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Thursday, November 20, 2003

Rubin

Maybe the answer to my question of the night is as simple as, "He's not interested in it."

But watching former Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin on The Charlie Rose Show tonight (yes, Rubin's touting a new book), I can't help thinking how much smarter and better-spoken he is than any of the current Democratic presidential candidates.  Maybe they think he's too "Adlai Stevenson" to get elected.  But sheesh, if you value candor and gravitas and smarts, this guy is hard not to like.

Posted by Beldar at 12:26 AM in Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

"WhenU" visit BeldarBlog, don't blame me for any pop-ups

This strikes me as an example of a legal ruling that is probably right on the law, even though it favors a company whose business methods and practices I detest (specifically because they prey on the technologically unsophisticated and because the "consent" they obtain is almost certainly not fully-informed consent). 

Posted by Beldar at 06:50 PM in Law (2006 & earlier), Weblogs | Permalink

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Two quotes

The "majority of Americans are unwilling to sanction a peace of vengeance" against [our foe].  Nor [do] they want America to police [the countries we now occupy, which are] "a seething furnace of fratricide, civil war, murder, disease and starvation."

Sen. Burton Wheeler (D-Montana), speaking of Germany on January 5, 1945, in opposition to FDR's insistence on Germany's "unconditional surrender" (as quoted in Michael Beschloss' The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman, and the Destruction of Hitler's German, 1941-1945, at page 175 (2002)).

Contrast that to this:

Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today, and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come.  In many nations of the Middle East — countries of great strategic importance — democracy has not yet taken root. And the questions arise:   Are the peoples of the Middle East somehow beyond the reach of liberty? Are millions of men and women and children condemned by history or culture to live in despotism? Are they alone never to know freedom, and never even to have a choice in the matter? I, for one, do not believe it. I believe every person has the ability and the right to be free.

Remarks by the President, 20th Anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, United States Chamber of Commerce, Washington, D.C., on Nov. 6, 2003 (italics by BeldarBlog).

I don't know how Dubya could be any more plain, but I haven't seen that first sentence regarding "decades to come" get any press coverage.  Note that he's talking about not just Iraq, but the Middle East as a whole.  And elsewhere in that speech, he makes an overt comparison to what America did after WWII.

We did what it took to help Europe remake itself into a continent filled with democratic nations who certainly are not clones of ourselves and who aren't consistently our grateful fans — but the point there after WWII was to promote democracy as a deterrent to war.  We've had good success in Western Europe, but it took decades; we have work still to do in Eastern Europe, especially in the Balkans; but if more wars do erupt in Europe, they're far more likely to resemble the UK vs. Argentina affair over the Falkland Islands than WWII.  It's a work in progress, but it would be hard to argue that it hasn't been worth the time, effort, and money.

If we're patient and steadfast, perhaps in 20 years we can say the same about the Middle East.

So just who the hell was this Sen. Wheeler?  In his day, he was a leader of the isolationists; the Sen. Burton Wheeler cartoon from Nov. 7, 1941political cartoon (by Dr. Seuss no less!) to the right is from Nov. 7, 1941.  In historic context now, he's a nobody — a footnote at best or a quirky aberation quoted for purposes of humorous contrast.  If he were alive today, he'd probably be giving speeches to MoveOn.org.  He underestimated the size and scope and length of the post-WWII project this country faced.  Worse, he underestimated the wisdom and will of the American leadership and the American public. 

Will today's Democratic politicians do the same?  Will our allies in Europe and elsewhere?  Will our enemies?

Posted by Beldar at 10:33 PM in Current Affairs, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (0)

Would you like some tactical nuclear warheads with your supersized order of reactors, sir?

From tomorrow's New York Times, this leaves me almost dumbstruck:

Europe will resist an American effort to bring the suspected Iranian development of nuclear weapons before the United Nations Security Council, hoping to lure Iran into compliance with negotiations and incentives, European officials said Tuesday.

The stand was a rebuff to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, who met in Brussels with European foreign ministers and sought a forceful response to a United Nations report that Mr. Powell said proved Iran was defying its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Later, he flew here to London to join President Bush.

The Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency is scheduled to take up a resolution this week by France, Germany and Britain that seeks to compel Iran to halt the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium and holds out the lure of future cooperation, including sharing nuclear technology for civilian use.

(Boldface by BeldarBlog.)  At best this is pernicious stupidity.  But it's genuinely hard to believe anyone is that stupid, and the alternative explanation is knowing wickedness.

I would very much like to see each Democratic presidential candidate asked the following yes/no question:   "Do you support the notion of 'sharing nuclear technology for civilian use' with Iran?"

Posted by Beldar at 09:19 PM in Current Affairs, Politics (2006 & earlier) | Permalink | Comments (2)

Methodical demolition of nonsense

If you are wondering whether what we've done and what we are doing in Iraq is comparable to what we did in Vietnam, read Michael J. Totten's article on Tech Central Station.  It's like watching a boxer with a speed bag, only Totten's using concise factual arguments to explode myths in the same rapid-fire, rhythmic fashion.  Tuk-a-tah tuk-a-tah tuk-a-tah ...

Posted by Beldar at 04:16 PM in Current Affairs, Global War on Terror | Permalink

Monday, November 17, 2003

Google mysteries

I am amazed that when one does a Google search on "Jack Kennedy," this thread from BeldarBlog pops up as the number two link. 

The same is not true, of course, for a search on "JFK" or "John F. Kennedy" or "John Fitzgerald Kennedy" — but the "Jack" nickname was so widely known and used that I'm very surprised there aren't many, many pages somewhere on the web that use that nickname and are deemed more "credible" or "relevant" or whatever by Google.

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UPDATE (Sun Nov 23):   This is no longer true — I've been moved down to the second page on Google due to recent anniversary-of-his-death publicity, which is just as well.  Thinking of BeldarBlog as "authoritative" on anything other than Beldarisms (meaning mine, not my namesake's) regarding law, life, politics, etc., is kinda weird.

Posted by Beldar at 07:30 AM in Weblogs | Permalink

Sunday, November 16, 2003

Would you know a quagmire if it bit you in the butt?

While fiddling around on the computer this morning, I was listening with one ear to the Sunday morning news/talk shows.  I'm not sure which one it was, but one of them had a brief riff on how "What's being said about our efforts in Iraq now" sounds just like "What was being said about our efforts in Vietnam back then."

This is a topic on which I have an opinion based on first-hand evidence, albeit old evidence.  I started getting really interested in the war and politics during the 1968 presidential campaign, when I was in the fifth grade.  (I was an unabashed hawk, by the way, and one of the greatest disappointments I've ever had was when someone explained to me that with my lousy vision, there was zero chance that I could ever qualify to be a fighter pilot.)  I watched Cronkite, or Huntley & Brinkley, every day back then with the eager hunger for news that comes from being a potential future enlistee or draftee for that war.

And my opinion is that this riff was an accurate observation, but nevertheless extremely misleading.

From the point of view of the North Vietnamese leaders, they were fighting a war against colonialism; with considerable factual basis, they viewed their nominally democratic counterparts in South Vietnam as token lackeys of Americans-as-successors-to-the-French imperialists.  The "other superpower(s)" of the world (the USSR and China) facilitated the North Vietnamese's and Viet Cong's armed struggle.  By contrast, by no stretch of the imagination did the Ba'athist regime of Saddam in Iraq represent a puppet government of foreign imperialists, and there is no "superpower" facilitating the efforts of the "insurgents" in Iraq today.  (There are, however, national "powers" that are doing so, including most notably Syria and Iran; but their lack of superpower parity with the US sharply limits how much they can do to facilitate the terrorists now fighting in Iraq or elsewhere.)

Notwithstanding these huge differences in the two conflicts' origins and participants, however, it is true that the United States was engaged in something that may be generally labeled as "nation-building" in both South Vietnam then and Iraq now.  Regarding the success or failure of our efforts, there was spin going on then (and counterspin), and there's spin going on now (and counterspin). 

And spin apart, there was also genuine substance with real successes in our efforts then and now.  So of course there will be similar reports of those successes.  Likewise, there will be failures, and reports thereof (just as there were in post-WWII Germany and Japan).

I am not one of those who believes "our cause" in Vietnam was wrong, although I have plenty of strong opinions on how we mucked things up then.  And I definitely am not one of those who believes 'our cause" in Iraq is wrong, but I am certainly willing to entertain constructive criticism of what we're doing and how we're going about things now in Iraq.  (This puts me in the same camp as, say, Donald Rumsfeld, whose recent leaked memo was essentially a solicitation for constructive criticism of those efforts.) 

But even if I thought "our cause" was a wrong-headed or inevitably losing one in Vietnam, I wouldn't conclude from the similarity of news reports in the two places that some valid parallel could be drawn to "prove" the wrong-headedness or inevitably-losing nature of our efforts now in Iraq.  You simply can't draw that broad a conclusion from superficial similarities.

Posted by Beldar at 06:12 PM in Current Affairs, Global War on Terror | Permalink | Comments (1)

$47k dog

I am usually skeptical about newspaper accounts of trial results.  But both the Austin American-Statesman and the Associated Press (the latter via the Houston Chronicle) report that an Austin judge awarded $47,000 to a woman whose dog escaped and was run over while in the custody of a Petco store.  Apparently a Petco employee lost control of the dog's leash while walking it outside and it ran away.  Its body was found a few days later on a nearby freeway.

It appears from the two stories that the $47,000 award was determined by a judge sitting as factfinder, rather than a jury.  Reportedly the award includes $10k each for "emotional anguish, loss of companionship and punitive damages."

Neither article names the judge.  I'm sorry that's the case, because that's a judge that needs to be defeated in the next election.

Folks, I love animals in general, and I'm a devoted dog owner.  If what the newspaper articles describe happened to my own dog, I'd be very sad indeed.  I'd bet dollars to donuts that the store employee in question was upset and remorseful — as a general rule, you don't work at a place like that unless you adore animals.

But absent a showing that, for example, this particular dog had a demonstrated track record of earning thousands of dollars per year in stud fees for its owner, $47k is a ridiculously inflated award.  And if all that happened was that a leash slipped out of an employee's hand, I'm quite skeptical as to whether that would amount even to "ordinary negligence" — much less the sort of "gross negligence" that could be a basis for punitive damages.  Bad, unfortunate, and sad things happen all the time, every day, that aren't the result of someone's "failure to use ordinary care"; this sounds to me like one of them.  Even when a dog-walker is using ordinary care, a leash can break or slip or be pulled from one's hand.  Taking the dog out without any leash at all — as a hypothetical for-instance — might qualify as the sort of "conscious indifference" and "recklessness" needed to support punitive damages, but there's no hint of that in the newspaper stories, and even then, $10k in exemplary damages would be excessive in relationship to any reasonable "actual damages."

If this was the result of a jury verdict, I'd make an educated guess that the pet owner's lawyer was substantially better than his or her opponent.  That would be the most likely explanation.  But in a bench trial, even a huge difference in the quality of counsel (and the resulting quality of evidence and argument) ought not produce this sort of result. 

Posted by Beldar at 04:54 PM in Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink

WARNING: This product may perform as intended!

I just saw a TV advertisement for a prescription drug intended, said the announcer, to help people fall asleep more easily, sleep more soundly, and sleep longer.  After the claims regarding the benefits (about which you should, of course, "ask your doctor"), there were typical disclaimers and warnings.  What jumped out at me, however, was the warning that "This product may cause drowsiness."

Ya think?

It's a sad world when — in order to avoid products liability lawsuits — companies feel obliged to "warn" that a product will do what it's intended to do.  And it's unlikely that people will take any package or advertising warnings seriously when they are this bountiful and this trite.

Posted by Beldar at 07:58 AM in Law (2006 & earlier) | Permalink