need grieve like Madilyn? (Marilyn? he made a note to check). So that no child (he was sure Quayle had children) would be left fatherless, ever again. ...

The terrorists would be Muslims. The Backward forces of Superstition and Repression of the East against the Rational, Ethical, Forward-looking West. It tapped into atavistic hatred. Christians against Moslems! There it was -- the project title -- The Crusades.

[written in 1993]

posted by Fred Clark 4:01 AM

Thursday, January 30, 2003

"Throughout the 20th century, small groups of men seized control of great nations, built armies and arsenals, and set out to dominate the weak and intimidate the world."

-- President George W. Bush in the State of the Union Address

(link via Atrios)

posted by Fred Clark 10:32 PM

Wednesday, January 29, 2003


Why "fair and balanced" reporting demands liberality.

This post by Atrios got me to thinking. He quoted Kevin Drum's quip that "I'm willing to bet that a liberal is just a conservative with an ADHD kid," then wrote:

So many conservatives and republicans have a pet cause which appears so out of character, until you realize it's affected them personally. Get a little empathy guys -- we can be a bit concerned about bad stuff that happens other peoples' kids, too.

Read this during a break at work, just before having to make a hefty trim and write a headline for a story on a contentious issue. The hard thing about such stories is showing respect to all the opinions expressed -- to convey what is said accurately and fairly, so that people from both sides of the dispute can read the article and think, "Yes, this represents our point of view." This is tricky when a story is 40 lines too long -- if you're not careful, you can end up trimming away the nuance that prevents the piece from slipping into distortion or caricature.

The goal is fairness, which is akin to justice. And fairness requires empathy, which is driven by principle and by imagination and by a generous liberality (see, for instance, the Golden Rule).

Liberalism is driven largely by empathy -- this is largely what I mean when I say that I consider myself "liberal." A liberal perspective is therefore well-equipped for the journalistic duty of reporting fairly with a liberal respect for conflicting views.

Fox News, on the other hand, adheres to a stunted, deformed "conservative" perspective that seems wholly devoid of empathy. Without empathy and liberality, reporting can never hope to be "fair and balanced." Without empathy you get Fox-style reporting -- biased, belligerent and inhuman.

posted by Fred Clark 4:14 PM


State of the Union downplays threat of terror.

Here was one of the oddest assertions in the president's speech last night:

Today, the gravest danger in the war on terror, the gravest danger facing America and the world, is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. These regimes could use such weapons for blackmail, terror, and mass murder. They could also give or sell those weapons to terrorist allies, who would use them without the least hesitation.

Just try to follow the logic of that -- "outlaw regimes" are the gravest threat.

Why? Because they might arm terrorists. If the worst these regimes can do is arm somebody else, doesn't that make this somebody else the graver threat?

Mr. Bush has gotten so distracted by his obsession with the so-called "axis of evil" that he has forgotten about the nexus of evil -- al-Qaida. This is the enemy that killed 3,000 on American soil. This is the enemy that "knocked these buildings down." This is the enemy that our anemic and scandalously under-funded "homeland security" efforts can't even pretend to defend us against.

Biological and chemical weapons are really, really nasty. And nuclear weapons are geometrically worse. But the "weapons of mass destruction" employed on Sept. 11, 2001 were civilian airplanes.

My daily commute takes me south on I-95 past the refineries of Marcus Hook, Pa., then through the foul-smelling, methane-venting landscape of the Port of Wilmington and Delaware's "Cherry Island," with it's refineries and chemical plants.

The model for a terrorist attack using chemical weapons is not a launch of warheads from Baghdad, or another Halabja. Nor is the model the Tokyo subway Sarin release by the madmen of Aum Shinrikyo. That attack sickened 5,000 and killed 12.

The model for a terrorist attack using chemical weapons is the accident at a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India in 1985. That accident killed about 4,000 people initially, with untold thousands more affected:

In all, more than 20,000 deaths have been linked to the disaster. More than 100,000 people are ill, including babies still being born to victims today. (from )

The Carbide disaster, like the Sept. 11 attacks, did not involve weapons of mass destruction.

It did not involve weapons at all.

It is precisely this sort of attack to which America remains incalculably vulnerable, yet the Bush administration is actively undermining any effort to improve security in this area. States and municipalities do not have the resources to ensure domestic security. The federal government does -- or at least it would if it didn't insist on giving away billions of dollars to people who already have billions of dollars.

In the meantime, no machinations from Saddam are required to unleash weapons of mass destruction on an American city. All it would take in my neighborhood is some bolt cutters, some dynamite and a favorable wind.

posted by
Fred Clark 3:36 PM


"It's expensive being poor." -- James Baldwin

Unpleasant surprise today from here in "everybody's hometown" -- the price of parking tickets has gone up by as much as 100 percent.

Granted, the new fine of $5 is nothing like the $15 you get hit with if you violate the intricate parking regulations near my girlfriend's apartment in University City, but it's still a big leap percentage-wise from the old Media fine of $3.

Old fine: $1 if paid within first hour; $3 if paid within 24 hours; $5 if within 3 days; scofflaws who wait longer to pay get hit with the big-city whammy of $15.

New fine: $2 in first hour; $5 within 24 hours; $10 within 3 days.

I realize that this is pretty nickel-and-dime. You can't park for one hour in Manhattan for $15. But nickels and dimes add up -- especially for those on the lower end of the income curve (which is not a bell curve -- it's shaped more like a playground slide).

Part of the penalty for not owning property -- a smallish, trivial part here in Delco -- is that you become subject to a variety of harassing parking regulations, the violation of which will cost you.

If you are so poor you don't have a pot to piss in, you will be forced to rent a pot or to pay a fine for pissing in the street.

The larger point here is that in the United States of America the cost of living for poor people is substantially higher than it is for rich people.

Want a less trivial example? Here's a doozy:

Your credit rating affects what you pay for car insurance. If you have lots of assets in the bank, your car insurance will eat up less of your paycheck than if you are living from paycheck to paycheck. If you own property, your car insurance is cheaper.

This is obscene: Renters are charged a higher rate than homeowners. Wage-earners are charged more than trust-fund babies. Single mothers are charged more than the Ladies Who Lunch.

Empirically, as a matter of fact and a matter of course, black people are charged more for car insurance than white people. This isn't racist, the insurers say. We're just applying the "data" from credit reports.

"I don't know why it works, but I'm confident it doesn't discriminate," said Charles P. Neeson, senior executive for personal lines at Ohio's Westfield Group.

The idea I suppose, is that rich people are more responsible drivers. Like this lady. Or this guy. Or this guy. Or this guy.

Insurance companies, in their wisdom, regard Hoke as a riskier driver than Miss Daisy herself.

posted by Fred Clark 2:47 AM

Sunday, January 26, 2003


Pundit to battered women: "Ladies, relax and enjoy the game."

Telepundit George F. Will disgraced himself and his colleagues on ABC news this morning with a glib, cruel, ignorant and lazy piece that failed to meet even his own diminished ethical standards. And in doing so, he abetted criminal violence.

There is, Will pointed out, no hard evidence correlating the Super Bowl with increased incidence of domestic violence. Without such positivistic, empirical evidence of this lesser claim (the link between violence and the Super Bowl), Will implies that we need not worry about any other claims, such as that the existence of domestic violence at all is anything more than a "fraud" perpetrated by "fashionable" liberal elites who believe "masculinity is a menace."

A PSA notes that domestic violence is a crime. "Gosh," Will sneers dismissively, working his crescendo of callousness up to this:

"Ladies," George Will says to the victims of domestic violence, "relax and enjoy the game."

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Every nine seconds in America, a woman is beaten.

Will: "Ladies, relax and enjoy."

About a dozen women were battered during the two minutes George Will spent pontificating this morning on ABC.

Will: "Ladies, relax and enjoy."

More than a thousand women will be beaten during the three hours of the Super Bowl broadcast this evening.

Will: "Ladies, relax and enjoy."

The Bears didn't even make the playoffs, but today in the city of Chicago, 655 women will be beaten.

Will: "Ladies, relax and enjoy."

"The U.S. Surgeon General reports that domestic violence is the number one cause of injury for women between the ages of 15 and 55" (source).

Will: "Ladies, relax and enjoy."

"According to the Bureau of National Affairs, domestic violence costs employers between $3 billion and $5 billion annually" (source).

Will: "Ladies, relax and enjoy."

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Perhaps feeling self-conscious for reaching back a decade for pundit-fodder, Will tosses in this update on the Super Bowl in 1993, the year the "offending" PSA was aired:

By the way, in that 1993 game, the Buffalo Bills were crushed in the Super Bowl, but there was no epidemic of domestic violence in Buffalo.

No "epidemic" was measured -- but of course no measurements were taken. Yet the statistics we do have for Buffalo/Niagara aren't pretty for the years including and following the Bills' four-straight Super Bowl losses. The incidence of domestic violence increased five-fold from 1993 to 1998. Do I correlate this to the Bills' performance? Of course not. But if that's not an "epidemic," what is?

Because domestic violence cases were taking up about 10 percent of the city court's caseload, Buffalo opened a dedicated "domestic violence" court in 1999.

(There's another seeming connection between the Buffalo Bills and domestic violence -- but like these other linkages, it wasn't scientifically proven and O.J. got off.)

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Some background.

Ten years ago, based on anecdotal evidence, a coalition of activists against domestic violence and media watchdog FAIR held a press conference in which they claimed that Super Bowl Sunday was "one of the worst days" for domestic violence. As a result, in part, of this press conference, NBC ran a 30 second Public Service Announcement against domestic violence during the Super Bowl (a donation of about $500,000 at the time).

This PSA drew the ire of The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post's Ken Ringle -- who seemed inordinately driven to debunk the story. (One psychotherapist Ringle questioned for his article told Ringle that he hated the line of questioning the reporter was pursuing. Ringle took the quote -- "You know I hate this" -- out of context in his article, implying that the psychotherapist was discussing the anti-domestic violence campaign and not Ringle's dogged attack on it. "That PSA will save lives," the psychotherapist said, but Ringle didn't quote that part.)

The claim -- to repeat -- was anecdotal. It was based on newspaper articles and on the comments of shelter workers. Does that constitute "a national study" or a "scientific finding"? No, or course not. Does the lack of a study confirming the anecdotal evidence prove those observations false? No, it doesn't mean that either -- but that is what Ringle and people like misogynist blowhard Rush Limbaugh said in an aggressive backlash campaign throughout the years following the study.

The backlash was successful enough that the alleged link between big-time sporting events and domestic violence is now listed as an "urban myth" -- not only at the conservative Snopes site, but at the more accurate and reliable AFU and Urban Legends Archive.

The claims of the backlash are excessive -- unproved anecdotal claims are precisely that, unproved. And unproved is not the same thing as disproved -- which is what Limbaugh and Will would have you believe. (Just because you have never seen a black swan does not mean that such a thing does not exist.)

The "urban legend" of the link between the Super Bowl and domestic violence has been promoted far more vigorously by its debunkers than it ever was by its promoters. But in any case, if the existence of such a link is an "urban legend," so too is the notion that such a link has been disproved.

Anecdotal evidence from shelters and hotlines suggests an uptick in incidence on holidays, and Super Bowl Sunday is a holiday. No link is has been proved or disproved.

= = = = = = = = = = = =

Bottom line: Assume for argument's sake, that Super Bowl Sunday is a day just like any other day in America. That domestic violence today occurs at the same pace as on any other day.

That means more than 8,600 women will be beaten today.

George Will owes those women an apology.

posted by Fred Clark 3:55 PM

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