Good Question

Darrel Plant at the White House

I breezed through DC on my way back from Philadelphia, and toured around the mall for a few hours with my cousin, his wife, and their two-year-old. It was the opening weekend of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, the beginning or the end of spring break, depending on where you were from, and the opening night of the Nationals baseball season (I think we may have seen Marine One ferrying Bush to the stadium to get booed when he walked out to throw the first pitch). There were a lot of people walking around admiring the flowery trees.

Crowds View Cherry Blossoms at the FDR Memorial

Just before we got to the White House, we braved the narrow walkway in front of the Vietnam Memorial wall. We’d just about emerged, when I saw a skinny, bespectacled 10-year old boy ask his mother why they only made memorials for the dead soldiers and not for the ones who fought and lived.

It All Depends On Who You Ask

In the first chapter of Steve Coll’s book Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, the author describes the destruction of the American embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan shortly after the embassy in Iran was occupied in 1979.

A mob of what the neighboring British embassy staff estimated at as many as fifteen thousand assaulted and burned the compound while the Pakistani government sat on its hands preferring not to get involved. Amazingly, despite being nearly cooked to death, nearly all of the embassy staff and their families survived, with many of the staff holed up in a small, practically airless room for hours while the fire raged beneath and around them, and rioters fired guns at the door meant as an escape hatch.

Apart from the Iranian incident, another claimed precipitating event was the armed takeover of the holiest site in Islam, the Grand Mosque at Mecca, Saudi Arabia. The student group who called for the Islamabad embassy to be destroyed cited the Grand Mosque and the movement of US Navy ships toward the region as hostile acts toward the Muslim world by imperialists, stooges, etc.

Coll describes the situation this way:

That squad [a contingent of extra Pakistani police to protect the embassy] was in place on Wednesday morning when the rumors began to circulate in Islamabad, and later on local radio stations, that the United States and Israel stood behind the attack at the Grand Mosque.The rumor held that Washington and Tel Aviv had decided to seize a citadel of Islamic faith in order to neutralize the Muslim world. Absurd on its face, the rumor was nonetheless received as utterly plausible by thousands if not millions of Pakistanis.

Just how wack would those Pakistanis have to be to believe something that crazy? Here’s a former candidate for the Republican party nomination for president on a televised debate before the Iowa Straw Poll last August:

Q: Last week you said that, in order to deter an attack by Islamic terrorists using nuclear weapons, you would threaten to bomb Mecca and Medina. The State Department called that “reprehensible” & “absolutely crazy.”

A: Yes, the State Department–boy, when they start complaining about things I say, I feel a lot better about the things I say, I’ll tell you right now. My task as president is primarily to do one thing–not to make sure everybody has health care or everybody’s child is educated–my task is to do one thing: to protect and defend this country. And that means to deter–and I want to underline “deter”–any kind of aggression, especially the type we are threatened with by Al Qaida, which is nuclear attack. I read the national intelligence estimate. I see what they are planning. And I’m telling you right now that anybody that would suggest that we should take anything like this off the table in order to deter that kind of event in the United States isn’t fit to be president.

Don’t tell me that he’s the only guy in the country who thought that was a good idea, because I know I heard some other people saying the same thing.

A fun tidbit from the same chapter that reminds me of someone:

General Zia [the Pervez Musharraf of his time] had plans that day to promote civic advancement through Islamic values. He had decided to spend most of the afternoon in teeming Rawalpindi, adjacent to Islamabad, riding about on a bicycle. Zia intended to hand out Islamic pamphlets and advertise by example the simple virtues of self-propelled transport. And, of course, where the military dictator went, so went most of Pakistan’s military and security establishment. When the first distress calls went out from the U.S. embassy later that day, much of Pakistan’s army brass was unavailable. They were pedaling behing the boss on their bicycles.

Gaffing Howie Kurtz

Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz embodies the worst of the worst of his profession so far as I’m concerned. I don’t regularly read him, I briefly tried to watch his CNN Reliable Sources show but couldn’t take it for long, but I’ve seen lots of him by accumulation over the years.

But I happened to notice that he was doing one of the Post‘s “Live Discussion” segments today, just a little before it began, so I went and submitted a question.

Imagine my surprisae when the first question of the day turned out to be from here in Portland, Oregon! It just wasn’t my question. Kurtz was asked why the pundits asked to weigh in on the Rev. Wright/Obama “controversy” have been overwhelmingly white. Kurtz brought up the fact that he had two African-Americans on his panel Sunday. Although he also had Michael Medved, and that may have been like having a whole fist on the scales.

A short question from Massachussetts got to the topic I asked about, which was John McCain saying Iran was arming al Qaeda and the media treating it as a trivial error. Kurtz dismissed it with two brief sentences with absolutely no insight into the media’s role in downplaying the “error.” Much shorter than any of this other responses.

A Minneapolis questioner a little bit further down asked who was calling McCain on his “mistake,” and wondering why it wasn’t getting the saturation coverage it would have if Clinton or Obama had said the same thing. Howie said the media is obsessed with the Democratic horserace and McCain’s just not much in the news.

Then it was my turn. My original question didn’t get picked, but I had written a response to his first answer:

Portland, Ore.: If John McCain “believes Iran is actually training al-Qaeda operatives or is not being very careful about sticking to established facts,” then why does he have a reputation as someone who knows what he’s talking about, or as a “straight talker”? What, exactly, is his “bank” of foreign policy experience based on? And is simply having opinions on foreign policy — even if they’re blatantly incorrect — a reasonable bar for the media to claim that someone has “foreign policy experience”?

Howard Kurtz: You’re welcome to criticize McCain’s foreign policy views, but I think to say he doesn’t have experience in this area is simply not true. He has more than Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush combined when they were presidential candidates. He led a Navy squadron during the Vietnam War. He’s been in the forefront of national security debates for two decades. He just completed his eighth visit to Iraq. He was a major proponent of the surge. Now experience isn’t everything, as Obama frequently points out, citing the very experienced Cheney and Rumsfeld and how they botched the war. But McCain is not a newcomer to these matters.

Like his other answers on the topic, that really didn’t deal with the question. Simply showing up for class and getting your attendence record checked off doesn’t count. You’ve got to know the subject and understand what you’re talking about to truly claim experience.

This was my original (unanswered) question:

John McCain made the same statements about a connection between Iran and al Qaeda as long ago as last August. His multiple “gaffes” this past week on the same subject would seem to indicate that he’s either willfully sticking to that false statement — unless corrected in public by someone like Joe Lieberman — or that he’s truly confused about the situation in the Middle East, even after nearly seven years of war against al Qaeda.

How can journalists pass off multiple instances of false statements about the people we’re supposedly fighting — made over several months — as momentary lapses? How does a guy who supported the idea of going into Iraq for non-existent WMD continue to have a reputation with the media as an expert in military and foreign affairs? How many Americans have to die before you people will stop swallowing that line?

And one I sent in after the session began:

Why is most discussion of the Iraq war still dominated by pundits who have been wrong about every aspect of the war since before it began: from the claims of Saddam Hussein’s WMDs to the cost of the war to the length of the war? Why does the media still give them more credibility than the people who predicted that there were no WMD and that the war would turn in to a long, brutal, and expensive quagmire?

Reinhard’s Country Right And Wrong

The Oregonian‘s David Reinhard had to weigh in with one of his usual hot-off-the-conservative-fax-machine editorials inveighing against Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the pastor who married Barack and Michelle Obama and Barack Obama’s speech last Tuesday that tried to both put some distance between his and his pastor’s views as well as putting them into some historical context.

In his editorial, Reinhard asserted that Wright’s charges were “Hate-filled paranoid rants,” and went on to call them “anti-American.” That’s one of the charges that people like Reinhard love.

And, for the first time in quite a while, the Oregonian published my response last Friday:

Criticism not anti-American

How brave David Reinhard must be to label the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., who spent six years in the Marines and the Navy, as “anti-American” (“Who is Jeremiah Wright Jr.? Who is Barack Obama?,” March 20).

Reinhard’s blood must run red, white and blue to consider someone “anti-American” for criticizing the country he served as a member of the military.

Or perhaps it’s just another case of McCarthyite name-calling, like thepeople who denigrated Sen. John Kerry and other veterans for saying that the Vietnam War was wrong.

DARREL PLANT Southeast Portland

I hadn’t expected the letter to get published, but even before it had, I got an emailed response from Reinhard himself:

Tell me, what is asking God to damn America? I think it qualifies as anti-American.

To which I replied with a somewhat fuller quote from Wright:

“God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

So, you’re OK with the idea of America treating black Americans as less than human and with American exceptionalism around the world?

And I thought that was as far as it was going to go. But apparently he had some time to chew on it this weekend.

No, Darrel, I’m not Ok wtih treating black Americans as less than human, which is certainly not today the “idea of America”. I am OK with American exceptionalism around the world.

Exceptionalism is an attitude that leads to racism and nationalism. If you think you’re better than everyone else, then it’s no big deal to clear others out of your way if you get the feeling they looked at you cross-eyed or if they have some resource you feel would be better put to use by yourself.

So much for “all men are created equal,” in the Reinhardland.

When Nathan saw the letter he asked me how often I wrote to the Oregonian and how often they got published. This was part of my reply:

Back in my intemperate youth, I wrote at least a couple of times a month. And in the days when I was a warm commodity (book review, legislative run, occasional mentions in Jonathan Nicholas’s column) I’d get a letter published every few attempts.

But competition for letter space has greatly increased since the early ’90s. Between email submissions and a larger population their volume is up 500% or something of the sort. Combine that with a smaller allocation of column space, and it’s a feeding frenzy.

Truth be told, I started my blog because I got tired of writing letters to the Oregonian that never got published. I’d spend a couple of hours (or more) crafting something, I’d have to cut a whole bunch of it to make it fit their length requirement, and then it would disappear into oblivion. I just hated that. So back in August 2003, when they published an editorial cartoon mocking the 15,000 elderly French people who died in a heat wave that summer in the wake of the “Freedon [sic] Fries” campaign, and didn’t see fit to publish my letter about it, I got the idea to start the blog. Since I couldn’t seem to stop myself from writing the letters, I figured at least someone might stumble across them on the Internet.

This is the first one they’ve published in quite a while. I see about 40 emails to the letters address in my Out box since early 1985. So the ratio is pretty low. About standard for a crank. I’ve made over 800 blog posts in the same period, and most of those are on political topics.

French-Bashing Is the New Black

As an American proud of my French heritage, and someone who’s been more than fed up with six years of French-bashing from the right, the center, and people who called themselves liberals, it’s simply disgusting to see the same kind of tactic used by progressives at the Campaign for America’s Future in an ad taking John McCain to task for his part in Airbus winning a Defense Department contract for tanker aircraft. It’s in the voice of “the French people,” thanking McCain for all the jobs and laughing at the misfortune of American workers.

“And thousands fewer [jobs] for Americans, ha, ha, ha!”

The whole thrust of the “Kerry looks French” campaign of 2004 was that he wasn’t sufficiently American and that being French he was even anti-American. As much as I might dislike John McCain, portraying the French as anti-American (laughing at the loss of American jobs) in an effort to score political points is truly pathetic.

Golddiggers of 2008

“That’s it! That’s what this show’s about! The Depression, men marching, marching in the rain. Doughnuts and crullers, men marching, marching, jobs, jobs, and in the background, Carol, spirit of the Depression.”