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Saturday, May 18, 2002

QP Saturday

Will Vehrs
While Tony was rocking and rolling last night, I was keeping a vigil for the Ipse Dixit Caption Contest. Sadly, I fell asleep before learning this morning of the shocking turn this contest has taken.

I've always operated under this principle for The Refuge: all the brothers are valorous, all the sisters are virtuous, especially when it comes to the Caption Contest. I'm not sure now about the virtuous part for this week's winner, the mysterious "Rags." Her winning entry, and an additional entry to boot, traded on satirizing yours truly, the QP Caption Chronicler and chronic captioner. "Rags," to paraphrase the father of the conservative movement, Barry Goldwater, "extremism in the pursuit of funny captions is no vice."

Great entries, as usual, from the returning JulieC, the always sharp Dan, and our friend Ray. Tony's Carter/Cuba antagonist, Susanna, is also a player to reckon with. Dodd has been picking great pics for the contest, photos that almost write their own captions.

That's something to remember when entering this week's contest ....

Friday, May 17, 2002

A Washington Gala

Tony Adragna
Your's Truly is on his way to this evening's NAACP National Voter Fund Annual Washington Gala -- as guest of the COO. Today's date is significant - it's the 48th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education.

Don't expect any reportage -- I'm just going to have a good time!

Addendum: Addressing Susanna's most critical concern -- that Mr. Carter is "trading off his ex-presidency" -- all I can say is: Well, DUH!

I don't see how an ex-president can avoid that charge, though. Anybody who hires an ex-president, or is willing to lend an ear, is going to do so because he's an ex-president.

Agreed: I wouldn't have gotten permission from the U.S. government to meet with Castro. But that begs a question: would Castro have wanted to meet with me? Of course not - why would he! And don't forget that the U.S. government gets something out of the meeting, too -- I'm sure that State had a few things they wanted said to Castro. Ironically, the "democracy message" is something that Carter didn't need any instructing on - he would've done it anyway.

So, the U.S. gets some of the advantages of a high level diplomatic mission, without having to send an official representative. TRust me (or don't), the administration got just as much use of Carter's status as did Carter himself.

Besides, if it's a choice betweem using the "ex-presidency" to (a) preach democracy or (b) generate income from directors stipends and speaking fees, guess which model I prefer...

Thursday, May 16, 2002

The Disconnect: Rhetoric v. Action in re: U.S. Cuba Relations

Tony Adragna
I think I smell one of those DC rats that Josh brought to everybody’s attention. But, this rat, or I should say these rats -- for there are many of them, and they aren't from the same nest -- are busy stinking up some federal office space.

What am I talking about? The Carter imbroglio -- what else!

Let's first dispense with Undersecretary Bolton's remarks to the Heritage Foundation. In context, I think it perfectly clear that Mr. Bolton wasn't aiming his comments at Mr. Carter's mission. Even if his belief that Cuba has an active Biological Warfare research program isn't true, and nobody at State or Defense has been able to unequivocally aver that there is any intelligence pointing to such a program, there is still reason for concern in Cuba's sale of dual-use technologies to countries like Libya and Iran. You don't need to be pro embargo to be anti proliferation.

Unfortunately, some conservatives have taken criticism of Mr. Carter's call for an end to the embargo beyond a rational limit -- I've even heard Mr. Carter labeled a "traitor" by a guest on one of FOX's primetime news shows. Likewise, liberals have taken their criticism of Mr. Bolton beyond a rational limit -- accusing him of deliberately attempting to sabotage Mr. Carter's trip. To make matters worse, Mr. Carter did speak much too candidly in criticizing Bolton's comments -- he added fuel to the flames of both sets of critics, while making U.S. national security policy look irrational in the eyes of Castro's defenders.

But, I must cut Carter some slack. See, Carter's failings aren't those of someone who lacks "moral clarity" -- he takes what he truly believes is the proper moral stance, and he doesn't back down. I would even go so far as to argue that his own sense of "right" is what contributed most to his greatest success -- peace between Israel and Egypt.

The one time that he did back away from his own moral intuition -- he took the advice of his NSC over the objections of Cyrus Vance and his own concern for the safety of U.S. citizens in a foreign country -- resulted in his worst failure. He got sandbagged, and U.S. citizens ended up spending 444 days as hostages of the Ayatollahs. One of those hostages, William J. Daugherty, wrote a good assessment of exactly what went wrong.1

I can certainly agree that Carter's response to Bolton was ill considered in the context. However, the response was at least consistent with everything that we know about the man. Far from being an exercise in Carter playing "politics" -- as my esteemed opponent in the debate contends -- Carter is taking another of his principled stances. Disagree with him on point, but don't confuse him with a "politician."

Indeed, about the only thing that's agreed upon by Carter's most ardent defenders and detractors is that he is The Anti-Politician. Remember how it was that Carter was even able to get elected. Elected as someone who was supposed to restore integrity to the office -- Nixon had evaded impeachment by resigning, and Ford took heat for the original pardon scandal -- Carter's initiatives were doomed by his own self-imposed inability to compromise for the sake of consensus on his domestic agenda. The very notion that Mr. Carter is now engaged in “politics” is, well, laughable.

Those two words -- "compromise" and "consensus" -- bring me back to the point of this issue of "The Disconnect": the current Cuba imbroglio. What's it really all about?

It certainly isn't about Bolton's comments to the Heritage Foundation, though they were made at a time when several events converged in a such a way that the wave has been amplified to tsunami like proportions -- drowning out both Carter's clear call for democratic reform in Cuba and another matter that was of even greater concern to the current administration's policy on Cuba. What was of greater concern than Carter's trip? Would you think I was full of it if I said - the Farm Bill? Now here's a political exercise if you're looking for one.

The Senate version of the bill contained a provision to allow U.S. banks to provide private financing2 of agriculture and medicine sales to Cuba. The House version didn't contain any similar provision, yet the House did vote in favor of an "instruction" to the conferees - accept the Senate language. Something funny happened in the conference, though -- the provision got dropped. Why?

Hmmm... Might it have been that the conferees buckled under the pressure of a White House which has spoken of the embargo as a "moral statement"3? Were the legislators worried that Mr. Bush might veto their Farmers' Protection Act of 2002 -- a lose - lose - lose proposition for Cuba, U.S. Agro-business, and the lawmakers themselves?

Are the lawmakers unprincipled? Depends on what "principle" is topping the list -- if you can get your constituents taxpayer funded payoffs and additional sales4, that's alotta "principle" talking.

Actually, any way you analyze the result, Cuba doesn't lose. Why? Because the embargo only works at cutting off U.S. business from Cuba -- just about everybody else who wants to is doing business with Cuba. The only country losing on the embargo is the U.S.
And, we're not just losing potential gains -- we're also losing gains on property that was confiscated by Castro's regime.

And what is Mr. Bush doing? Well, he's continuing his predecessor’s seeming pro forma suspension of Title III of the Helms-Burton Act. This title is the provision which allows suits to be brought against companies transacting on confiscated properties. In other words, in the absence of an effective embargo, and while urging our allies to respect our common purpose in the embargo, the suspension eviscerates the only effective tool in protecting U.S. interests in Cuba.

Adding insult to injury, in both instances where Mr. Bush suspended Title III of the act the State Department included language in their announcement which points to Mr. Clinton’s precedent: “Former President Bill Clinton suspended Title III throughout his second term in office.”5 Is Mr. Clinton’s judgment now to be trusted in matters of a “moral” nature?

So much for Mr. Bush’s supposed “moral clarity.” If the Circus in Crawford – featuring the Clown Prince hisself –, the implicit support for Arafat – I’m still wondering why we don’t pass on him and look for a relationship with some more amenable Palestinian – and any other of the numerous instances where Mr. Bush has opted for “compromise” and “consensus”, haven’t convinced some people that this administration sees “moral clarity” as nothing more than a rhetorical tool to be used in fighting domestic political battles, then I’ve got to wonder about exactly which reality those people live in.

I think it’s clear – to me, anyway – that Mr. Carter is taking a principled moral stand that’s perfectly consistent with his humanitarian philosophy. I’ll admit that there’s valid argument against Mr. Carter’s proposition, but I can’t listen to the Bush administration’s argument without noting its inconsistency – its inherent want for the “moral clarity” not present in action.

What this imbroglio is about is the dispute among Republicans in separate departments of the Executive, and the Executive’s dispute with members of its own party in Congress. It’s a domestic political game, the rules of play being whatever it takes to appease Cubans (and Americans of Cuban descent) in Miami, and the winner gets an election victory. Too bad Mr. Carter and Cubans in Cuba just happen to have gotten caught in the crossfire.

1. A First Tour Like No Other, Fall 2000 Studies In Intelligence 167. Daugherty was assigned to CIA Station Tehran
2. Sales of food are allowed, but the transactions can't involve any U.S. financing.
3 . "As I said on Cuban Independence Day, the sanctions the United States enforces against the Castro regime are not just a policy tool, but a moral statement" July 13, 2001 STATEMENT BY THE PRESIDENT Toward a Democratic Cuba
4. Estimates: $3.6 billion annually according to research by two Texas A&M professors (TEXAS AG ECONOMY COULD BENEFIT FROM LIFTED TRADE BARRIERS WITH CUBA, AgNews Jan 31, 2002, Texas A&M), or more conservatively (and, probably closer to realistic) $.658 - $1 billion annually according to a report prepared for Congress by the U.S. International Trade Commission "an independent, nonpartisan, fact-finding federal agency” ("Text: ITC Releases Report of U.S. Economic Sanctions on Cuba", 16 February 2001).
5. ” Text: Bush Extends Suspension of Title III of Helms-Burton Act", 16 July 2001, and “Text: Bush Informs Congress of Need to Renew Helms-Burton Title III Suspension", 17 January 2002.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002
Susanna Cornett has been objecting to Jimmy Carter’s “meddling”, and points to my defense of Carter in a comment to an earlier entry. I think that the criticism (not just from Susanna) is both misleading and disingenuous.

Susanna says, “THE OLD PRESIDENTS CLUB should have their speech and traveling priviledges revoked if they keep doing stunts like this.” Problem: Carter’s travel to Cuba hasn’t anything to do with the "traveling priviledges" of "Old Presidents" -- that's a blatant mischaracterization.

Carter's "license" to travel to Cuba falls under the same guidelines by which journalists, academics, and organizations regularly travel to Cuba. That the trip was granted approval by the administration is no indication that the trip is anything less [or more] than what Mr. Carter asserts -- in fact, all travel to Cuba by persons who are subject to U.S. jurisdiction must be "licensed" by the U.S. government.

The Carter Center has been involved in these types of "missions" for years -- want to criticize the trip to Cuba, fine, but the trip is consistent with what the center has always done. Why suddenly spook up some criticism over "meddling"? AHA - because we're talking about Cuba!

I repeat: concern over impact on U.S. policy vis a vis Cuba might be better directed at the efforts of U.S. business interests to lobby Congress for an end to the stringent asset control regime irrespective of Cuba's domestic political environment.

Indeed, there's a good argument that "engagement" -- diplomatic and economic -- will lead to greater freedoms for Cubans in Cuba (unlike playing the domestic political game of appeasing Cubans in the U.S., which does nothing to benefit Cubans in either place, but certainly benefits the political parties). That was once an argument which enjoyed CW status amongst conservatives, going back at least to engagement with China during Richard Nixon's presidency.

'Splain me sometin’, Lucy, wa hap’n’d?

Monday, May 13, 2002

What's a Blog?

Tony Adragna
I've been, of course, following the discussion on who gets it and who doesn't vis a vis blogs. There seems to me to be those who still haven't gotten over the "web diary" model, lined up against others who argue that the real value in blogging is that blogs "push" news with value-added in commentary. Since I try to be mostly an essayist, I like to think of the two models as original content v. link 'n lob. But, I think both arguments miss the point, because the content, form, and intent of the authors aren't unique to blogging, and aren't consistent within the Blogosphere (term coined by Bill Quick, who is occupying my city).

I like the link 'n lob model, even though it's not what I prefer to do. But, is it a new form? Certainly technology has made it much easier to get at cited1 material -- the author embeds a pointer that takes the reader directly to the cited material. However, pointing to cited material so that the reader can get to it isn't itself an innovation. It's not even an innovation in media -- media critics have been using the link 'n lob for years, and it's not unusual for a newspaper story to cite a document.

The problem with traditional (non-web-based) media isn't that sources aren't cited, but that the sources had always been difficult to get at (ever been to a newspaper "morgue", or tried to get a government document that doesn't exist in electronic format?).

The above is true for original content, too. Something that I've always hated is reading a journal article, only to come to a citation that really needs to be turned to in order to understand the point being made, but source of the citation isn't available. For instance, take one of the law journal articles that Glenn Reynolds points to in a recent InstaPundit entry. Click the link to footnote 3 and you see the same type of footnote that you would see in a print copy of the journal. Here's the innovation: I don't have to go looking for that cited article -- all I have to do is click on the link embeded in the citation 24 Rutgers L.J. 1 (1992) [in case you missed it, it's the underlined "1"].

OK, "the citation", even in its link ' n lob form, isn't new. Media criticism isn't new. Even the hyper-text link to source material isn't new. So what's new?

Maybe my own reason for blogging will throw some light on the answer. See, I didn't start blogging because I of a sudden had "something to say" -- it's a rare ocassion that I don't. Rather, I started blogging because it's much easier than trying to get my "something" published -- as a letter to the editor, comment at an ezine, or op-ed submission -- by the "Big People". I could keep submitting items, and rarely get something published. Or, I could publish myself.

Well, I wasn't about waiting for somebody to decide that I'm good enough, so I decided to publish myself. Blogging gave me that option.

What's new is the same thing that makes blogging so great: Anybody can do it! You don't have to be a pundit, journalist, or even an intellectual -- All you need do is blog, and you're a blogger...

1. What I mean by "cite" is not merely a mention of some other work, but a formal citation that points a reader exactly to the source materal.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

Mother's Day Trumps Punditwatch

Will Vehrs
Any notion that I could write Punditwatch and participate in Mother's Day festivities gave way to harsh reality early this morning. There'll be no Punditwatch today. Look for it tomorrow on Fox around noon, assuming I get to the two hours I have on videotape ....

Had I been able to write today, I would have noted Tim Russert's shameless plugging of Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg's book, Fareed Zakaria picking fights with George Will, and Al Hunt's "Bush Bashing Binge."