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Michael Ubaldi, January 8, 2007.
On Capitol Hill last week, Rahm Emmanuel, congressman and credited manager of last year's Democratic win of the legislature, was evicted from his party's house by a loud mob. The mob's leader demanded, at the podium microphone that was supposed to be Emmanuel's, unconditional surrender of a politically select battlefield.
Somewhere else in Washington, federal officials imparted, to New York Sun reporter Eli Lake, who-and-what information on a small number of Iranians seized in Baghdad this past December. Lake reported that which a third of Americans won't be disabused of: Iran does not "encourage" terrorists and criminal gangs in Iraq, it sponsors and guides them according to a deliberate strategy of influence and annexation.
And in the Oval Office, President Bush rehearses a speech to be delivered Wednesday night. It is one that will, if Lake's unidentified sources are worth the trouble, implicate the Iranian dictatorship in some measure as the president enunciates strategic changes on the Iraqi front that would satisfy domestic caprice. How far Bush's command can be taken no one knows, inasmuch as what's most obvious is the congressional majority of an opposition party that is just short of a politic way to concede one of two primary fronts advanced in the first five years of the war.
While that is in play, the rest of the world gets on, and whether or not Eli Lake's correspondents are right, Iran — we know from the ventriloquism of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's handlers — is going to arm itself with an atomic bomb first and eradicate Jews within missile range second, and should that sequence engage, anything is possible third. George Bush has suffered from criticism that is unfair, at times dishonest. To see confidence in those who partly took power thereby and are willing, if not quite ready, to cut Near East democratists loose and appease one or several enemies, gnaws at the heart.
The trick to keeping Neville Chamberlain's invocation from becoming cant is in how vividly one recounts the times and ways Britain's prime minister was taken by Adolf Hitler, again and again, for a chump. The 1938 treaty flaunted as "Peace in Our Time" was signed by Germany's dictator in malign faith, but "as symbolic of the desire of our two peoples never to go to war with one another again," in the language Chamberlain had seen to, the escape from a necessity to confront evil could not be more distant than in writer William Shirer's relation of this subject to captured German and Italian documents: "Hitler and Mussolini had already agreed at this very meeting in Munich that in time they would have to fight 'side by side' against Great Britain."
Chamberlain came late, but not too late, to reason. Just a little time is left for opponents of a war stance, if they want to take it, to call what George Bush has done, at the very least, haste. Then denial will be near impossibility. We can be thankful for this enemy's temerity and insistence; for all to see, they who will see.
Michael Ubaldi, January 4, 2007.
Headlines were won today by one of those billionaires turned dreamers turned financiers of spacemen. Jeff Bezos, founder of internet retailer Amazon, revealed through his astronautic company Blue Origin a prototype vehicle, one intended to propel upward men who purchase tickets therefor. In these heady days when one can privately shoot a homemade, manned rocket into the air, Bezos joins fellow entrepreneurs Paul Allen and Sir Richard Branson. Allen supplied monies for SpaceShipOne, the craft that won the suitably neologist X Prize Foundation's low-orbit competition. Branson has invested in successor SpaceShipTwo and started his own space transport and tourism service, Virgin Galactic, pending the necessary astro-yachts.
A good free marketeer accedes to the practice of profit, insofar as some people contrive material success that happens to depend on pleasing other people, and rests that case against one for public science and learning. Granted, the state can certainly achieve what elected and appointed servants intended: leaps in aerotechnology in both World Wars, the atomic bomb, electronic data intercommunication. But it is the private sector that has run with these ideas: transcontinental flights to about anyplace, nuclear commodities, the local area network and the internet, alternative media wherein all this can be discussed, there you go.
To NASA went billions, to the moon went men — and for the treasure of knowledge, the inventions that were incidental but are today essential, the national space program deals mostly in robots and crews of seven that could one day be younger than their vehicles. Presidents say "moon" or "Mars," and then, quietly, identify a year some decades away. Jeff Bezos, then, can spend money on as many gumdrop-shaped starships as it takes for man to fly on gumdrop-shaped starships, probably far more than, say, a young Senator Walter Mondale would have allowed for The Final Frontier.
Still, the same day, there are two little rovers creeping around on Mars. The taxpayer funded a mission ninety Mars-days long, yet Spirit and Opportunity are still working after one thousand. Decadal longevity is typical for government programs, yes, but very few projects yield dividends like the Mars rovers. Let Branson and Bezos take us to the stars; send a little more money to Spirit and Opportunity, care of Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Michael Ubaldi, January 3, 2007.
Reading about the latest crimes by soldiers in United Nations livery, Glenn Reynolds references isolated and prosecuted exploitation or murders committed by American troops to mark a double-standard. "Since we're talking about the U.N.," instead of the United States, "it's just one of those regrettable incidents that can't be helped, really." Except that, in the usual opinions, George Bush probably could have done something to prevent Blue Hat abuses; so the president can still be found at fault.
American intervention, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, contrasts with the kind of limerence behind transnationalist calls for action in a harrowed Third World country elsewhere, like the Sudan. An overthrow and deliberate, costly replacement of Sudan's despotic order (and those of its intrusive neighbors) using the force of arms would be required to end strife in the country. It can be done, but are Darfur's biggest fans supportive?
The worst lie to have been told about miracles is that Providence delivers them not to complement mortality but take up slack. So we see great effort put into creating organizations to exhibit concern; solutions to problems, not so much.
Michael Ubaldi, January 1, 2007.
Saddam Hussein enters death, deported thereto by a court elected governance sustained, and the man who disturbed so much for a country and the world, we might have been told these last couple of days, makes in absence no difference to the living.
What's one man? A lot, if he will be a master to slaves.
One variation on Hussein's penalty bearing no significance or relevance is to compare the execution to the poor profits of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. Analogies to the Weimar Republic and Versailles are inapt, but illustrative of the weakness in justification for clemency.
If the fall of the Weimar were simply a matter of the severity of collective punishment, then Italy should not have fallen to fascism a decade before the rise of the Nazis. And if Germany's national socialists were to have relied solely on depression and public discontent, the Third Reich would never have come to be.
What was necessary was a methodical undermining of successive elected parliaments, chiefly by one man, General Kurt von Schleicher, who after three years could finally persuade a senile President Paul von Hindenberg to appoint "that little Austrian corporal" to chancellorship of a coalition government. The last German autocrat ascended not because the Great War ended with an exaction of vengeance, but because the victors' treaty did not, as in 1945, deracinate institutions of Germanic authoritarianism.
The trial, conviction and execution of Hussein and any other culpable adjutants is, whatever the emotions or difficulties of the moment, one step in the eradication of authoritarian culture. Now, the dictator's executioners indeed included Shiites who, as has been confirmed, were chanting, with one reference to a late Shiite cleric. On one hand we shouldn't let modern Western timidity of religious zeal color our judgment of men who, in spite of themselves, mocked a man who literally controlled most aspects of their lives in all memory. On the other, the Iraqi state is in contention, and compulsion is the way of those who also speak like the gallows' witnesses.
The following has already been stated by some commentators, but thankfully so: the deposition of Saddam Hussein is nearly without precedent. One hundred years ago the balance of democratic governments were interested in the larger world mostly to find their own ways. Fifty years ago the free world defended itself along boundaries and prosecuted crimes against human dignity out of obligation to closure.
Then there is Manuel Noriega, removed from power in a single American stroke, whose former estate of Panama is now liberal and free. Even with other factors engaging the campaign in Iraq, that Hussein was indicted, captured and consigned to a sentence begs whether dictatorship is a crime that the democracies should finally see codified. Men kill other men for power because they believe they can do it with impunity, but now despotism could be a fugitive's affair.
As to the trifecta that is a declared enemy of Iraqi democracy — gangs mostly under Muqtada al Sadr, Ba'athists and Saddamites, and al Qaeda — their provenance is denied when one conflates forgiveness with a recognition of wrong, and places Hussein's end in terms of "Iraqi reconciliation." All sources of finance and guidance of the three are themselves fascistic: Syria, Iran, and other quasi-governmental totalitarian parties in the region.
These actors are not driven by grievance or cause. They simply want — like Saddam Hussein — total, arbitrary control over as many people as possible, and will use violence and fear to attain it. And they, like Saddam, must not be excused but confronted, defeated, and destroyed.
Michael Ubaldi, December 29, 2006.
It was the despot's last harangue,
Michael Ubaldi, December 21, 2006.
Should there be mandatory military service? wonders Mark Krikorian. Krikorian may wish to confront the problem by answering a pair of questions.
First, what went wrong with the Baby Boomers? Three twentieth century wars, each proportionately bloodier than the Vietnam War, were sufficiently manned by draftees. Second, why is impressment necessary in order to imbue patriotism and civility? The executive or legislative wing in the capital, or both in concert, could appeal to the public and issue a call to arms — the phrase "Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country" might be put to greater use than a typographical exercise. If armed forces are meeting or surpassing their recruitment quotas now, a love of country must still abide. Washington has compelled; today it modestly hopes. Can't it try asking?
Michael Ubaldi, December 19, 2006.
Jim Kuypers, assistant professor of communication at Virginia Tech, wrote a book titled Bush's War: Media Bias and Justifications for War in a Terrorist Age. According to an accompanying press release, Kuypers, who has studied for some time journalism's various prejudices to fact, concentrated on what President Bush says one day and what, of that which he said, American press agencies tell their audiences by day's end. He found discrepancies between the two approaching totality, so that "if someone were relying only on the mainstream media for information, they would have no idea what the president actually said. It was as if the press were reporting on a different speech."
In Iraq there is, or isn't, a native named Jamil Hussein who, quoted as a district police captain by the Associated Press in several articles on murder in Baghdad, remains a witness that has yet to take the stand, possibly because he doesn't exist. The impression of terrorist and gang violence in Iraq's capital was enough, for most of this year, to protract a suspension of disbelief when wire reports announced death and mayhem on this or that street corner. On the day after Thanksgiving, however, consumers of news were asked to believe the sensational: arsonists set alight four mosques and six members of one congregation. Bloggers oppugned, American and Iraqi forces investigated: only one mosque with slight burn damage, no immolation in evidence. And, to date, no Captain Jamil Hussein.
The cynical rejoinder: What difference does the subtraction of six murders make? That is similar to extenuation, which comes from National Review's chief editor Rich Lowry, arguing that "realism is essential in any war, and it is impossible without an ability to assimilate bad news, even bad news that comes from distasteful sources." But what if "bad news" isn't representative of reality? What if it is false? When a) patently faulty goods that involve b) the guarantees of a possibly fictitious consultant are sold, and then c) repeatedly and acrimoniously defended by an executive as suitable for consumption, the whole of the company's product is called into question, on the intuition that dishonesty at the apex reaches all the way back down to the foundations.
For an end-of-year international edition Newsweek did its job and helped the Iraqi and American governments with what they have been desperate to make known: the Iraqi economy, particularly at the entrepreneurial level, has grown markedly. Standards of living, through the purchase of electronics and other retail amenities, have improved. How is all of this possible in a place that is, in print and on television, ever in pandemonium? That, with a glance at history, it really isn't, rebuts the cynic. A savage enemy isn't necessarily omnipotent, or favored by veritable conditions. Kuypers denounces the press as having become an "anti-democratic institution," something to which journalists should give more than a moment's thought, maybe a few column inches.
Michael Ubaldi, December 13, 2006.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh began his visit to Japan today. The meeting between his representative party and three others — from Japan, Australia and America — was, last week, one subject in an interview conducted by the Yomiuri Shimbun. Of interest is Singh's opening statement, in that he wished "to use [his] forthcoming visit to Japan to gain a better understanding of Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe's idea of closer cooperation among major democracies in the region." If the free world were to be judged on its toleration of interposing dictatorships it might successfully plead that for much of the last half-century it didn't have much of a choice; although the divergence between liberality and totalism is, today, neglected as a driver might ignore turns in the road.
Singh, for example, objected to the use of his country as an antecedent for the dictatorship just to the west, as in: If India has nuclear weapons, then why not Pakistan? The world, said Singh, "must make a distinction between an open, democratic and responsible state like India, from others who have pursued clandestine programs and indulged in proliferation." Paging A.Q. Khan; Mister Khan, please. India pesters democratic nations with customer service hirelings while Pakistan indirectly threatens them with an Islamofascist export — one that the unsteady autocrat, Pervez Musharraf, should, under the theory of diplomatic fantasticism, stably contain. Singh and, too, Abe, have been asking what it takes for a free state to defend itself. Being a charter member was constituent to world affairs when the democracies were nothing but.
Michael Ubaldi, December 12, 2006.
Independent reporter Bill Roggio, currently embedded in Iraq, has caught the attention of someone at the Project for Excellence in Journalism. In an article for the Christian Science Monitor, author Dante Chinni finds Roggio worthy of some left-handed compliments — not bad for a dilettante whose work "can sound a lot like government talking points filtered through war stories."
Chinni describes Roggio's work as "one-sided." Full stop. How is it? Before leaving for Iraq, Roggio was concentrating on analysis of failures of the Pakistani government to militarily engage the Taliban, and that is not at all a cheery undertaking. In theater, Roggio has described events, often instigated by the enemy, as they happened. Unlike mainstream accounts, Roggio — like freelancer Michael Yon and others — actually reports spontaneous and responsive actions of American and allied forces.
It is rare, very rare, to turn on the television or radio, or open the newspaper, and be informed of more than what the enemy has done. Unless military publications are accessed, we will read or hear "car bombing kills x," not "American and Iraqi troops capture and kill y." News, heartening news, is made daily by the defenders of Baghdad's elected government, but it seldom reaches the homefront. Here Roggio is one of less than a dozen embedded reporters in the whole of the country, and Chinni devalues a recent, direct conversation with Marines into "only a few voices and anecdotes."
On that, what is the "other side" Chinni speaks of, and how would a journalist substantiate it? Chinni doesn't explain what he means. So either the phrase is meaningless, a disparagement of an interloper; or that journalism's "balance" requires soliciting the opinions of those who violently act against freedom of the press itself, to whom truth and civility are valueless, in which case Bill Roggio knows better.
Michael Ubaldi, December 11, 2006.
Bristol-Myers Squibb has been developing and marketing ameloriative drugs for HIV and AIDS ten years now, and the pharmaceutical company sponsors a campaign to caretake disease sufferers in Africa, as part of its international foundation. A modest internet event, "Light to Unite," allowed visitors to a website to put a match to a wick and engage one of a total hundred thousand dollars that would go to, this time, the National AIDS Fund.
Charitable extracurriculars disturb the spirit of Milton Friedman, who would say that a company's moral imperative is the legal profit its investors deserve, and anything else is a distraction, best done by eleemosynary parties themselves, but here we are. And here is where measure on measure of corporate altruism is never good enough because — why? Because drug companies, confound them, operate in the free market and those hired to lead them do not object to profit. Ostensibly, detractors would be satisfied if medicine were without patent rights, or came for free, or bubbled up from a public institution.
Or any number of rectifications I heard from a small number of people who thought "Light to Unite" cynical and deceptive. As with most anti-capitalist argumentation, there was contradiction. While one said that not enough money is spent on R&D, another thought new medicines are cheap and easy to make. Dismissing medicinal research as desultory work is, of course, wrong. Even if the creation of a new compound to meet a specific preventative or corrective need weren't enough of a challenge, there is testing and application, and then distribution.
But many have still got the arrangement backwards, and actually believe that companies are obligated to produce medicine for the public; they're not, but rather choose to sell medicine in the market. If business practices offend, these companies can always vacate the market, or will do so out of self-interest like most makers of flu vaccines have over the last couple of decades.
What is so strange about the daydreams about private enterprise is the mistaken impression of secluded executives swimming in cash — when in fact those executives are employees of regular citizens, shareholders, consumers of the company's products.