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Archives up to 2001/09

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3/11 3/20 3/24 4/1 4/4 4/8 4/14 4/22 4/29 5/3 5/11 5/13 5/19 5/26 6/2 6/10 6/16 6/24 6/29 7/5 7/7 7/15 7/30 8/2 8/10 8/16 8/16 9/1 9/8* 9/15 9/16 9/22 9/29

* Includes special focus on off-the-newswire stuff from living in Japan.

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Earthquake preparation day here, in memory of the great Kanto quake. Noon this day in 1923. No earthquake from the States, but Dubya just ended his vacation and immediately went back on vacation, so we have to give him a bit of time to create more bad news. Maybe he'll remember enough of the definition of work to actually do something at some point. Really can't recall much of anything about Dubya in the Japanese press recently.

Did see some stuff about the stem cell 'decision', but I think the international perspective was European. Anyway, my current conclusion is that it's just legalistic hair-splitting that should annoy his anti-abortion-focused supporters. Or maybe Dubya just doesn't love them anymore. But why should Dubya care? They have no other politician to support. Bottom line is that some of his rich friends suddenly got a very valuable monopoly, but the leading edge research will probably move offshore.

From the American Web-based press, I was reading more about Dubya's big push for missile defense, and it gave me the heebie jeebies. Somehow I got an image of some crazy fanatic getting a Russian bomb and deciding to debunk Dubya by blowing up some American city. No missile, of course. Both sides are insane, but it actually makes me glad to be far away. If it happens, Dubya will blame Bin Laden or Iraq, and it has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with any provocations he's helping to create, especially in the Middle East... Soon? A frightening thought.

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This is actually the first entry to get a "Japanese Original" star, though there are a couple of earlier entries that may get stars as I review them. On reflection, I've realized that most of the material here is basically public information that can be gotten from television or the wire services, though I have tried to digest it well. However, I want to include some parts that are more original, insofar as I can collect relevant data on my own. The two problems are going to be relevance to Dubya and my limited Japanese abilities. However, it's easy to start with a fairly relevant example:

Based on a lot of conversations with Japanese people over the years, I have some secondhand knowledge of how many of them feel about Reagan's performance in the White House. Not quite directly relevant to Dubya, but close enough for a start, and having focused on this issue I'll try to update the research.

In Reagan's case 'performance' is definitely the operative word. To summarize, I think I can say that I don't know of a single Japanese person who regards Reagan as having been a good leader. However, now that I'm addressing the issue, it's difficult to summarize succinctly. The strong consensus is that the American presidency is a much more powerful office than the Japanese prime ministry. The Japanese believe the American presidents can actually make important decisions with large effects, while they regard their own prime ministers as ineffectual and mostly harmless.

Some of the people who became prime minister were very influential and powerful, but it was basically unrelated to the office. The late Kakui Tanaka was the extreme example, and he retained much of that almost until his death, long after his term of office, and his daughter received much of her power and influence directly from him. She is probably the most powerful woman in Japan now, though nowhere close to being prime minister. She actually had an important role in selecting the current prime minister, however. My guess is that it's most likely impossible for her to ever become prime minister, though she will probably become even more influential.

Returning to Reagan, most Japanese seem to regard him the way they regard most of their prime ministers. That is NOT a compliment, because they mostly regard their prime ministers very negatively. So in Reagan's case, the office of the presidency continued to exist and exercise its strong powers, but they think Reagan was not really involved, except as a kind of spokesman for the decisions that had been made by someone else.

So now the obvious thing to do is try to fish for Japanese opinions of Dubya. That means asking very carefully, and trying hard not to show how I feel. I think I've made appropriate allowances in the Reagan case just described, but the fact is that the Japanese are very skilled at interpersonal communications, very much attuned to giving suitable and desired responses. If they detect my anti-Dubya feelings, it will become much harder to find out what they really think. Given my American openness and transparency, it looks to be a challenging project.

On the conventional news, once again Dubya has managed to avoid much mention in the Japanese press. Seems like the focus has returned home again, mostly on the social security thing. Bush's rosy economic projections are not coming to pass, and it looks like they'll be dipping into the social security funds real soon now, which is something all of the politicians have been promising NOT to do. A senior Republican just floated the first trial balloon, and it's already being hit from all sides.

Pretty obvious the spin that Dubya is going to take. His recent statements frequently repeat the three loopholes: war, recession, and severe emergency. He now repeatedly says that he's willing to tap the social security fund in those cases, past promises notwithstanding. It would be hard to sell "severe emergency", mostly because of the degree of spin required. Plus, he's already cut off most of the options there. For example, given his dumping of the Kyoto Protocol, it would be pretty hard for him to claim there is an emergency caused by the weather, since he denies there is any global warming to worry about. He may be forced to use the "recession" loophole, since that is the increasingly apparent reality, but actually admitting to that would be politically very damaging. It's a GOP House, his budget, and basically a stalemate in the Senate, so the sickly buck will land on his desk. That leaves war, which will be tricky. He's obviously trying to aggravate the situation in Iraq, but the Iraqis don't have the resources to do much now, so no good excuse there. The Israeli/Palestinian thing currently looks like the best bet to develop into a 'viable' war, but that would be pretty hard to scale up enough to justify significant funding. If the conflict spread, it could jeopardize the flow of oil, which would be a serious problem. He needs something that will 'justify' spending a lot of money, but without committing political suicide. If it was just Dubya, I'd say no chance even with the wildest spin, but some of the Bushies are very cunning.

A big chunk of the money problem involves some waffling that I haven't mentioned here. Long ago I mentioned that Dubya's first budget basically accepted Clinton's numbers for military spending. There was even some official spin about why that was okay. However, more recently the Bushies have been spinning for large increases in military spending.

The most controversial part has been the revival of Star Wars (aka SDI or BMD). That actually got kind of comic when the Bushies made kind of bizarre overtures to the Chinese, apparently telling them that we're going ahead with BMD, so we wouldn't actually blame them if they beefed up their nuclear arsenal. A lot of people noticed that India and Pakistan might respond to that, and it got a lot of counterspin very quickly. Different form of waffling.

Kind of a minor item, but worth mentioning and definitely with worldwide ramifications is the Microsoft thing. It is not at issue that Microsoft is a harmful monopoly. At issue is what is going to be done about it. I predicted nothing, using the joke "Bush really feels Microsoft's pain." And in fact my prediction is coming to pass. This week it was announced that the most painful punitive measure, a breakup, would not be pursued. There are a number of features in XP that prove how unrepentant Microsoft is, and I'm almost certain that OS will ship right on Microsoft's schedule. Not sure if Microsoft has gone too far with the greed thing yet, but I'm definitely going to resist using or recommending XP. My main beef is with the Passport part of the system, mostly because it gives Microsoft too much personal information, and they've already proven they can't be trusted. They mumble about privacy, but I'm certain Microsoft means to use that information to squeeze more blood out of us turnips. Dubya's comment: "I expect the Justice Department to handle that in a way that brings honor and thought to the process.'' Must be the honor among thieves.

However, Dubya and "thought" is just a funny idea. Dubya thinking about the complexities of Windows? Has anyone ever actually seen Dubya using a computer? I bet he has people who do all that computer stuff for him.

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Honest, I did not doctorPopup Note the predictions in those last two entries after the fact. On the 1st, I really did write that I had a premonition of imminent disaster, and the next week I wrote about "war, recession, and severe emergency", and now America has all three, though the recession isn't official yet. Good thing I wasn't counting on social security. Dubya hasn't been in the White House for eight months yet, and he's led the country from peace and prosperity and a state of quiet confidence to this. Okay, so I was wrong about the form of the attack, but give Dubya a bit more time and we'll probably get hit with an atomic bomb, too.

But it's alright. Dubya's current approval rating is over 90%!

You know, it sort of makes you wonder who's doing those polls. The current warmup question is probably something like "Do you agree that Bush should punish whoever attacked the World Trade Center?" With a question like that, and forced to a a yes/no answer, pretty easy to 'show' 90% support. But here are a few other questions that might reveal more interesting attitudes:

My own answers would be yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and very obviously no. Sorry to be a dissenter, but I think these horrible events have mostly proven yet AGAIN what a terrible leader Dubya is, and I believe the Bushies' main concern right now is how to milk the wagons-in-a-circle popularity and how to stretch it out for as long as possible--most importantly how to stretch 51% of it through the next two elections. As for the actual response of punishing the perpetrators, that's a total no-brainer that even Dan Quayle could figure out and handle.

It's really easy to say what a terrible tragedy this is. The only difficulty is in finding words strong enough. Lots of very good writers are trying, and mostly failing, and I'm not even in their league, so I'm going to skip that, though I've read lots of sad and horrifying descriptions. But after that easy part things get very complicated very quickly. In fact, I'm even doubtful that Dubya's planned version of punishment is correct, which changes the scenario from evil versus good to a scenario of one kind of evil versus another kind of evil. And whatever the scenario, most of the victims were innocent and just got caught in the middle.

This crime could be referred to international courts of law, and their successful handling of it would very much strengthen the international rule of law. America could limit it's involvement to gathering evidence and then using the minimum force necessary to bring the perpetrators before those courts. The handling of Milosevic is actually a pretty good example. However, that precedent will be ignored this time for the following reasons:

  1. International law has no death penalty, and Dubya won't accept that.
  2. International law is too slow, which would be politically damaging to Dubya.
  3. International courts can't be given jurisdiction over American courts, even in cases involving people who are citizens of other countries.
  4. It may be impossible to build a strong enough case to insure a conviction in the international courts.
  5. Dubya wants Bin Laden's head on a pike. Or perhaps it's just a political necessity.

The Bushies are going to handle this for maximum political effectiveness, and though they're going to make some words about international law, this is going to be an American show and American vengeance on American terms. If we Americans have to crush the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan and Iraq and some other minor Moslem countries for getting in our way, so be it. Nothing and no one is going to be allowed to interfere, and we're going to be the ones calling the shots. No one is supposed to notice or even think that America has been calling almost all of the shots for a long time now, and that's how we got to this disaster. Proximate blame and maximum vengeance are all that matter.

Anyway, time for some information on the Japanese perspective of the disaster. I was actually at home when it happened, on the Web, and somehow something called my attention to it. Most likely the appearance of an active thread in the Prospect Forums. I was able to get quite a bit of information via the Web, but most of it was very distorted and it was interesting to watch the process of how rumors are created and grow in times of crisis. Meanwhile, I was listening to the Japanese TV behind me, and sometimes watching it. The Japanese TV networks had very quickly mobilized their reporters in both cities, and the coverage there was almost entirely in Japanese. This was very late in the evening in Japan, but pretty soon most of the channels were covering the story. I can receive seven channels well, and about five of them were on the story, mostly from NYC. I continued monitoring the news until about 1 a.m., though the main thing that was clear was that no one yet knew for sure what was going on.

The next morning I bought the paper to see how much coverage it got. That was the Daily Yomiuri, the English version of the largest Japanese newspaper. Of course it was the main story, but even including the related business stories, it only got about three pages of coverage, one of which was mostly photosPopup Note. The story is still getting a lot of coverage, and it is clearly the dominant television news story, but it's very much American business, and very sad business indeed. Actually, a major aspect in the Japanese coverage is the business effect, with many Japanese companies expecting to suffer from the economic fallout of declining exports to America. The sumo tournament continued without a break, etc.

My employer is actually a subsidiary of the Japanese subsidiary of an American company. The head of the company called for a worldwide time of silence to think about the tragedy and the victims. Not possible to synchronize it across time zones, but Japan was scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Friday. I certainly felt enough sadness and sat very quietly and contemplated the events, but it was also clear that the Japanese didn't feel the same way. My coworkers are very fond of America, most have American friends, and some of them have even worked or studied in America. One of them told us a story about his meal in the restaurant on the top floor of the World Trade Center, a restaurant that no longer exists. But the disaster doesn't have the same weight or significance to them. Perhaps a symbolic event... The schedule called for one minute of silence, but during that minute a phone rang. Someone answered it. The person who answered didn't politely ask the caller to call back. They chatted a bit, and there was a laugh. Then the call was transferred to someone else. Whoever was calling must have been pretty humorous, because there was another laugh. I'm sure it was completely unrelated to the attacks, but I was certainly not in a mood to laugh at anything just then, and the Japanese were obviously less affected.

That kind of got me to thinking. If you scoured all of Japan, I don't think you could come up with 20 suicidal kamikazes. Funny that the best term I can come up with is the Japanese one, but after we defeated Japan we acted constructively to remake Japanese society, and now it's a peaceful and pacifist country. There are still a few people who might want revenge for wartime tragedies, but they're old and mostly dying now, and not capable of doing much harm. There are very few people who suffer from tragedies these days or who are religious fanatics whose religion could lead them to seek revenge against any government. The Aum were the best candidates, but they mostly demonstrated a fundamental lack of the commitment required to die for their beliefs. They had the means and opportunity to have killed tens of thousands, and had hundreds of members in their innermost circles from which to recruit kamikaze killers, but failed to mount a single suicide attack.

There will surely be more about this tragic topic, but for now I want to return to and close with consideration of the only question above that might have a controversial answer. "Were Dubya's initial responses to the disasters inappropriate?" I admit my personal annoyance is with his full-month 'working' vacation as the monsters finalized their plans, but that's a different question and they've already been spinning and respinning that one for weeks. My basic comment is that I thought Dubya's natural responses were amazingly wrong. Acting on his instincts and without time for his handlers to figure out what to do, Dubya showed that he doesn't care and that he's fundamentally a coward--and the latest spin is to try to undo that damage. Some of America's leaders spoke and acted properly, including Dubya's own pet Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and the Mayor of NYC, Giuliani, but Dubya himself was fumbling and stumbling and bumbling--as usual. He spent the first day flying hither and yon. The main concern was to protect Dubya's precious skin, and the Bushies admits that. The kindest thing you can say is that they regard Dubya, one man who somehow happens to live in the White House, as being much more valuable than other people.

After he'd had a working day to think, it was time for Dubya to offer his carefully considered response to the nation. A prime time address about 12 hours after the disaster had begun. It was a time for Dubya's true leadership to become apparent. The only thing apparent was that he was having a hard time saying all those high falutin' words someone had written for him, and in spite of his best efforts, there were still lots of mistakes. Some reports say he was actually repeating after someone who was speaking to a radio microphone in his ear. There were some words about sorrow and anger and stuff, but the Bushies would have done better to put the camera on a crash dummy and hire someone who could read the words with a semblance of actual feeling. A terrible speech, but the best effort Bush could manage. You could palpably feel his effort to make a memorable speech, and it was sad to watch. The earlier statements could sort of be forgiven as due to lack of preparation and shock, or even due to his simple human fear of being killed. But this was the time to show his leadership ability--to show he was really in charge and deserved to be in charge. FDR and Churchill faced such moments, and rose to meet them. Dubya sank.

Since then, they've been trying to respin the bad first impressions, but you don't get a second chance to remake the first impressions. Faced with crisis, Dubya ran away. Called upon to describe the horror and lead the response, his words were forgotten, even by him. Innocent people died, but Dubya doesn't really care a fig about the commoners, and it showedPopup Note. America needs leadership now, and I'm certain it will emerge, possibly even from Dubya, given enough time, and maybe a few more crises.

I concur that the perpetrators of these horrors must be punished as swiftly as possible. That does NOT make me a supporter of Dubya.

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Spent several hours last night chatting with various people, mostly Japanese, about the disaster, and have a few more thoughts to add.

First, a few comments about the Japanese media. I also saw a few more newspapers and some television. I'm watching sumo now, and they just had a short news bulletin about the terrorist attacks in the sumo coverage on TV, and after the matches started again, they still kept a blue area on two sides of the screen, where they are showing announcements about the attack. Last one says that 24 Japanese are believed to have died. So the story is intruding even into sumo. I saw a Friday paper where the story had about 7 pages, which is very heavy coverage for the thin Japanese papers. Today the coverage was back down to about three pages, but Sunday is special, so I'm not sure what that signifies. Maybe the coverage has peaked, or maybe it will pick up again next week.

Some of the Japanese I spoke with said that the Prime Minister wants to send Japanese troops to participate in the attack, though the Japanese Constitution forbids such actions. He's known to be a pretty hard-line conservative, but very clever. Not clear to me if he's just testing the waters for changing the Constitution, or just being sincere about it, or maybe playing some kind of complicated political game. The sincere excuse seems least likely to me, the way Japanese politics works.

Actually, it would be an interesting project to total up the coverage in the various papers and countries. Already said I can't guess if it's already peaked here, but there were several notices about regular columns that were cancelled to make more room in the paper for this story.

Now for the big topic of the day. The most important comment is that I wouldn't feel and write as I do here if I felt that it could in any way impede the investigation or delay the punishment of the responsible parties. Actually, I can easily imagine ways that my position could interfere, but it takes some stretching. Requires more confusion between good and evil, but there's plenty of that these days.

For example, the investigators could be so desperate for clues that they have to assign resources to investigate anyone who isn't on the proper bandwagon. There are apparently many co-conspirators out there, and maybe even some uninvolved people who know useful facts and for some reason don't want to report them. I admit that I have trouble imagining why such a person would be making any public statements right now, so that seems to let me off the hook. However, investigating dissenting voices would make a lot of sense from the political perspective of identifying hard-core opponents of Dubya's regime. Of course, in that case the misdirected focus would just be more evidence of how evil that regime is, supporting the thesis of evil versus evil rather than evil versus good. This is NOT a time to be targeting political opponents of the GOP, or even to be wasting investigative resources looking for such.

Just about as easy to imagine it the other way around. Perhaps some truly evil persons might decide that I was some sort of potential ally in their war against the forces of Dubya. As a result, it is barely conceivable I could receive some information that would be worth my transmitting to the authorities to help their investigations. Actually, I can think of one possible candidate, a Serbian fellow I've met in Ebisu a few times over the years, but if he is such a person and was ever considering such possibilities as regards me he must have realized it wouldn't work. However, now that I think about it, it's quite suspicious that I know SO little about him, not even a name.

However, it is already pretty clear that there is plenty of relevant evidence out there to be investigated. The claims are that a total of 50 to 70 people were involved in various ways, and that various preparations had been underway for over a year. Given the size of the plot, it seems increasingly incredible that it was never detected. Perhaps those estimates are exaggerated. After all, the actual physical implements used were pretty trivial--apparently razor blades and box cutters. The dangerous stuff was in the killers' heads--knowledge of how to steer the planes, the mugger's skill to slash and cut human opponents, and most importantly, the firm determination to die for their beliefs.

Of course, all of this vengeance stuff has been based on the theory that the responsible parties are still alive and waiting for punishment, but certainly one of the possibilities is that this attack was organized and decided on at the middle levels of a terrorist organization, or was even the essentially independent work of a small organization, and in that case it is quite possible that all the planners and decision makers died in the attack. Perhaps no one at higher levels actually knew exactly what the attack would be or exactly when it would take place. Perhaps our intelligence agencies were too focused on the top terrorists while the real action was elsewhere.

Such a scenario could pose real problems to a legal investigation as distinct from a politically popular quest for vengeance. It might not be a case of plausible deniability, but rather simple and justified paranoia. Any information that was transmitted to higher levels could have been intercepted and the whole operation would have collapsed, so maybe there was none. This could call for a very strange kind of law: "Anyone who provides any form of support to an organization that commits a crime is also guilty of the crime, regardless of how much or how little they knew about the supported organization and the specific crime." That would surely cover Bin Laden, since he can be counted on to help anyone who expresses hate for something he hates, which covers a LOT of turf. His cup of hated things runneth over. Unfortunately, such a powerful and flexible law would cover everyone, except perhaps someone who never supports anything.

It's very easy to make a circumstantial case against Bin Laden. If there was a Who's Who of World Terrorists, Bin Laden would know almost all of them, certainly by reputation, and many in person. His deliberate goal was to be the hub of a terrorist network, and our goal has been to disrupt that network. Talking about links to Bin Laden doesn't seem to mean a lot given that background--he has some kind of link to all of them. The hard questions may be unanswerable. Does anyone directly follow Bin Laden's orders? What forms of support has he provided? Even more important, what other terrorist projects has he supported, and are any of those plans close to execution?

Perhaps my perception is twisted, and I certainly don't have access to all of the data, but it seems there are several other mastermind candidates that could have been selected. Saddam Hussein is very prominent, though he probably has personal links to fewer terrorists than some Iranians and Palestinians. There are prominent candidates in other countries, too, including countries that the U.S. counts as friends. Bin Laden is just the best candidate, and his head is going to be displayed on a pike, and we might as well switch to the past tense for references to him.

Will that solve the terrorist problem? Obviously not. In fact, Bin Laden was a kind of weakness. Terrorist organizations are normally small for the sake of secrecy and security, but given the complexity and fragility of advanced societies, even small organizations can be very destructive. Bin Laden's grandiose visions mostly created a focal point for counterattacks against terrorism, without ever posing a serious direct threat--though it is possible the chain of command does lead into his network. This attack was serious, but it was apparently the work of a small organization and only provides more evidence of the danger of small organizations, whether or not Bin Laden was involved. ANY fairly rich person could build and support an organization of 100 members for whatever purpose he believes in.

Time for another crazy prediction. Bin Laden will disappear and never be found, even if we occupy and search Afghanistan for 20 years. But his money will be divided up and transferred to a number of his most trusted associates, and the evil that he did will live on after him.

I do think there is a real solution, but so far I haven't heard any of our leaders discussing it. There would have to be a deliberate reversal of policy. Americans would have to risk becoming somewhat less rich, and sincerely strive to make the rest of the world somewhat less poor. In the long run, maybe everyone could become relatively rich, but it won't be an easy process. However, it is very clear that the driving force behind terrorism is the tension between the rich and the poor, and the evidence shows that gap is increasing. It's like the temperature differences that power thermodynamic engines. The differences that powers terrorism is increasing, too. Economic differences? Personal freedom? Anyway, happy, well-off people do not generally commit acts of terrorism.

My belief is that terrorists come from nasty, unpleasant environments. And they blame the U.S. for making their countries that way, and they would be delighted if the U.S. became more like their countries. Without strong and democratic leadership in America, they are going to succeed in that goal, at least in part. Dubya has several times admitted he wants to be the dictator, and I expect him to milk this golden opportunity to the max, which will surely delight Bin Laden. If you can't beat 'em, make 'em join you.

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Basically no Japan-specific news this week, so... The terrorist story continues to dominate the news, directly and indirectly. Main direct example was Dubya indirectly asking Afghanistan to turn over Bin Laden, and the Afghans were actually sort of polite in refusing. Or maybe it was some kind of joke by the Taliban to ask to see the evidence first? They did try to muddy the waters by suggesting Bin Laden would be welcome to leave Afghanistan.

The big indirect news is of course the stock market. Last week I predicted 10% for the week, but the actual loss was 14%. That's the New York Times headline for the American market. Japanese market looks to have lost only about 5% this month, but it was already pretty depressed, and it certainly doesn't look like it's hit its bottom yet. The rich Bushies are telling everyone to be calm and stay the course, but there they are, dumping their investments in the future. Maybe they're only panicking because Dubya may fail in eliminating the capital gains tax, and right now they aren't making much in capital gains, so they're avoiding those taxes. In a pig's eye. Just typically selfish behavior by the fat cats. I'll 'officially' predict another 10% next week, and then a long, slow decline. I suppose I can claim to be a patriot since I'm not selling any of my stocks. Heck, I'm so unphased by the terrorists that I haven't even changed my opinion of Dubya.

Two related news items in the ounce of prevention department, the internal security report and the money tracing thing. They only rate brief mentions here, though you can find lots of details on the Web. The internal security report was prepared over the last few years by a bipartisan committee, all of whom endorsed it when it was submitted last January. Some legislative efforts had begun, but then Dubya scrapped it and said Cheney should do it all over again. Not too amusing that several of the main recommendations of that report have suddenly been adopted by Bush, though paying more attention to the report months ago could conceivably have averted the tragedy.

The money tracing item involved legislation that was specifically targeted at stopping the flow of the terrorists' money. That was killed by one specific Texas senator, Dubya's good friend Phil Gramm, who has already announced his retirement. Too bad I can't vote against him again, for what little good my votes ever did. The amazing part was that Gramm made a statement that he still didn't think that the law was necessary. I thought he was supposed to be one of the smart Republicans, but you have to wonder. They're overriding him now, of course.

Also for the record, I'll comment about the rapid growth of the conspiracy. Maybe it's just more crazy rumors, but they seem to be pretty official leaks and are getting plenty of play in the regular news media. Now they are talking about hundreds of conspirators plotting for years. Just trying to build up the enemy? Trying to build up more long-term blame to cast back on Clinton? But mostly they just seem to be building up the size of their failure in not having detected the plot. They had months to notice there were problems, but the Bushies clearly had other priorities.

Now time to start today's main feature. In the States, it sounds like the focus is still on remaking Dubya as a great leader. Yet another 'most important' speech, and not nearly as bad as his earlier efforts. The coaching is beginning to pay off, apparently, but still impossible to judge what parts are sincere, except for the angry vengeance stuff. At least that part seems pretty sincere, though I'm not sure why. I don't think it's just because of the embarrassment of being caught asleep at the wheel, but maybe more related to the cheerleader fight-fight-fight stuff. Most of his long speech was just a lot of appropriate words, and maybe he believes them. Or maybe not. I can't tell, and he's had a lot of rehearsals now. But he did seem sincere in the angry vengeance parts.

I read the entire speech, which of course was very professionally written, and watched the delivery of the two key sections, or at least what the media apparently felt were the best parts. One was the non-negotiable demands leveled at Afghanistan, and the other was the section about how we are going to fight terrorism. There were no mentions of courts or trials or judges or the United Nations, though perhaps the U.N. was included in the reference to supportive "international organizations". But the clear conclusion is that it's U.S. against them--the other countries get behind U.S. or they are cursed and doomed as supporters of the 'terrorists'. Courts? Who needs 'em? Our guns are the only law needed now.

I feel I should say something about the demands, but what? Dubya already said there's nothing to be discussed there. Sounded to me like there wasn't any legal pretense or anything. Nothing about evidence or proof or legal rights or impartial judgment or any other sources of confusion. We want to arrest anyone in Afghanistan who we define as a terrorist and we want to do anything we want in their country. Saying that such demands were not subject to negotiation seems pretty much like a declaration of war. Starting just in time to catch the winter season. Lots of lovely snow.

What I suddenly visualize is Dubya as the first emperor of the Holy American Empire. Kind of laughable to try and compare Dubya to Caesar or Charlemagne. If ignorance were cornflakes, Bush would be General Mills. However, I can definitely see some candidates for new Neros and Caligulas among his staunchest supporters, and so far Congress is certainly doing a good imitation of the Roman Senate.

It would be nice to think that Dubya is completely detached from the reality, in spite of the 90% support from Americans. Yes, the polls can be tweaked, but only within limits. This is a time for thoughtful, articulate, and balanced leadership. The first two have been covered adequately, but the balance thing is worth a contrast to President Clinton. Clinton managed to steer a centrist course, and perhaps the strongest proof is that the far left actually joined the far right in attacking Clinton's record in the election. Dubya's got a lot of strong rowers on the farthest right side of his boat, and they're just zooming around in those little circles. Hoover's economics combined with McCarthy's approach to handling dissenters. I see certain grounds for pessimism.

It's worth considering the founding organizational principles of the United Nations, even though that organization is completely out of the loop now. The U.N. was obviously patterned on the United States in many important aspects. Not the current United States, but the young U.S. when the individual states were perceived as sovereign nations. That design was for a system to protect individual and the state's sovereign rights and also to prevent wrong and dictatorial actions by the central government. That was a good model for the United Nations. This could and ought to be the United Nation's crowning moment, but I think the U.N. will now shrivel up and go away. The proximate excuse may simply be that the U.S. doesn't have any money to donate just now. The New World Order will be America's orders.

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Well, sort of good news, insofar as there is any good news to be found these days. Maybe the U.N. will be involved somehow, if gradually. I haven't heard anything official from the Bushies, but some pocket change was found for the U.N., and there was actually a headline about U.N. involvement in an official anti-terrorism resolution. Apparently a minor loop to be in, but something. Then again, maybe the Bushies are just coming to the realization they can't do anything much, and so they want to bring the U.N. in so they can blame someone else. A bit awkward that the U.S. sponsor of the resolution was involved in the U.S. government actions that the international courts found illegal, and in that case we just ignored the rulings and used our veto to block a more general resolution calling for all countries to respect such rulings. Funny how these things come around, but so far it looks like the U.N. is willing to let bygones be bygones.

A few more thoughts on the "bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies" part of the big speech. One thought is that this is could quite possibly be an authentic Dubya contribution, but the larger thought is that it shows profound confusion about the nature of true justice. Real justice is NOT like like home delivery pizza to be delivered fresh and hot in 30 minutes or less. Criminals must be brought to justice, and it must be served cold and in cold blood.

Apart from that, mostly lots of questions and confusions these days, and the rumors are starting to fly again. I was wrong to predict a second slump week in the stock market, but maybe the stall in the fall was related to the end of the quarter--the economic fundamentals certainly don't look improved. Lots of people, including me, were expecting an initial flashy and wasteful missile attack on Afghanistan, but nothing happened there. There are some rumors of special forces in Afghanistan, tentative confirmations, and now rumors of an impending attack. Even to attempt a surgical strike would require some very good intelligence, probably from inside the Taliban. Much more likely such information would be bogus or inaccurate and a bungled operation could hardly be kept secret.

Dubya wanted all the countries to line up on one side or the other, but it's proving difficult to herd the ducks. Everybody seems to be negotiating for something or other--even Afghanistan who was not supposed to be negotiating anything. However, only Pakistan is talking to the Taliban now, so all negotiations with them are indirect. The current leaders of Pakistan want to help, and know their help is crucial, but they also want lots of concrete concessions to help prevent internal rebellion, and of course they don't want anyone giving any support to the anti-Taliban side, since the Pakistanis have been supporting the Taliban (who the Pakistanis had defined as not being terrorists until now). India also regards the Pakistanis as supporters of terrorism in the region they have been fighting about, which is also a touchy problem. Both India and Pakistan were under sanctions for their nuclear weapons programs, but those sanctions have already been dropped. The Saudis sort of want to help, though at first they didn't want us to use their bases. Then many of the royal family flew to Switzerland, and the latest word is that we can use the bases after all. Iraq has said they don't like Dubya, which is no surprise, but the Iranians are saying basically the same thing, too, which is more awkward and dangerous. The Palestinian situation has quieted down a bit, at least for now. There have been anti-American protests in some other Moslem countries. Some of the European countries have apparently been sounding notes of caution, too.

There was some talk about releasing some of the evidence against Bin Laden, but that idea was apparently abandoned. Not that it would have been the correct thing to do in terms of real justice, but this is a case of trial by public opinion. The official excuse for deciding not to reveal anything is that the evidence would show too much about how our intelligence systems work, but I think it more likely the problem is the evidence would reveal how broken the intelligence systems are. Much worse if revealing the evidence might show that they had important data even before the attack, but didn't give following up on it the priority that could have saved 5,000-plus lives.

There has been quite a bit of stuff in the papers recently about how Bin Laden's money flows, and about how they are going to go after that side of it. Actually, that seems to be one of the best angles for attack, and just too bad the Republicans so effectively blocked that approach until too late. Various supporting legislation is being considered, but it looks like a lot of the effort is trying to ram through right-wing proposals that had been bouncing in and out of Congress for some years, and lots of that proposed legislation is not related to terrorism--though the Bushies are still hoping to ride the wave.

My latest thought is that the education president thing is basically a dead issue, though all the candidates like to promise that one. Dubya has other priorities now. He has to prove he is anti-terrorist, not terrorized. That is likely to keep him busy for some years, even if they do manage to nail Bin Laden fairly quickly. I think that nailing Bin Laden will take a good bit of luck, and if they don't get him, they'll probably sacrifice a scapegoat or two. Powell is still too important, unless it looks like he's breaking with the party line...

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