Mourning In America

A New York Democrat on politics, journalism, and the Mets

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Friday, October 03, 2003
The Enron Field Curse? Stories of stadium naming rights deals gone awry are everywhere. One of the biggest was in Houston, where the Astros were forced to pay millions to Enron's creditors to buy out the bankrupt company's naming-rights sponsorship of their new stadium.

Enron was soon supplanted by Minute Maid, the second-largest producer of orange juice. But the embarrassments keep coming:

Minute Maid Park's roof is a breeding ground for a group of molds known as Aspergillus -- the same type of mold that festers on overripe oranges.

Credit Where It's Due The economy finally created 57,000 jobs last month -- only 2.443 million to go before we return to the levels of the Clinton Administration!

... But Don't Get Used to It Unfortunately, the September gain might be evidence of the last gasps of the summer's tax-rebate-fueled party. Luckily for employers, most of the workers are classified as "temporary," so they won't have to worry about bad press regarding layoffs when they let them go...

Good Reading While most of the blogosphere has been obsessed with the Plame Affair lately, there have been a couple of excellent, non-hyperventilating, analyses of the military situation in Iraq.

Here, a Jane's International Defense Review editor calls for a massive change in strategy by the U.S. to decentralize our troops, which she contends would make them simultaneously: A) Less vulnerable to the types of roadside bomb attacks that seem to be the most deadly resistance we're encountering at the moment; and B) In closer touch with sympathetic Iraqis -- a key to idntifying and capturing remaining Saddam sympathizers and finding the WMD, if they exist.

Here, MSNBC reports on the nightmare scenario facing U.S. military commanders -- that the Iraqi opposition might be stronger than we've seen, and could be using these little ambushes as a distraction while they plan a larger, more prolonged Tet-offensive-style attack. This is probably good news -- the military leadership is thinking about the scenarios, and is therefore presumably better-equipped to deal with them. Still, not a pleasant thought.

Meanwhile, on the blog front, check out Gregg Easterbrook's new "Easterblogg" -- especially this entry on the hidden bombshell in the David Kay WMD report yesterday: That Iraq stopped its work on nuclear weapons in 1998 -- right after Clinton bombed the nation. Looks like the policy was fairly effective after all!

Thursday, October 02, 2003
Let's Be Clear The administration's constant use of the term "Weapons of Mass Destruction," covering nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, has desensitized the public to it a bit. But let's be clear -- when the public backs military action in the name of WMD, they're doing it out of fear of nuclear weapons.

That reality should be informing this whole Valerie Plame affair. It's been reported that her work at the CIA involved "WMD." But this wasn't an effort to stop a crop-duster. The picture that's emerging is that she was focused more narrowly on nuclear weapons.

In the NY Times this morning, "people who know her" say "she passed herself off as a private energy expert." Given that most nations seeking to establish nuclear weapons programs do so uner the guise of building civilian nuclear power plants, an "energy expert" would seem to be a useful cover.

Elsewhere in the Times, she is described by a CIA source as "an operations officer in the counterproliferation division of the Operations Directorate. The division conducts clandestine operations that involve unconventional weapons in countries like Iran, Iraq and North Korea."

First off, "proliferation" is a key word that applies fairly narrowly to the spread of nuclear weapons. In addition, as we learned again this morning, the "unconventional weapons" that matter when you're talking about North Korea and Iran (if not necessarily Iraq) are nukes.

Valerie Plame was working to protect this nation and the world from nuclear weapons. Because of the loose lips of a "senior administration official" she can no longer do that work.

Bottom line: The Bush Administration is making this country less safe.

Um, That Didn't Come Out Right Noticed a new ad in the subway this morning. It advertises the availability of half-price metrocards for different classes of people, including seniors, Medicare recipients, people with physical disabilities and a "new" category: People who "Receive SSI and have a serious mental illness."

Now, there are some who would argue that all of us who climb down into the tunnels each morning in the post-9/11 must be afflicted with some form of a mental illness. But when the public thinks of "serious mental illness" in connection with the subway, they are most likely to think about the well-publicized, if still relatively rare, examples of violent acts committed by mentally ill riders.

The MTA's official definition (on p. 6 of this PDF) seems to indicate that the "serious" was necessary to stop alcoholics from applying. Still, the definition does indicate that we aren't talking about minor personality quirks:

"The applicant experiences substantial dysfunction in a number of areas of role performance or is dependent on substantial treatment, rehabilitation, and support services in order to control or maintain function capacity.

I'm not equipped to comment on the public-policy imperatives behind the policy. But from a marketing standpoint, it would be hard to imagine a less appealing message. The MTA really needs a flack.

Wednesday, October 01, 2003
The Commissioner of Evil Yankee fans looked petty earlier this week when they whined about having to play Game 1 at 1 p.m., rather than in prime time. They look even pettier tonight, when you consider what Boston Red Sox fans are facing -- a 10 p.m. Eastern time start for their team's first postseason game in four years.

What was baseball thinking? There is no reason in the world why they couldn't have switched the Giants-Marlins 4 p.m. game with the Red Sox-A's matchup. Lord knows no one in Florida's watching the Marlins, so a 10 p.m. start wouldn't have inconvenienced anyone. For the record, Bud Selig's blaming the TV Networks. Glad to see he's a stand-up guy.


Monday, September 29, 2003
Mutual Paranoia Society I earlier raised questions about whether the President was getting an honest accounting of economic conditions in the country from his staff. Now, the same questions can be raised about the assessments he's receiving about conditions in Iraq. Check out this exchange with National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice on Fox News Sunday yesterday:
TONY SNOW: Let me ask about press coverage of Iraq. It generally has fallen into the quagmire category. You're the person — Brit did a wonderful interview with the president last week, and the president said that he gets his news — he scans the newspapers and so on, but he gets his information primarily from you.

Does anybody brief the president on what's appearing in the mainstream press when it comes to the reporting on Iraq?

RICE: Of course. We talk about what's appearing in the mainstream press, and we also talk about the considerable divide between what's appearing in the mainstream press and what's actually going on in Iraq. [Emphasis Added]

Because anyone who goes to Iraq — congressional delegations, journalists who spend a good deal of time there, people who have gone and come back — a number of people, like former police chief from New York, Bernie Kerik, has come back from service there. Peter McPherson came back from doing economic work there. And they give a very different story of what's going on in Iraq, of progress being made every day, of life getting back to normal, of course of challenges remaining.

It's particularly interesting that she cites Kerik, who signed on for a six-month tour of duty in Baghdad, then decamped after only three. She's right -- he came back singing the praises of the American authorities there (and, by extension, his own work), but to my knowledge no one has yet asked him what changed to warrant his early departure. Either way, he's hardly an uninterested observer.

The logic gets even more tangled. Congressional delegations who make quick trips to Iraq (presumably within a secure American-military bubble) come away impressed and should be listened to, but journalists who go there briefly need to be ignored.

I'm not unsympathetic to the idea that the media, just as it does at home, might be applying an "if it bleeds, it leads" philosophy to its Iraq coverage. But the fact that we are preparing to call up scores more reservists to extend the occupation far past our initial estimates indicates that, Conservatives' assurances of "massive progress" aside, this isn't progressing according to plan.

When a plan isn't working out, that's usually the time to listen to some critical viewpoints -- you don't have to buy them, you just have to listen. Apparently, the president is more interested in listening to the people who got him into this in the first place.