Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Pakistani Pashtuns Tiring of Taliban?

Yesterday at the Long War Journal, Bill Roggio posted about the efforts underway by the Pakistani government and military to reach out to the multifarious but predominantly Pashtun tribes straddling that nation's embattled border with Afghanistan, and enlist their aid to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda "miscreants" in their midst:

Pakistan has touted its tribal strategy as being crucial to it security plan, but the rise of the Pakistani Taliban and the existing tribal dynamics work against the government.

The idea of using the tribes to fight the Taliban is not new in fight against the Taliban in northwestern Pakistan. The government raised lashkars to fight the Taliban in North and South Waziristan in 2004 and 2005. The Taliban, then led by Nek Mohammed and Abdullah Mehsud, routed the lashkars and fought the Pakistani military to a stalemate. These battles led to the government to negotiate a series of humiliating peace accords in North and South Waziristan, and beyond.

But today, the Pakistani government is engaging the tribes throughout the tribal areas and the greater Northwest Frontier Province and possibly inside Afghanistan.

Naturally, this brings to mind the enlistment of Sunni tribes in Iraq, whose Awakening Movement and its mobilizations of local security forces (the "Sons of Iraq") have proved so instrumental in facilitating the implementation of the Petraeus counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy, along with a surge of troops and fundamental changes in the deployment patterns and rules of engagement for those troops. However, these comparisons need to be made with great caution, as the situation on the ground in the Af-Pak theater is qualitatively different, and presents a far more complex challenge than even Iraq had in store:

The Pakistani government has to coordinate different strategies for each individual tribe, making the task of tribal engagement difficult. "The dynamics [with each tribe] are very different, as is the strategic situation of each tribe," the source stated. "The biggest single hurdle is that there is no over-arching body to coordinate tribal resistance In contrast to the TTP [the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan]."

The Pakistani tribes are operating as distinct, local fighting forces, while the Taliban can coordinate their activities across the northwest and inside eastern Afghanistan. The Pakistani government claimed the Taliban and al Qaeda are pouring in from Kunar and neighboring provinces in Afghanistan to reinforce the legions fighting in Bajaur.

The challenge which this operational environment poses cannot be overstated: In Iraq, the Sunni tribes which began to push back against AQI well before Petraeus' COIN doctrine came on-line arose from a relatively homogeneous geographical and socio-cultural medium. There were common frames of reference and relatively well-established channels for communication and coordination, even as rivalries continually percolated. This showed in the seeming ease with which those tribes were able to act together when common interests were perceived -- at first for the Insurgency and its Jihadi agents provocateurs, then against the latter, and ultimately for the Nation of Iraq.

By stark contrast, the tribes of the isolated and perennially ungovernable hinterlands which stretch between Afghanistan and Pakistan live within an almost unimaginably rugged terrain in which historical divergences within formidable geographical contraints have given rise to a motley and mutually mistrustful melange of societies. Herding cats would be a mere trifle alongside the challenge of getting these people to work with each other, let alone with a Central Government and outsiders:

The problems are complicated by the tribes' unwillingness to cooperate with the government and the military. "We keep the government away," a senior tribal leader in Lakki Marwat told Geo TV. The tribes fear cooperation with the government will further turn the Taliban and sympathetic tribes against them. "If we became part of the government they would become an excuse, a liability, a rallying cry against us," the Lakki Marwat tribal leader said. This attitude prevents the military from providing the needed security to oppose massed Taliban attacks.

Other tribes claim to be equally opposed to the Taliban and US and NATO forces operating across the border in Afghanistan. "For us, the Taliban, NATO and the United States are all equals," a tribal leader in Bajaur said.

It is noteworthy that there should be such seeming agreement among many of these disparate groups that the Taliban represents at least a potentially malign force capable of meting out vengeance on those who stray from its agenda. That some tribes support the Taiban/AQ axis, while some bitterly oppose it may be seen as an exploitable bifurcation in the tribal ecosystem, one which the Pakistani government appears to be attempting to leverage (which seems to have gotten the miscreants' attention).

In this, it may be that the broad outlines of a viable battlespace for COIN operations is taking shape. If the fear of retribution for resistance against the Taliban, AQ, and their allied tribes can be credibly mitigated, it is conceivable that a more organized resistance could coalesce. The key would be to establish relationships with the tribal elders that are deeply informed by the nuances unique to each tribe, yet coordinated toward the attainment of a common purpose. This would take a special breed of field operators, led by an uncommonly perspicacious commander. Someone like....David Petraeus. As head of CENTCOM, Gen. Petraeus would be in the position to deploy conventional and (especially) Special Forces into the AO which could train and support local militias against their Taliban and AQ foes...not to mention rival tribes (which would likely be seen as a nice perk).

This possibility sheds an interesting light on what might otherwise appear to be another in a series of depressing accounts of counterproductive appeasements, in this case the overtures of Afghan president Karzai toward Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Karzai is a very smart man, with ample grounds for comprehending the malignancy represented by Islamist forces in the region. I don't think it is entirely out of bounds to speculate that by making an amnesty offer to those Taliban who choose to come in out of the cold, he is intentionally applying pressure to fracture lines within the Pashtun tribes which may be on the fence, separating the more intransigent elements from those who might be flipped. If so, it would be a cunning gambit which would make any subsequent COIN operations in the area a bit less difficult. If not, then the net results could still be exploited to good effect. At the very least, it could sufficiently disrupt the logistics and organization of AQ in the area enough to undermine or destroy the development cycles of any planned attacks on US or European interests.

If anything, this underscores the danger of simply throwing troops at Afghanistan, and potentially alienating the very people who are showing signs --albeit tenuous and sputtering-- that they might make enemies of our enemies. To borrow a phrase, this will take more scalpel than hatchet.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Ecolonics 101

Up till now, I have refrained from blogging about the financial crisis, as I'm the first to admit that I've scarcely reached yellow-belt status in my econ-fu (h/t to Mike for introducing me to that most excellent term). As they say, better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt.

But I've been doing some pretty extensive (for me, on econ matters, anyway) reading and watching and listening and thinking, and think it's time to dip in a toe. What I have been able to glean, in very general terms, is that the crux of the immediate issue before us is akin to a massive bowel obstruction in the viscera of our economy. Stay with me here. This blockage was created by the great mass of illiquid assets in the form of mortgage backed securities (MBS), themselves comprising masses of mortgages whose value has been allowed to become so ambiguous that they cannot be moved. All of the tottering financial edifices which have become so infiltrated by these inert clots stand to collapse, as credit markets cannot function without some reliable indices of value against which to borrow, and the underlying value of the mortgages within these MBSs has become quite impossible to ascertain.

These obstructions need to get flushed out. The Paulson plan, as I understand it, is to authorize the Treasury to purchase these MBSs and other bundled bales of bad mortgages at substantial discounts under the prices originally paid for them, and thus to extract them from the market, to be combed through and valued in some meaningful, transparent way. They could later be sold off in an orderly (and maybe even, in some cases, profitable) manner. This would, in theory, free the overall economy of the drag which they represent, and permit a stabilization of the marketplace through a gush of liquidity.

Now, given that the projected price tag for this enterprise looks to hover just south of a trillion dollars, it is understandable that there is pressure to craft the deal in such a way that there is oversight and transparency. This is as it should be. Where I think there could be real problems, though, is in further gumming up the works with all manner of provisos and caveats and additional conditions (like, say, tacking other forms of debt onto the buyout which, while they may also be troubled, do not contribute as centrally to the constipation of the system as do the dead mortgages the plan was crafted to excise). Those who seek to graft their pet porkers and populist projects onto these negotiations risk undermining what confidence there is in what is surely a perilous and unprecedented rescue plan. Perception is a key factor here, one which is reflected in the markets, and they have been making like the vomit comet as the wrangling has dragged on.

I am in no way advocating for undue haste and desperation in pushing this thing through. The whole thing offends my free-market sensibilities something fierce. The X-rays need to be pored over, and the treatment needs to be refined and streamlined (notably, the terms under which the treasury gets paid back need to be quite a bit more clear), lest it prove worse than the disease. But undue foot-dragging also has consequences which need to be assessed and mitigated. This is one reason why I doff my hat to John McCain for his canny, bold and responsible move to suspend his campaigning and possibly delay Friday's debate on foreign policy while he (and hopefully his opponents, since all three of these guys still have jobs to do as sitting senators) heads to DC to partake in the process. Sure, it'll bring a blizzard of presidential politics to the proceedings, but that could hardly be worse than the sorry spectacle we've seen so far. I daresay it might even provide a chance for the candidates to demonstrate a bit of leadership.

Care should, of course, be exercised, but further obstructionism will just as surely come back to bite those who commit it.

After all, the enemy of my enema is no friend.

(NOTE: Edited for clarity and...um...flow)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

This Is The Way We Spread The Smear

Over at Pajamas Media, Charlie Martin performs the service of drilling down into the sordid details of the emergence, spread, and perpetuation of a particular anti-Palin rumor (the one about how she "cut funding for the Special Olympics by half!" Which in reality refers to her having increased the budget...but by less than some desired). It is a worthwhile but sobering read, revealing a coherent --if not necessarily intentional-- mechanism whereby some scurrilous smear goes viral, surviving long after even the original sources have posted (largely-ignored, seldom-linked) corrections and retractions. It brings to mind the infamous "plastic turkey" meme which survives to this day, despite having been decisively roasted, stuffed and served up on steamer trays.

Now, I know enough about self-organizing dynamics of complex systems to grant that this sort of thing might simply emerge from the background noise of an increasingly noisome political ecosystem. I have a visceral revulsion toward undisciplined conspiracy-mongering, with its tedious penchant for raging cases of Occam's Razor-burn. I am perfectly willing to grant as the default position that this sort of national whispers-down-the-lane phenomenon is merely a case of replicative drift, amplified by the internet's lickety-split transmission of every idea, however corrupted.

Still, it bears mentioning that Martin's post links to analysis of the production and promulgation of a "viral" anti-Palin YouTube video (which falsely alleges the Palins belonged to the anti-American Alaskan Independence Party), tracking that video back to a PR firm with extensive links to the Democratic Party in general, and to the Obama campaign in particular. Might this be a case of astroturfing? The answer to that is kind of above my pay grade. Anyway, it's rather beside the point, that point being that it is incumbent on us as consumers of politically-relevant information to carefully and thoroughly vet that information, with full awareness that we are highly unlikely to encounter any such tidbits which originate from sources who do not have a dog in the fight.

In the case of Sarah Palin, the sheer histrionic toxicity of the discourse surrounding her should be prima facie evidence for any observer who even pretends to be interested in doing the work of formulating a rational opinion that they must exercise particular care. Nothing illuminates the GIGO doctrine more than a hotly contested election. Whether it is getting swept up in the blind, inanimate groupthink of a self-organizing rumor, or becoming the unwitting victims of a deviously crafted disinformation campaign, it is beneath the dignity of the participants in this Republic to suspend our critical thinking when making such portentous judgments.

Let us strive to have our vote be seen, and not herd.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Barack-Channel Negotiations (UPDATED, With Nuance)

I'm a couple of days late in commenting on this, but I wanted to give myself some time to digest the full implications, let my brain habituate to the cold medications, and refrain from any overly hasty commentary.

Nope. Still an outrage.

The upshot of columnist Amir Taheri's article is that, during his "fact-finding mission" in July, the Junior Senator from Illinois took it upon himself to make suggestions to the Iraqi Foreign Minister concerning the negotiations surrounding the Status of Forces agreement between the US and Iraq:

WHILE campaigning in public for a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Sen. Barack Obama has tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a draw-down of the American military presence.

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

"He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington," Zebari said in an interview.

Obama insisted that Congress should be involved in negotiations on the status of US troops - and that it was in the interests of both sides not to have an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration in its "state of weakness and political confusion."

Let's look at what this means. In December, the UN mandate which currently forms the legal basis for the Coalition maintaining its forces in Iraq will expire. The US and Iraq are currently engaged in negotiations to establish a formal agreement between our two sovereign nations whereby troops would remain in Iraq until conditions fully warrant their withdrawal. Since the US is not an empire in any traditional sense, and thus is not in the business of keeping troops in a sovereign nation without that nation's express permission (e.g., Germany, South Korea, etc.), it is vital that such an agreement be struck, or else the UN mandate extended.

What Obama did, publicly, and in front of many witnesses, was to try and inject his agenda into those negotiations, and to fundamentally change their course and goals. He suggested that the Iraqi Foreign Minister hold off on moving the negotiations along until after the US elections, instead going to the UN to extend its mandate for another year. He took it upon himself, without any official authorization whatsoever, to contradict the diplomatic efforts of a sitting Administration and bring about a state of affairs which would have proved advantageous to his campaign for the Presidency.

You see, if Obama had been successful in his little extracurricular foray into international affairs, he could claim that the Bush Administration had been unable to arrive at any substantive and detailed agreement with the Iraqi government for the continued stabilizing presence of Coalition troops in theater ("Failed Policies" and all that). Further, in the event that he should actually manage to get himself elected to the Presidency, he would then not be bound by any such formal agreement, leaving him free to enact whatever half-baked strategy of retreat he might ultimately cobble together.

Even if you grant (which I don't) that the hurly-burly of election year politics is an unsuitable climate for the negotiation of such a momentous agreement, it is most emphatically not the call of a lone senator (not to mention a candidate for the Presidency) to negotiate independently with foreign leaders, particularly on matters related to war...but this is what the Obama campaign pretty much admits to having done. It was a shockingly presumptuous (and arguably illegal) act.


According to this report from ABC News Correspondent, Jake Tapper, it may be that the situation is not as dire as the Taheri column had made it seem. The key bit of nuance here lies in the difference between the Status Of Forces Agreement (SOFA), and the Strategic Framework Agreement (SFA). The former, as described above, deals with matters pertaining to the presence of forces in theater, and is unarguably the province of the Executive Branch. The latter, according to Tapper, "is a document that generally describes what the relationship between the two countries should look like over time." It is more treaty-like, and can quite defensibly be said to call for Legislative involvement, since the Congress is Constitutionally mandated to review treaties with foreign powers.

Tapper reported that Obama had discussed slowing the pace of the SFA, and not the SOFA.

Tapper's report indicates that US Ambassador, Ryan Crocker was present at this meeting, along with other Bush Administration officials. It can be said with great confidence that, if Obama had committed the gross violation of separation of powers of which Taheri's original column had accused him, it would not have slid quietly under the radar till this week if it had happened within earshot of Amb. Crocker.

Taheri's rebuttal of the Obama campaign's rebuttal suggests that the Democratic candidate did not draw a clear distinction between the SOFA and the SFA, and that the two agreements are inextricably linked anyway (such that meddling in one necessarily entails interference with the other). He does make some salient points, which bear closer inspection.

However, given the apparent presence of Crocker and others at the meeting, and the element of doubt concerning the two agreements and the proper purview of the Legislative and Executive Branches in their drafting, it seems appropriate to turn down the heat on this matter, and await any further developments.

Surely there are more than enough other indications of Obama's unfitness to be C-in-C without getting overly worked up about something which may well turn out to be more teapot than tempest.

Tabled, pending...

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Russian Roulette

Riffing on George W. Bush's infamous comment about gazing into Vladimir Putin's eyes and experiencing what one can only assume was an optical illusion suggesting the presence of a soul, John McCain is widely quoted as having said, "I looked into his eyes and saw three letters: a K, a G and a B.” He's gotten a lot of grief over that from those who felt that he was being unduly and dangerously provocative. But, more and more, it's looking like yet another case of McCain-as-Cassandra.

Along those lines, this week's STRATFOR Geopolitical Briefing is a must-read. Here's an extended excerpt:

After the Aug. 7 confrontation between Georgia and Russia and the Sept. 10 deployment of Russian strategic bombers in Venezuela , there is little doubt that Russia is reasserting itself and that we are entering a period of heightened geopolitical tension between Russia and the United States. This period of tension is, as forecast, beginning to resemble the Cold War — though as we have noted in previous analyses, the new version will be distinctly different.It is very important to remember that while the hallmark of the Cold War was espionage, the efforts of the intelligence agencies engaged in the Cold War were far broader. Intelligence agencies like the CIA and KGB also took part in vast propaganda campaigns, sponsored coups and widely used proxies to cause problems for their opponent.


Fast-forward to 2008. Russia is no longer a Soviet republic in league with a number of other communist republics. Today, Russia is technically a constitutional democracy [ed. BWAA-ha-ha-ha!] with a semicapitalist economic system; it is no longer a model communist society or the shining light of Marxist achievement. In spite of these ideological changes, the same geopolitical imperatives that drove the Soviet Union and the United States to the Cold War are still quite real, and they are pushing these powers toward conflict. And in this conflict, the Russians will reach for the same tools they wielded so deftly during the Cold War.


Another consideration is that ideological change in Russia could mean Moscow will reach out to radical groups that the KGB traditionally did not deal with. While many KGB officers didn’t completely buy in to communist ideology, the Communist credo did serve as both a point of attraction and a limiting factor in terms of whom the Soviets dealt with. Since the Russian state is no longer bound by Soviet ideology — it is really all about power and profit these days — that constraint is gone. The Russians are now free to deal with a lot of people and do a lot of things they could not do in Soviet times. [emph. added]

If the preceding passages made the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, then you were paying attention. Although it was supposed to serve the Party, the KGB was reputedly composed of steely-eyed sophisticates whose icy pragmatism left little room for grandiloquent Communist bombast. They had always been all about power, but at least nominally served the interests of the Revolution, and so had to at least appear to work within the strictures of Communist ideology.

Now, it appears, the only red you'll see is on the teeth and claws of an unchained bear in a very, very foul mood.

As I've said before, there were some precious opportunities during the early 90s to shore up the Russian state, support its fledgling capitalist economy, and make true allies of our long-standing enemies. Those opportunities were resoundingly squandered by the Bush41 and (especially) Clinton administrations, and are likely lost for the foreseeable future. What is left to us is a bitter adversary with a long reach, a lot of practice, and very full coffers.

I truly believe that, if it is properly and firmly contained and confronted, the threat represented by Russia will be reasonably manageable, and full-on hot war could very well be avoided. Russia has no interest in pushing the envelope so hard that it would be truly isolated in the world; its economy may be flush with energy revenue, but it is brittle and shallow for now. Introducing more supply into (and/or removing some demand from) the global petroleum markets could strengthen our hand in this game (and in so many others besides) by lowering prices and thinning out the revenue streams with which Russia (and so many others) tend to finance the worst of their mischief.

But make no mistake, Putin's Russia will push in every direction in search of soft spots, and will fill any void it finds. We and our true allies (notably those who remember what it was like, back in the USSR) need to be everywhere they look.

So, the reader is heartily encouraged to reflect at length on exactly who it is that they want sitting across the table from the man that this fine young fellow grew to be...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Caucasus Belli (Part Two)

A little loopy on cold meds right now, so I beg the reader's forbearance for any graceless language which may emerge from the fog. Cooped up with me in the fuselage of that small jet this past week-end, it seems, was a virus with my name on it.

Last month, I wrote about Michael Totten's interview with two experts on Georgia, who convincingly argued that it was not Georgia which had struck first in South Ossetia, as is commonly believed. Instead, the contention is that it was Russia which had provoked a Georgian response, then used that response as the occasion to overrun and subdue its uppity neighbor to the south, and to thumb its nose at an international "community" which discovered --belatedly-- that it was powerless to do a thing about it.

In today's Examiner I found a piece in which the Georgian government has released recordings of intercepted phone calls from border guards near the mouth of the Roki Tunnel connecting Russian-controlled North and nominally Georgian South Ossetias.

The recordings released Tuesday, if authentic, will not cut through the fog of the final hours when escalating tensions burst into war. But President Mikhail Saakashvili hopes they will help dispel a dominant narrative that says his country was on the attack. He said they prove Russian tanks and troops entered South Ossetia many hours before Georgia began its offensive against separatist forces.

"Evidence in the form of telephone intercepts and information that we have from numerous eyewitnesses conclusively prove that Russian tanks and armored columns invaded our territory before the conflict began," Saakashvili told reporters.

Naturally, the Russians are bitterly disputing the authenticity of the recordings, and they may yet prove right to do so. Gods know, the situation in that part of the world does not lend itself to tidy narratives, and neither side can exactly claim objectivity.

Still, it is another data point among many which suggests that Putin's Russia is playing hard ball, and more than willing to exploit weaknesses where it sees them.

Witness also the willingness which the Kremlin has shown to align itself with even the most unhinged of Americas foes, and to play a very dangerous and short-sighted game of nuclear brinksmanship by proxy with the Mad Mullahs of Tehran. What emerges is a Russia which is calculating every opportunity to leverage whatever resources it can to thwart American interests abroad, and to position itself as a major player on the world stage. Using its energy resources as a strategic weapon, Moscow seeks to cement its ability to seduce and intimidate its potential competitors abroad, as well as its increasingly centralized and anti-democratic hegemony at home.

With a chilling mixture of guile and naked force, the neo-tsarist elites of Russia present a very serious challenge to the internationalist, soft-power orientation of the EU (and of leading Democrats here in the US). They are the bully on the global playground, and must be confronted accordingly.

Friday, September 12, 2008

New Abnormal

Sitting in a bar near O'Hare Airport in Chicago, watching the planes break through the low-lying cloud deck and slice through the rain, trailing wingtip vortices made visible by the prodigious moisture in the air.

A few hours ago, that was me, dropping through that cloud deck (after a flight which was spent in a featureless pearlescent white-out. So much for my eagerly anticipated gawking at the landscape).

A few hours before that, I was taking off my belt and shoes in public at Philadelphia International Airport, chuckling because it was more productive than stewing in rage at the medievalist miscreants who had made such antics necessary.

I'd been reading Fred Burton's Ghost (a good read, if you don't mind how hard he's trying to sound like a hard-bitten but hurting Film Noir detective), which did nothing to improve my mood with respect to the deadly earnest absurdities which travelers will face for the foreseeable future. Islamic terrorists have been targeting air travel for a long time. 9/11 was only the most recent and dramatic example of how those whose benighted dead culture dooms them to crawl in the dust have become obsessed with punishing those whose who thrive by denying them the skies.

During my news crawl, I came across this article on the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies site. I'm not going to go into this too deeply, since time is short, and I'd like to not be flooded with adrenaline and ready for combat during this pleasure trip. The article touches on the outlandish conspiracy theories which substitute for critical thinking in the Middle East. Such fantasies find all-too receptive audiences here, even among good, smart people who are trying to get a handle on the perplexing and appalling realities of a world at war.

Unfortunately, although proceeding from the best of intentions, those good folks are essentially making excuses for the barbarities perpetrated by our enemies. In the end, there is no justification for the deliberate targeting of innocent people going about their business...at least not within any belief system which we can afford to not crush decisively. It very simply does not make sense to draw equivalences between the tragic and accidental killing of civilians by weapons we have spent enormous sums of money to give the capacity to strike enemies with precision while sparing bystanders...and the very deliberate and merciless slaughter of those civilians for the sake of intimidating them into hewing to some demented religio-political belief system. As much as it may shock the multiculturalists and moral relativists, one is quite simply better than another, and behaving as though it were otherwise simply feeds into the agendas of the very people who will be the first to saw off the heads of those who have proved so useful in disseminating their narrative of victimhood.

On Sunday, I will be back in line at the airport, my cologne and toothpaste in ziplock bags, my belt and shoes on a conveyer, maintaining calm, vigilant situational awareness, taking personal responsibility for identifying any potential threats which airport security might miss. I'd much rather focus on the excitement of flying, which I love more than most things on this planet. As soon as we throttle up for takeoff, that's exactly what I'll be doing. Till then, however, I will be living in that "New Normal," and making sure that I begrudge every single goddamn second of it.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It Was A Gorgeous Day For An Atrocity

[by Mr.Hengist]

I can remember walking to my car and looking up at a stunningly crystal clear blue sky and thinking how spectacularly gorgeous it was, and how I’d have liked to have just stood there and stared at it but, alas, I had to get to work by 8:30AM and I was already tight for time. Shortly after I got to work I was sitting at my desk, working, and half-listening to the president and designer of the company for which I work yelling on the phone at his guy in Italy about a production issue, when he stopped short, and asked, quietly, “What?” and after a short pause, he said, “I’ll call you later.” It got my attention. Something was up.

He walked over to the Assistant to the Controller and asked her to bring up CNN on her computer. I was just a few desks away, and I opened my browser and did the same. The CNN webpage was loading slowly, so I got back to work and checked in a few minutes later. The pictures weren’t loading, but I remember reading something about a plane hitting one of the World Trade Center towers. I recalled a picture I’d seen of the Empire State Building after a B-25 had crashed into it in 1945 making a gaping wound in the side of the building. The CNN website was slower than I’d ever seen it. I could call up the front page sans pictures but not any of the articles.

The enormity of the day unfolded slowly, and my memory has gotten somewhat hazy over the years. My second assistant told me it was a stunt plane, something she’d heard on the radio. When the Controller told me what kind of plane it was, he asked me if it was big. “Oh, yeah,” I told him, “that’s a big plane. Transcontinental big!” After ten or twenty minutes I was able to get a picture from CNN but I could hardly make sense of it. I could see what seemed to be a slanted line on one of the towers with some smoke coming out in a few places. It wasn’t at all what I had imagined.

I remember when my second assistant told me that a second plane had crashed into the other tower. It was then that I knew this was no accident, that this was a deliberate attack on America, and I told her so. My second assistant spontaneously asked me the question we’d hear a lot in the following years, “Why do they hate us?” I mumbled a wishy-washy answer about how the United States had done some bad things in the world, but as the words came out of my mouth I knew that they were inadequate. I didn’t know what to tell her.

I remember when she told me that one of the towers fell. I was stunned, I looked away, and my unfocused gaze fell on a window overlooking green grass and parking lot asphalt, and I saw none of it, as in my minds’ eye I saw one of the towers toppling over, and I was awash in grief. “Oh, no,” I said, “Oh, no. All those people.” The people in the towers, the people on the ground, there had to have been thousands of people dead.

I remember later talking to my first assistant about it, and I was telling her we’d have to see how things played out. “This is war!” she shouted at me, and I thought, war against whom? Who had done this? How could we be at war when we didn’t even know who’d attacked us?

I remember the Controller telling me that there was a fourth plane hijacked and still on the loose. I looked him in the eyes and told him, “They’re going to shoot it down.” He turned away wordlessly, but later he came up to me and told me with some measure of astonishment that he’d thought about it and I was right.

I remember walking over to where my assistants were listening to a radio, and hearing the announcement calling for all active or retired firefighters, police, and medical workers to report for duty if able, and later that all the major roads going into the city had been closed. In the late afternoon my second assistant broke down in tears, and she told me she hadn’t been able to reach her father; he worked near the Trade Center and nobody knew if he was OK. I reassured her as best I could and explained that the cellphone networks are easily overwhelmed when a disaster strikes, so it was to be expected that his phone was unusable.

There were all kinds of conflicting reports about how many planes had been taken throughout the day, and at one point around mid-day there was a rumor reported on the radio that the Supreme Court building had been bombed. When I heard that I told the office staff that early news reports were often wrong, and that could take hours or days before a coherent, mostly-factual narrative emerges.

I kept on working throughout the day. I wasn’t going to let this stop me. I had a job to do and what was happening was fifteen miles away. Our NYC office was fine, and of the few people in the city I knew I could reach none f them, and there was work to be done. Besides which, I work for Israeli Jews, and after all their family and countrymen had been through with the Second Intifada I didn’t want to appear to be a weak American, unable to face assault and adversity. Still, I could feel it in the pit of my stomach, a leaden weight of dreadful haunting fear that would be my constant companion for the next several days.

I remember that after work the first place I drove was to a gas station to fill up the tank, just to be on the safe side (and I still carry the receipt); then the slow, slow drive home on unfamiliar local streets, bumper-to-bumper with thousands of other displaced commuters, and getting lost for a spell as I tried to keep on a generally correct heading, knowing that once I’d hit a major road I’d get oriented again. I occasionally caught glimpses of the Long Island Expressway, empty but for an occasional vehicle or two racing at top speed towards New York City, towards an ugly mess I could hardly imagine.

I remember getting home and calling my family to let them know I was OK.

I remember turning on my television but getting only static on most channels – the regional broadcast antenna had been on one of the towers, and the towers were no more. Channel after channel of static, and only fair reception on the rest.

I remember watching the news for the first time that day, watching the plane hit the tower, the enormous fireball that ensued, and watching the towers collapse, replayed over and over.

It was a year before I could be away from a radio or the internet for longer than a few hours without needing to check in and see if anything bad had happened. I needed to stay in touch or I would gradually become anxious.

It was years before I could see a commercial jet in the sky without feelings of vaguely ominous fear. Where is it going? Is it banking too steeply for normal flight? Is it flying too low, or too fast?

And to this day, when the sky is that gorgeous, deep, crystalline azure blue, I think back, and I remember.

Seven Years Hence

I was asleep when I got the call.

I seem to have a way of being woken from sleep when disaster strikes. I was snoozing when the Challenger exploded on liftoff, woken by my mother, grumbling about her tendency to exaggerate. I was deep into a long-forgotten dream when my friend called to tell me that Columbia had burned up on re-entry, with all hands lost.

On Tuesday, September the 11th, 2001, it was, again, my mother who rousted me from my slumbers to tell me that the World Trade Center had been struck by a plane and was on fire. I tuned into NBC news in time to watch the second plane hit. I watched, stunned to silence, as the billowing mountains of smoke poured from the stricken towers into that preternaturally clear and lovely morning, blinked and rubbed my eyes as the first tower fell, longing for it to be an optical illusion.

I am an expatriate New Yorker, transplanted by initially reluctant choice to Pennsylvania, where the market was rather less saturated with other members of my profession. I had only lived in Philadelphia for 11 months. I had been in New York the previous week-end. Most of my friends lived in and near Manhattan.

I began scouring my memory for any people I knew who might have been in Lower Manhattan that morning, and seized upon my closest friend, Mike, who was working at Goldman Sachs at the time. Heart-wrenching hours passed, during which I called his cell, over and over. But, of course, the cell tower had been atop the building, which was no more. As with so many of the other people who were straining the cell network to the breaking point, I labored to prevent my mind from straying too far into a reality without him in it. Finally, he called me back and described his harrowing experience of walking out of the Financial District with thousands of dazed and dusty souls.

It would be days before I had confirmation that my oldest friend (since kindergarten, and inseparable through much of childhood), a NYC Police officer, had escaped unscathed.

In the blurry days which followed, I begrudged every moment I was separated from the television, flipping back and forth through the constant coverage. By dint of having been the first channel to which I tuned, I locked onto Tom Brokaw as an emotional anchor (in both senses), such that his voice will forever be associated with those days in my mind. I learned about al Qaeda, dimly recalled the connection with the first WTC bombing of 1993, the attack on the Cole, and on the African embassies, I recalled the Buddha statues getting blasted by the Taliban, learned of something called a “Fatwa” against the US by that fellow, Bin-something.

Once it became clear to me that I had been outrageously fortunate enough to escape losing any friends or even acquaintances, I began to mourn in earnest for the only direct loss I had suffered. I had lost the Twin Towers. It was simply safer than thinking about all the innocent people who had been snuffed out that day (though, weeks later, on my first visit to NYC since the attack, with the acrid smell of burning insulation still hanging in the air, I had a vivid image of drowsy office workers commenting on the weather, munching bagels and sipping coffee as the nose cone of an aircraft looms bizarrely in the window, and wept. Finally.).

I loved those buildings. I had the good fortune to go, several times, to “The Greatest Bar On Earth,” sipping single malt scotch and smoking cigars and marveling at the full moon's frost on the harbor. Earlier, during college, my friends and I, flush with free-lance neurochemical tinkerings, tottered about the deserted streets of Lower Manhattan, finding ourselves seated on the benches of the WTC plaza, our gaze swept up those improbable geometers' lines like superhighways to the center of the galaxy, waiting for the inevitable “Blade Runner” flying cars to arrive for their slalom.

Seven years hence, the phantoms still shimmer on the edge of vision as I behold the wounded skyline of my beloved City.

No politics. This is simply too big, too elemental a subject to be so reduced.

The will to perpetrate such horrors must be recognized as the primordial enemy that it is. Whatever one's narrative of how it arises, the chilling subordination of essential human empathy to the merciless logic of ideology must be resisted with every sinew of our civilization, for the sake of civilization itself.

Three thousand worlds came to an end that day. We who inhabit those that remain have some decisions to make about what shapes they will take. We must be wary of the impulse to wrap the memory in a comforting cocoon of concepts, the temptation to insulate ourselves against the brutal force of that collision with raw, unconflicted hatred. Patient and implacable, the will that guided the hands of the 19 was not consumed in the flames that they wrought. It waits and tests and gathers its malice against the day when we next divert our gaze and relent in our efforts to subdue it.

I, for one, do not relish the thought of yet another rude awakening.


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ImPalin' the Smears

A bit of time has passed. After a highly compressed period of dutifully parroting and promulgating every scurrilous rumor about Sarah Palin, and pulling a straight-up CSI on the minutiae of her life and family, the MSM --shocked that Governor Palin did not dutifully and promptly prostrate herself before them for their trouble-- has finally scored an interview with the GOP VP pick. I await it with great interest, both for its own sake, and for any sign that sharp but relevant questions and good manners will at last be in evidence. I try to be optimistic about such things.

In the meantime, I have encountered multiple sites and postings and articles which debunk much of the mis-and-dis-information about the Alaskan Governor which persists in floating around the noosphere. Unfortunately, my search for such clarity on sites which do not lean (or topple) unabashedly Rightward yielded sparse results. This list came closest, though single-sourcing a blog is not a way to inspire much confidence in one's premises. So, I waited.

My patience was rewarded by this entry at factcheck.org, a site which I can't imagine anyone accusing of pandering to the Right (indeed, it seems to me that, if anything, they tend to put ever-so-slightly counterclockwise english on their findings). It very persuasively puts to bed many of the most worrisome bits about Sarah Barracuda.

For many, I fear it is too late to revisit their judgment of Gov. Palin. Indeed, as I've said before, I can't honestly fault one for feeling the stakes are too high to risk a false negative on accusations of would-be religious bleed-though into her potential governance. For myself, however, I am greatly heartened by the potential elevation of the discourse from the unsubstantiated and sensationalistic to the substantive and germane. There are weighty issues aplenty on which to assess Palin's readiness to be McCain's XO, without having to waste time filtering out the "ground noise and static."

A lot more responsible journalism and less nakedly partisan character assassination would do much to redeem the energetically self-beclowning media somewhat, and to let us get on with the business of making important political decisions.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

One Ring to Bring Them All, and In The Darkness Bind Them

Over at the Counterterrorism Blog, the estimable scholar on Islamism, Walid Phares is interviewed on the nature and status of the fight against al Qaeda and other Jihadi organizations. It is a quick but very rewarding read, in which Dr. Phares, with characteristic clarity and comprehensiveness cuts through many of the dangerous misconceptions about Salafist Jihadism (such as looking at groups like al Qaeda in isolation or, much worse, treating Islamist terrorism as a mere law-enforcement matter).

Phares maintains that the essence of what we are fighting is not a particular group, nor a set of tactics or regional conflicts, but a coherent ideology which exists independently of the various visible shapes it takes on the world stage. One passage in particular stood out to me:

SMITH: In the years since 9/11 and the war in Afghanistan, we’ve been talking about Al Qaeda as if it were a global force, with a reach extending from South Asia to the Maghreb and beyond. Then we’ve heard about Al Qaeda “the label” and “Al Qaedism.” From what we now know, how many of the ideologically sympathizing terrorist groups, from the Philippines to Algeria actually have connections to Al Qaeda and its leaders?

DR. PHARES: Again, many experts - unwilling to accept the reality that Jihadism is a global ideology and movement - went in different directions trying to explain the phenomenon away from its real and historic roots. Perhaps the little linguistic and cultural knowledge that was available pushed these analysts to adopt conclusions alien to the essence of Al Qaeda. In the Arab political debate there is not such thing as “Al Qaedism.” There is no such thing as Al Qaeda’s label or branding. The reality is simple: Beyond Al Qaeda and all similar organizations there is a one global ideology called Jihadism. If we compare this with the “Lord of the Rings” tales, Jihadism is the “ring,” a strong force that lords and leaders use in their quest for expansion. These lords such as Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri come and go. But the “force” - or ideology — remains and produces more leaders. So, Al Qaeda is a central organization for Jihadists, but there are Jihadi groups around the world, most of whom look at Al Qaeda as the great center. But again, this constellation, if you will, is the product of an ideology and of doctrinaires. If we fail to understand this, we fail to properly analyze the future.

Aside from geeking out over the spot-on Tolkien reference, I am impressed by the incisiveness of the observation. While many devote a great deal of breath and ink and pixels to the proposition that Osama bin Laden must be brought to justice (which he must) or that al Qaeda must be crushed (ditto), what is far less frequently discussed is the importance of discrediting the central ideology which animates these particular perpetrators and forms the wellspring of future foes.

Military prowess alone does not extinguish the flames in which Jihadists are forged (though sustained and humiliating defeat on the battlefield does weaken the claim to Divine favor for their cause). "Soft power" such as economic and diplomatic pressure scarcely scratches the surface of the great, lumbering engines which churn out "Lions of Islam" like the Uruk-Hai of Isengard. The dark breath which fills their lungs as they cry out to their god before dissolving in an angry cloud of ball-bearings and body parts comes from a far deeper source.

The "Cracks of Doom" for this particular Ring lie within the fissures which exist throughout Muslim communities worldwide, the chasm between their hopes for a proud, prosperous life, and the grinding despair of a civilization lacerated by a long slide along its collective rock bottom.

As the doctrine of counterinsurgency is applied in more of the regions in which the insidious whisper of Jihadist fanaticism and fantasism holds sway, the security and empowerment and self-determination which it brings will raise the temperature toward the Salafist melting point. As we have seen in Iraq, when pushed in this way, the true, desperate brutality of the Jihadi soul bares itself with the unmistakable contours of evil, and the people respond accordingly. Whether it is Zarqawi bombing a wedding in Jordan, or AQI baking the sons of tribal sheiks alive, the hideous nihilistic reality of Jihadism exposes itself when pressed, like the inscription on the One Ring becomes visible only in fire.

The seductive lure of appeasement and moral equivalency and retreat to the comforts of our Hobbit-holes must be resisted. In these epochal times, we are all Frodo Baggins.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Deception, Disinformation, and Obama's "New Politics"

In a blog post at The Atlantic, Marc Ambinder suggests that there were efforts within the Obama campaign to seed the political discourse with tales that GOP strategists were growing nervous about John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin as his VP, and were quietly cooking up ways to drop her from the ticket, rather like George McGovern in 1972 had done with his running mate, Thomas Eagleton.

In memos, e-mails and phone calls this week, Obama campaign officials have urged surrogates and allies to mention Republicans who are "nervous" about the Palin pick and to link those worries to George McGovern's aborted vice presidential pick of Thomas Eagleton in 1972, according to three Democratic surrogates.

That year, McGovern rescinded the pick after learning that Eagleton had been treated for depression. Questions about the thoroughness of the Palin vet have been raised, particularly about how and when Palin disclosed the news that her teenage daughter is pregnant and whether Palin's political resume had been thoroughly scrubbed.

On Wednesday, the campaign's chief surrogate wranglers distributed a three page compilation of quotes from Republicans concerned about the Palin pick. (See the text after the jump.) One surrogate said he had been urged to bring up the example of Eagleton in order to seed the idea that McCain might consider dropping him [sic] from the ticket.

Naturally, elements in the Republican party and commentariat were unnerved by the selection of Palin. It was, if one may say, an audacious move on John McCain's part, which could have gone terribly wrong (and still might). However, this is very different from the idea that anyone was seriously suggesting the calamitous move of dropping her so soon after selection.

The juxtaposition of these very legitimate worries (though you'll note that all of the articles in the Obama campaign's packet were dated before Palin's breakaway speech at the RNC...) with the specter of 1972 was a subtle and eminently deniable bit of innuendo. I had encountered the meme in some unexpected places on several occasions, and had I not been the sort to delve into such things I might very well have been left with the trepidation that the McCain campaign might actually commit such a suicidal move.

Were I an Obama supporter, I would have found such "news" to be quite encouraging. Were I an undecided voter, I might be inclined to shy away from a candidate who would make such a rash and foolish decision. See how it works?

Really a clever bit of politics, that.

But hardly the behavior of a campaign which possesses even a scintilla of the moral rectitude and post-partisan purity which The One so tediously affects.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Pastor Palin? A Brief Conversation (UPDATED)

I know; these pages have morphed into "All Politics, All the Time," while events stubbornly continue to unfold in the world beyond the Campaign trail.

Still, I hope any readers will grant your humble commentator a small indulgence; not being a Sports Guy, I've seldom experienced the rush of vicarious competition and micro-tribal affiliations and rivalries which are so often found in the enjoyment of those primate dominance games. Following this election has had a bit of that flavor for me. It's kinda cool. There's even been 'smack-talk.'

Transcribed (with permission) below is a brief Facebook exchange I had today with a friend who had posted an article on AK Governor/VP Candidate Sarah Palin's purported blurring of religious and civic duties. Pretty serious charge, which can't be ignored. So, I called up the full article, and examined its claims. My friend (who has asked to be called "Mysharonany") responded to even the hint of Church/State blending much as I would have done till rather recently. I share the view that those who mix their religion with their politics are pretty much 'crossing the streams' (in the Ghostbusters sense). I do understand that this is just the sort of thing which becomes a "bright line," Pass/Fail sort of issue. If I thought for a minute that there was any real danger of that line being crossed, I would have some very serious thinking to do. On the other hand, I can scarcely blame anyone else for setting the Acceptable Level of Risk slider at a point which differs from mine.

Anyway, here's the conversation:


Palin's Start in Alaska - Not Politics as Usual
Published: September 2, 2008


Anti-abortion fliers circulated. Ms. Palin played up her church work and her membership in the National Rifle Association. The state Republican Party, never involved before because city elections are nonpartisan, ran advertisements on Ms. Palin’s behalf.

Shortly after becoming mayor, former city officials and Wasilla residents said, Ms. Palin approached the town librarian about the possibility of banning some books, though she never followed through and it was unclear which books or passages were in question.

Ann Kilkenny, a Democrat who said she attended every City Council meeting in Ms. Palin’s first year in office, said Ms. Palin brought up the idea of banning some books at one meeting. “They were somehow morally or socially objectionable to her,” Ms. Kilkenny said.

The librarian, Mary Ellen Emmons, pledged to “resist all efforts at censorship,” Ms. Kilkenny recalled. Ms. Palin fired Ms. Emmons shortly after taking office but changed course after residents made a strong show of support. Ms. Emmons, who left her job and Wasilla a couple of years later, declined to comment for this article.

And for some, Ms. Palin’s first months in office here were so jarring — and so alienating — that an effort was made to force a recall. About 100 people attended a meeting to discuss the effort, which was covered in the local press, but the idea was dropped.

Ms. Palin also upended the town’s traditional ways with a surprise edict: No employee was to talk to the news media without her permission.




Defeated political opponents and disgruntled dismissed employees have issues with her (in many cases refusing to be directly quoted).

She is a Christian (whatever), and acts like one (but never *actually* acts to ban any books, later saying that the very subject was "rhetorical").

She supports gun rights in a state where large predators roam free.

Around 1 in 50 people make a half-hearted (unsuccessful) effort to recall her over her (successful) efforts to bring relatively explosive economic growth to her previously backwater town.

She acts to increase the seriousness of a political system in that town, elevating it above the Mayberry level (including acting to plug gossipy-politicky unauthorized chats by employees of her administration with the local media), meanwhile pushing through significant infrastructure and other public works improvements for the benefit of all.

And for this, she MUST be prevented from becoming vice president, lest she manage to force a theocratic agenda past filibuster-proof Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

What else ya got? ;-)


Anyone in public office that even suggests the possibility of banning books. . .should not be in the White House.

What about separation of church and state . . .

Her belief is that the United States sent troops to fight in the Iraq war on a "task that is from God."

She also urged ministry students to pray for a plan to build a $30 billion natural gas pipeline in the state, calling it "God's will."

Sorry. . .not my god . . . and anyone that thinks that way SHOULDN"T be anywhere near the White House.

And she is not PRO CHOICE. . .as far as I am concerned . . .for that reason alone, she should be kept away from the White House.

Pretty straight forward for me!!


OK, first off, I do hope you know that there is *no* love lost between myself and evangelical Christians. Hell's bells, I lived inside that head (a scary place) for a couple of years in the early eighties (hey, does that make me a "dead-again Christian?"). Of course you know that; sorry.

Re: books: It's hard to comment on what was in her head, since there is zero context here. For all we know, she may have been relaying a question from a constituent. What we do know is that, when told by the librarian that there was NO legitimate means for barring certain books from the library, she dropped the whole subject. Itchy as the topic makes me, too, this simply doesn't sound like the behavior of a zealot on a mission.

Separation of Church and State does not mean that politicians must not possess any religious beliefs. If a Wiccan politician articulated his environmental policies in terms of harmony with the Goddess, I might chuckle, but as long as he pretty much restricted such talk to Coven meetings, and didn't try and write it into any laws, I'd have no fundamental (har-har) problem with it.

In the article you quote (which is here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080903/ap_on_el_pr/cvn_palin_iraq_war) Palin was talking to ministry students, not a wider political audience. Do I think it's loopy to say that growing the economy, funding public projects, and advancing national security are somehow "God's Will?" Certainly. Do I think that these things are worth doing in themselves? Yup. Of course your mileage may vary on some specific *policies,* but that's kinda the point: as long as the policy is sound, then I don't really care if someone wraps it in some silly philosophy to find more motivation to git 'er done. If the policy sucks, then I'll give an atheist just as hard a time as I will a Hindu or a Muslim. Or a Christian.

Someone being anti-choice has been and will continue to be a Big Red Flag for me, as horrid as I find abortion to be and as hard I think we should work as a society to make it "safe, legal, and rare." But, as with all things, I try to look at the larger picture; regardless of what goofy views she may have, it is her intention and ability to push such views onto me which I have to look at, as well as the other, less goofy views she may have.

Her intention is suspect (remember, I was a Christian; I understand how they think, and they are CONVINCED that they have a good bead on the Universe, and want to bring everyone else along). No question, this is a legit worry (though there IS variation here: they don't ALL want to blend Jeebus and Jefferson, and some are even smart enough to realize that separating Religion and politix is as much for the protection of religion as it is for that of politix).

However, her ABILITY to do much damage on that front is dependent on what the other branches of government will let her get away with, should she be foolish enough to make a play for pushing any of this shite through. Like I said, the Congress already has a Democratic majority, and is looking to widen that gap in coming years. Even if Mac should shuffle off or resign, and Sarah should drop into the Big Chair, the Congress isn't going to let her get away with extremist Judicial appointments (which is really the ONLY point at which a President's religious views have any bearing on the matter of abortion anyway).

Far as I'm concerned, this frees me up to look at other policies she may have. That's a bigger question than we're gonna tackle here, since I rather suspect we have some contrasting views on those (>;-) ).


In the end, this is the sort of thing on which it is generally better to A2D, which is where we left it, and rightly so. My benchmark of what constitutes an acceptable risk, as a function of other issues which I judge to take precedence, is not one which I can reasonably expect others who feel strongly about the matter to assume.

Still, it does bear mentioning that the article which started all this appears to have taken some liberties with the content of the quotations on which it made its case. It is one thing to pray that the policies which one is working to advance are in keeping with one's God's will. It is quite another to declare that such policies are God's will. The latter is political malfeasance (not to mention shockingly hubristic theological malpractice). The former is a perfectly legitimate plea for the wisdom to pursue ends which are in line with the Plan of whatever deity one believes to have a dog in the fight. Given the audience (again, a group of ministry students at her church), I just can't seem to get too exercised about this; too much else seems marvelously right (no pun intended) about her compared to the things which worry me.

So, um, "Go Team!"

UPDATE: Found this AP article which speaks to Palin's actual behavior in office, and it is greatly reassuring about the extent (essentially nil) to which she has taken any steps to translate her religious views into policies, when she's had the very real chance to do so:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — As a candidate for governor, Sarah Palin called for teaching creationism alongside evolution in public schools. But after Alaska voters elected her, Palin, now Republican John McCain's presidential running mate, kept her campaign pledge to not push the idea in the schools.


Palin's children attend public schools and Palin has made no push to have creationism taught in them.

Neither have Palin's socially conservative personal views on issues like abortion and gay marriage been translated into policies during her 20 months as Alaska's chief executive. It reflects a hands-off attitude toward mixing government and religion by most Alaskans.

"She has basically ignored social issues, period," said Gregg Erickson, an economist and columnist for the Alaska Budget Report.

Submitted for your consideration.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Sarah Smile


I just finished watching the rebroadcast of Sarah Palin's acceptance speech at the RNC.

Palin was able to roll effortlessly from folksy and approachable, to professorial and wonky, with just enough knowing snark to highlight the absurdities of her opponents' arguments, and a dash of steely resolve which never strayed into off-putting brittleness. The ease and poise and effortless cadences of her delivery were spot-on and, frankly, far better than I'd expected. Her brief stumble then graceful recovery from an apparent teleprompter malf when talking about Venezuelan oil ("...oil discoveries...and its deliveries of that source..." around 20:15) hints at her ability to think and speak on her feet. Rather a relief, that, after the multitude of malapropisms which President Bush has so steadily fed to wincing listeners. And she can pronounce "nuclear!"

She owned the energy discussion, mixing in just enough geopolitical breadth to put the lie quite decisively to the "provincial hick" narrative so many have been so studiously trying to affix to her.

The fact that she has a son who will presently deploy to Iraq (and that her running mate already has offspring in-theater) may finally put to bed the pernicious "chickenhawk" meme. Hey, a guy can hope.

So, no tingles running up my leg or anything. I am still uncomfortable with Palin's social conservative stances on several issues (but, again, I judge her ability to do any real damage on that front to be minimal, given the likely composition of the Congress for at least the next four years). I await her performance in less carefully-scripted interview and debate formats, and the fleshing out of her foreign policy chops.

But tonight, the chances of the McCain campaign pulling an Eagleton on Governor Palin just became roughly equivalent to those of the Left embracing her as an exemplar of an empowered and inspiring female role model.

Life just became a whole lot more interesting for Obama and Biden...and for us all.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Circus Postponed: Elephant Still On The Ball

Much to discuss, and little time/energy to spare; the week-end was dominated by the wedding of my brother (in-law). It was truly a fine shindig, and a most auspicious pairing; may even shinier days await!

When I was able to steal away and sip some news on my ever-so-handy phone, I was relieved to read of the hugely improved response of local, state, and federal agencies to the thankfully less-than-catastrophic Hurricane Gustav. We have been hearing over the last couple of years that the lessons of Katrina had been learned, and that residents of the Gulf Coast would not be caught so devastatingly unawares again. It was gratifying actually to see the machinery of evacuation, policing and engineering swing so decisively and efficiently into action, and no less so even as the worst projections did not come to pass; better over-prepared than under in situations like these. One can only hope that the fine performance this time around does not lend itself to complacency when the next system takes aim at the Big Easy and environs.

On another front (as it were), I was also greatly impressed with the response in the Twin Cities, as the Republican National Convention, with virtually no notice, shifted gears to morph into a giant fund-raising and assistance convention. No, "shifted gears" does not begin to cover it. More like "turned on a dime." Political conventions are massive, excruciatingly carefully-orchestrated and choreographed affairs, with a very considerable momentum (and inertia) once set into motion. For the RNC to table all but the minimal, procedurally-mandated business, and also to retool itself, on the fly, into a storm relief telethon (complete with arrangements to fly delegates' families out of harm's way) demonstrated a degree of nimbleness which only the most jaded of partisans could fail to see as well-nigh miraculous. Also, the pitch-perfect decision to eschew political rhetoric at a time of potential national disaster cannot help but be seen as admirable sensitivity from a Party which some persist in accusing of crass politicization (in notable cases shamefully --if unsurprisingly-- failing to hold themselves to their own supposed standards).

Bravo, RNC! Hopefully tomorrow will bring yet another change, and a resumption of celebratory normalcy at the Convention, which will have been earned as few before it can be so audacious as to claim.