Saturday, September 15, 2007

The Nightmare Is Here


Published: September 15, 2007

We’ve heard from General Petraeus, from Ambassador Crocker, and on Thursday night from President Bush. What we haven’t heard this week is anything about the tragic reality on the ground for the ordinary citizens of Iraq, which is in the throes of a catastrophic humanitarian crisis.

President Bush may not be aware of this. In his televised address to the nation he warned that a pullout of U.S. forces from Iraq could cause a “humanitarian nightmare.”

A trusted aide should take the president aside and quietly inform him that this nightmare arrived a good while ago.

When the U.S. launched its “shock and awe” invasion in March 2003, the population of Iraq was about 26 million. The flaming horror unleashed by the invasion has since forced 2.2 million of those Iraqis, nearly a tenth of the population, to flee the country. Many of those who left were professionals marked for death — doctors, lawyers, academics, the very people with the skills necessary to build a viable society.

The Iraq Ministry of Health reported that 102 doctors and 164 nurses were killed from April 2003 to May 2006. It is believed that nearly half of Iraq’s doctors have fled. The exodus of health care professionals in a country hemorrhaging from the worst kinds of violence pretty much qualifies as nightmarish.

While more than two million Iraqis have fled to other countries, another two million have been displaced internally. According to the Global Policy Forum, a group that monitors international developments:

“Most of these internally displaced persons, or I.D.P.’s, have sought refuge with relatives, or in mosques, empty public buildings, or tent camps. ...I.D.P.’s live in very poor conditions. Public buildings are particularly unsanitary, often overcrowded, without access to clean water, proper sanitation and basic services, in conditions especially conducive to infectious diseases.”

Iraqis are enduring most of their suffering out of the sight of the rest of the world. International relief organizations and most of the news media are largely kept at a distance by the insane levels of violence.

Access to safe drinking water is a problem in much of the country. (The World Health Organization was asked to help with a recent outbreak of cholera in parts of Kurdistan that is believed to have been caused by polluted water.) Sanitation facilities are routinely crippled by violence and sabotage. The economy, like the country’s infrastructure, is in shambles.

The worst aspect of the nightmare, of course, is the rain of death that has descended on Iraq since the U.S. invasion. Controversy has surrounded virtually all attempts to estimate the number of civilian casualties, but no one disputes that the toll is staggering.

The U.S. government has behaved as though these dead Iraqis were not even worth counting. In December 2005, President Bush casually mentioned “30,000, more or less” as the number of Iraqis killed in the war. The White House later said there were no official estimates of Iraqi deaths.

We shouldn’t be so cavalier. Based on all available evidence, it seems unreasonable to believe that fewer than 100,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed thus far. Many very serious scholars believe the total is much higher.

As for the number of wounded and disabled Iraqis — men, women and children who have lost limbs, or been paralyzed or otherwise maimed in air, rocket and bomb attacks — no one has a real grasp of the size of the problem.

“Just considering the number of the dead and the number of displaced, this is probably the biggest humanitarian crisis in the world,” said James Paul, the executive director of Global Policy Forum, which recently compiled an extensive report on the war and occupation. “This is the biggest displacement of people in the Middle East in a very long time.”

The effect on children of the carnage, the dislocations and the deteriorating quality of daily life has been profound. Conditions in Iraq were dire for children even before the war. One in eight died before the age of 5, many from the effects of malnutrition, polluted water and unsanitary conditions.

Now, more than four years after the invasion, huge numbers of Iraqi children are finding themselves orphaned, homeless, malnourished, and worse.

According to Unicef, the U.N.’s children’s agency: “Many children are separated from their families or on the streets, where they are extremely vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Most children have experienced trauma but few receive the care and support they need to help them cope with so much chaos, anxiety and loss.”

These are just a few of the things you won’t hear much about from the American officials in Washington who profess to care so deeply about the people of Iraq.

Gail Collins is off today.

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Willingham Is Vindicated by Early Success

Published: September 15, 2007

About three years ago, I began to carry around an imaginary college football scoreboard. It is a colossal contraption with all sorts of facts, figures and notations that go beyond the mere statistics of a game.

Notre Dame-Charlie Weis is the “team” on one side of the scoreboard; Washington-Tyrone Willingham is on the other. I keep weekly and season-to-season updates.

Today the scoreboard reads Notre Dame-Weis, 0-2; Washington-Willingham, 2-0.

I began keeping score on the imaginary board in 2004 after Willingham was unceremoniously, and unfairly, jettisoned as the Notre Dame head football coach, three days after an embarrassing road loss to Southern California.

In the press box that evening, Notre Dame faces were understandably red with humiliation as No. 1 U.S.C. routed the Irish, 41-10. It was the fifth loss by 30 points or more in Willingham’s three seasons.

After an outstanding first year was followed by a losing season, Willingham had been under fire from rabid Notre Dame alumni. So on Nov. 30, 2004, Willingham, Notre Dame’s first African-American head coach in any sport, was fired. Weis was hired from the New England Patriots a month later amid toasts and platitudes, and I’ve been keeping score ever since.

Even though nearly three years have come and gone, Willingham’s tenure at Notre Dame is frequently mentioned. The nature of Willingham’s firing and Weis’s hiring says a lot about standards and double standards and about the enduring unlevel playing field for African Americans in sports and beyond.

Weis was named the 28th head football coach in Notre Dame history in December 2004 when he agreed to a six-year contract worth a reported $2 million a year.

Weis, unlike Willingham, has always been a news media favorite, with his one-liners and zingers. He was a Notre Dame student, loved Notre Dame and bled Notre Dame, but the Irish really wanted Urban Meyer.

In Weis’s first season, the program improved significantly — with Willingham’s players. You can argue that Weis did a better job of coaching Willingham’s players; I like to think they were older and wiser. Midway through the first season of his six-year contract, Weis signed a new contract: a 10-year deal worth a reported $30 million to $40 million.

The common wisdom is that Weis got the contract on the strength a 5-2 record and Notre Dame’s close loss to a great U.S.C. team. There was also the misguided belief that Weis might run off to the N.F.L. I imagine that the same influential forces behind Willingham’s departure felt they’d better lock up their resident genius.

Newsflash: There are no geniuses in this business, only great players. There is smoke and mirrors, and there are video cameras. No geniuses.

Notre Dame has lost four consecutive games by at least 20 points, going back to last season when they were routed by U.S.C. and Louisiana State. The 2007 Irish have not scored an offensive touchdown and could be looking at 0-3 after today’s game at Michigan.

This season Weis is playing with his own players. He recruited quarterback Jimmy Clausen, the high school all-American, and apparently is going to stick with him through thick or thin.

In Seattle this afternoon, Willingham continues to ride his high school all-American quarterback, Jake Locker. Locker, a redshirt freshman, has led Washington to its first 2-0 start since the 2001 season.

Here are a couple notes to put on the imaginary scoreboard:

¶A fourth season should be mandatory for any head football coach at the Division I level. Every coach needs four seasons, at the very least, to coach the classes he inherited and bring along the players he recruited.

¶When a university finds a gem of a coach like Willingham, keep him. The cost of losing is high. Fishing for talent these days requires “feel” and “touch.” Not looking far enough, wide enough or deep enough for talent, choosing the safe and familiar, is not good business; eventually you will pay.

¶Willingham should not be the last African-American head football coach Notre Dame seriously considers — or hires.

¶Finally, the great thing about football is that results don’t lie. From South Bend to Seattle, 0-2 is 0-2; 2-0 is 2-0.

Washington faces a tremendous challenge against Ohio State this afternoon, and Willingham knows how quickly things can change.

Notre Dame could find its rhythm today and defeat Michigan; Ohio State could easily burst Washington’s bubble. Last season Washington went into October with a 4-1 record, including an upset victory over U.C.L.A. The Huskies lost their next six games and ended up 5-7.

That’s why today is an early-season day of reckoning for Notre Dame-Charlie Weis, and Washington-Tyrone Willingham.

Make no mistake: I’ll be scoreboard watching this afternoon.


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The Opinionator: 14 September 2007

Ted Olson is no Fredo: Matt Cooper, the Washington editor of Portfolio, still thinks Ted Olson, his attorney in the C.I.A. leak case, would be a good attorney general. “I wouldn’t appoint him Attorney General because I’m not a hard-core conservative,” Cooper writes at Capital, his Portfolio blog. “But this president is.” Cooper continues:

And Ted Olson, unlike Alberto Gonzales, is incredibly well qualified, maybe the best qualified person, to take the job under a Republican president. What’s more, he’s right wing but not, I think, reflexively so. After all, he sided with former Associate Attorney General James Comey in that showdown with Alberto Gonzales and Andy Card at John Ashcroft’s hospital room. He’s got a civil libertarian streak; see his work on First Amendment issues. As an experienced litigator, he’s by nature less of an ideologue than a judge or academic.

Senate Democrats, who are threatening to reject Olson if President Bush nominates him for the post, should be careful what they wish for. “[I]f Dems reject him, that’s a bad precedent for their presidencies,” Cooper writes. “They ought to be free to appoint liberals who are as partisan and brilliant as Olson.”

(Cooper made a similar case for Olson in August.)

In a faint-praise-filled editorial titled “The Least Bad Plan,” The Washington Post editorial page gives a cautious thumbs-up to President Bush’s speech last night.

The editorial says that “the president failed to acknowledge that, according to the standards he himself established in January, the surge of U.S. troops into Iraq has been a failure — because Iraqi political leaders did not reach the political accords that the sacrifice of American lives was supposed to make possible.”

But it concludes on a supportive note:

Still, there are no easy alternatives to the present policy. In the past we have looked favorably on bipartisan proposals that would change the U.S. mission so as to focus on counterterrorism and training of the Iraqi army, while withdrawing most U.S. combat units. Mr. Bush said he would begin a transition to that reduced posture in December. But according to Gen. Petraeus, Mr. Crocker and the consensus view of U.S. intelligence agencies, if the U.S. counterinsurgency mission were abandoned in the near future, the result would be massive civilian casualties and still-greater turmoil that could spread to neighboring countries.

Mr. Bush’s plan offers, at least, the prospect of extending recent gains against al-Qaeda in Iraq, preventing full-scale sectarian war and allowing Iraqis more time to begin moving toward a new political order. For that reason, it is preferable to a more rapid withdrawal. It’s not necessary to believe the president’s promise that U.S. troops will “return on success” in order to accept the judgment of Mr. Crocker: “Our current course is hard. The alternatives are far worse.”

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Friday, September 14, 2007

A Surge, and Then a Stab


Published: September 14, 2007

To understand what’s really happening in Iraq, follow the oil money, which already knows that the surge has failed.

Back in January, announcing his plan to send more troops to Iraq, President Bush declared that “America will hold the Iraqi government to the benchmarks it has announced.”

Near the top of his list was the promise that “to give every Iraqi citizen a stake in the country’s economy, Iraq will pass legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis.”

There was a reason he placed such importance on oil: oil is pretty much the only thing Iraq has going for it. Two-thirds of Iraq’s G.D.P. and almost all its government revenue come from the oil sector. Without an agreed system for sharing oil revenues, there is no Iraq, just a collection of armed gangs fighting for control of resources.

Well, the legislation Mr. Bush promised never materialized, and on Wednesday attempts to arrive at a compromise oil law collapsed.

What’s particularly revealing is the cause of the breakdown. Last month the provincial government in Kurdistan, defying the central government, passed its own oil law; last week a Kurdish Web site announced that the provincial government had signed a production-sharing deal with the Hunt Oil Company of Dallas, and that seems to have been the last straw.

Now here’s the thing: Ray L. Hunt, the chief executive and president of Hunt Oil, is a close political ally of Mr. Bush. More than that, Mr. Hunt is a member of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, a key oversight body.

Some commentators have expressed surprise at the fact that a businessman with very close ties to the White House is undermining U.S. policy. But that isn’t all that surprising, given this administration’s history. Remember, Halliburton was still signing business deals with Iran years after Mr. Bush declared Iran a member of the “axis of evil.”

No, what’s interesting about this deal is the fact that Mr. Hunt, thanks to his policy position, is presumably as well-informed about the actual state of affairs in Iraq as anyone in the business world can be. By putting his money into a deal with the Kurds, despite Baghdad’s disapproval, he’s essentially betting that the Iraqi government — which hasn’t met a single one of the major benchmarks Mr. Bush laid out in January — won’t get its act together. Indeed, he’s effectively betting against the survival of Iraq as a nation in any meaningful sense of the term.

The smart money, then, knows that the surge has failed, that the war is lost, and that Iraq is going the way of Yugoslavia. And I suspect that most people in the Bush administration — maybe even Mr. Bush himself — know this, too.

After all, if the administration had any real hope of retrieving the situation in Iraq, officials would be making an all-out effort to get the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki to start delivering on some of those benchmarks, perhaps using the threat that Congress would cut off funds otherwise. Instead, the Bushies are making excuses, minimizing Iraqi failures, moving goal posts and, in general, giving the Maliki government no incentive to do anything differently.

And for that matter, if the administration had any real intention of turning public opinion around, as opposed to merely shoring up the base enough to keep Republican members of Congress on board, it would have sent Gen. David Petraeus, the top military commander in Iraq, to as many news media outlets as possible — not granted an exclusive appearance to Fox News on Monday night.

All in all, Mr. Bush’s actions have not been those of a leader seriously trying to win a war. They have, however, been what you’d expect from a man whose plan is to keep up appearances for the next 16 months, never mind the cost in lives and money, then shift the blame for failure onto his successor.

In fact, that’s my interpretation of something that startled many people: Mr. Bush’s decision last month, after spending years denying that the Iraq war had anything in common with Vietnam, to suddenly embrace the parallel.

Here’s how I see it: At this point, Mr. Bush is looking forward to replaying the political aftermath of Vietnam, in which the right wing eventually achieved a rewriting of history that would have made George Orwell proud, convincing millions of Americans that our soldiers had victory in their grasp but were stabbed in the back by the peaceniks back home.

What all this means is that the next president, even as he or she tries to extricate us from Iraq — and prevent the country’s breakup from turning into a regional war — will have to deal with constant sniping from the people who lied us into an unnecessary war, then lost the war they started, but will never, ever, take responsibility for their failures.

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The Waning of I.Q.


Published: September 14, 2007

A nice phenomenon of the past few years is the diminishing influence of I.Q.

For a time, I.Q. was the most reliable method we had to capture mental aptitude. People had the impression that we are born with these information-processing engines in our heads and that smart people have more horsepower than dumb people.

And in fact, there’s something to that. There is such a thing as general intelligence; people who are good at one mental skill tend to be good at others. This intelligence is partly hereditary. A meta-analysis by Bernie Devlin of the University of Pittsburgh found that genes account for about 48 percent of the differences in I.Q. scores. There’s even evidence that people with bigger brains tend to have higher intelligence.

But there has always been something opaque about I.Q. In the first place, there’s no consensus about what intelligence is. Some people think intelligence is the ability to adapt to an environment, others that capacity to think abstractly, and so on.

Then there are weird patterns. For example, over the past century, average I.Q. scores have risen at a rate of about 3 to 6 points per decade. This phenomenon, known as the Flynn effect, has been measured in many countries and across all age groups. Nobody seems to understand why this happens or why it seems to be petering out in some places, like Scandinavia.

I.Q. can also be powerfully affected by environment. As Eric Turkheimer of the University of Virginia and others have shown, growing up in poverty can affect your intelligence for the worse. Growing up in an emotionally strangled household also affects I.Q.

One of the classic findings of this was made by H.M. Skeels back in the 1930s. He studied mentally retarded orphans who were put in foster homes. After four years, their I.Q.’s diverged an amazing 50 points from orphans who were not moved. And the remarkable thing is the mothers who adopted the orphans were themselves mentally retarded and living in a different institution. It wasn’t tutoring that produced the I.Q. spike; it was love.

Then, finally, there are the various theories of multiple intelligences. We don’t just have one thing called intelligence. We have a lot of distinct mental capacities. These theories thrive, despite resistance from the statisticians, because they explain everyday experience. I’m decent at processing words, but when it comes to calculating the caroms on a pool table, I have the aptitude of a sea slug.

I.Q., in other words, is a black box. It measures something, but it’s not clear what it is or whether it’s good at predicting how people will do in life. Over the past few years, scientists have opened the black box to investigate the brain itself, not a statistical artifact.

Now you can read books about mental capacities in which the subject of I.Q. and intelligence barely comes up. The authors are concerned instead with, say, the parallel processes that compete for attention in the brain, and how they integrate. They’re discovering that far from being a cold engine for processing information, neural connections are shaped by emotion.

Antonio Damasio of the University of Southern California had a patient rendered emotionless by damage to his frontal lobes. When asked what day he could come back for an appointment, he stood there for nearly half an hour describing the pros and cons of different dates, but was incapable of making a decision. This is not the Spock-like brain engine suggested by the I.Q.

Today, the research that dominates public conversation is not about raw brain power but about the strengths and consequences of specific processes. Daniel Schacter of Harvard writes about the vices that flow from the way memory works. Daniel Gilbert, also of Harvard, describes the mistakes people make in perceiving the future. If people at Harvard are moving beyond general intelligence, you know something big is happening.

The cultural consequence is that judging intelligence is less like measuring horsepower in an engine and more like watching ballet. Speed and strength are part of intelligence, and these things can be measured numerically, but the essence of the activity is found in the rhythm and grace and personality — traits that are the products of an idiosyncratic blend of emotions, experiences, motivations and inheritances.

Recent brain research, rather than reducing everything to electrical impulses and quantifiable pulses, actually enhances our appreciation of human complexity and richness. While psychometrics offered the false allure of objective fact, the new science brings us back into contact with literature, history and the humanities, and, ultimately, to the uniqueness of the individual.

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Waiting for the Fed, and Hoping

Published: September 14, 2007

That there is a financial crisis is clear. What is not so clear is whether the medicine in Dr. Ben Bernanke’s bag can do much good.

Next week, the Federal Reserve is expected to make the first cut of the Bernanke era in the federal funds rate. The Wall Street debate is over whether that cut will be just a quarter percentage point, or whether the Fed will show its determination to act by cutting the rate by twice that amount.

That the debate has gotten this far is evidence that the economy now seems much weaker than it did when Mr. Bernanke was testifying to Congress in July, just as the credit squeeze was getting under way. Then, he seemed to think there was no need for any cut at all, despite the crumbling housing market and the growing subprime problems.

A new poll of corporate chief financial officers, taken by Duke University and CFO Magazine, shows a surge in pessimism. Nearly a third of the financial bosses say their companies have been hurt by the credit market turmoil. And few see much benefit from Fed action. Nearly half think a cut of half a percentage point would not help their companies at all, and most of the rest see only a small benefit from such a move.

For many companies, the immediate credit issue is not price, but availability. Can they borrow enough money to get by?

The next part of the crisis may come from a company that is unable to borrow enough money to pay off maturing commercial paper. The Fed can help there, with gentle urging to banks not to be overly tight in their lending standards, and there is reason to hope that the immediate problem will pass with banks taking on a lot more loans.

But even if it does pass, there is the question of where companies will borrow in the future, whether to finance expansions or acquisitions, or just to raise capital if and when their business turns down. The credit markets were wide open just three months ago. Now they are all but shut to companies with speculative-grade ratings.

In the second quarter, the total volume of new junk bonds and leveraged loans averaged $88 billion a month. In August, the figure was $6.6 billion. That is a 93 percent decline.

“For the first time in years the loan market is all but gridlocked,” Standard & Poor’s said this week in its leveraged company commentary. “Demand has withered, forcing arrangers to put the massive calendar of underwritten deals on ice.”

That has happened, it may be noted, with virtually no defaults on corporate loans. But the majority of such loans were financed through securitizations, in which the risk was sliced and diced in ways that enabled most of the money to be put up by investors who bought securities rated AAA, the highest possible rating.

Sometimes those ratings were a bit off. Three weeks ago, one such security still had AAA ratings. But since then Moody’s has cut it twice, and it is now in the nether regions of junk, rated Caa2, with Moody’s warning it could go lower. It’s sort of like going from class valedictorian to remedial reading failure.

That fall is unusual, but instructive. The security in question, called a variable leveraged super senior certificate, was sure to be safe unless the market value of a bunch of AA-rated securities collapsed. Those securities are still rated AA, Moody’s tells me, but their market values have plunged.

“Liquidity in asset-backed markets has dried up,” Merwyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, told Parliament this week, and banks will have to return to their historic roles as financial intermediaries. “That process,” he added, “is likely to be temporary, but it may not be smooth.”

Eventually, perhaps, a safer and more cautious securitization market will develop. In the meantime, banks, and perhaps some institutional investors, will be called upon to finance corporate loans directly. Until some part of that happens, the credit squeeze is on.

Lowering the fed funds rate — the rate at which banks lend to one another — will not hurt. It will make it cheaper for high-quality borrowers to raise money, and some of that will filter down. But it will not address the issues that have caused credit to tighten.

Nor will it get us closer to learning just where prices will settle — whether for homes or companies — in an era when risky loans are no longer easy to come by. This week’s stock market euphoria at the prospect of Fed easing is likely to be temporary.

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Rutgers Has Spotlight and Glare


Published: September 14, 2007

Here comes another duck lined up for the shooting — and shouting — gallery known as Rutgers Stadium. Here comes another meal-on-wheels for a new college football carnivore, all the way to central New Jersey from Virginia, by bus.

Here come the Spartans of Norfolk State for what is certain to be a Big East pasting tomorrow afternoon in exchange for a $275,000 payday that will at least spare them an even more arduous journey later this season.

“The money we’ll make from this game will help us with a number of things, and one of them is to be able to fly down to Tallahassee when we play Florida A&M next month,” said Marty Miller, the Norfolk State athletic director. “We’ve always gone by bus — 14 hours.”

Whatever the chances, slim to none, of riding high from Rutgers back to Norfolk, Miller and his head coach, Pete Adrian, leapt at the chance to replace Howard — which, like Norfolk State, is out of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference — on Rutgers’s 2007 schedule.

There are tangible benefits to a Saturday in Piscataway, N.J., as well as exposure and excitement for a team from the division formerly known as Division I-AA. “I was talking with the Rutgers people, and they told me it’s a sellout,” Miller said. “It’ll be the biggest crowd our kids have ever played in front of.”

Exactly what kind of reception awaits Norfolk State is another issue, raised last Friday night by an undetermined number of Rutgers fans in the student section, said to have profanely and drunkenly serenaded Navy’s players during a 41-24 Rutgers victory. The verbal assault — Imus in the evening — was first reported this week in The Star-Ledger of Newark, along with the Rutgers administration’s apologies to the Naval Academy. Writing in Wednesday’s edition of The Daily Targum, Rutgers’s student newspaper, the university’s athletic director, Robert E. Mulcahy III, called the vulgarity “undignified, disrespectful and unacceptable,” adding it had “embarrassed the university, the alumni and Rutgers fans across the state.”

It was bad enough that it came nearly six months after the Rutgers women’s basketball team was the victim in the infamous case of Don Imus, the subsequently defrocked shock jock. It was worse that the targets were representatives of a military academy. But beyond the characterization of the opponent — ascribed or imagined — is the macro-question of institutional accountability. How rabid is Rutgers? How will it deal with its newfound prominence as a college football power?

Will it pursue an agenda of academic legitimacy even in cases when it risks the possibility of losing the prize recruit and slipping a rung after a long, painful climb? Will it better prepare itself for the greater visibility that comes with an enhanced level of scrutiny?

With the Navy debacle presumably behind it, will Rutgers now realize that the many night games it plays for the sake of national television brings into high definition the fact that on campuses nationwide, sundown for many means the end of sobriety?

There is a very fine line between the raucous crowds and home-field advantages the high-minded sports powers from Duke on down have forever winked at, and the unruliness that can result when students and fans are allowed to do as they please. Just as deserving of an apology from Rutgers were the families now flocking to Rutgers games, many of whom, as Mulcahy wrote in the student newspaper, “were so upset” they “left the game with their children.”

Every player in an opposing uniform happens to be somebody’s child. Every opponent deserves a sporting welcome, and especially the Norfolk State Spartans, given the sacrificial nature of their visit.

They haven’t had a winning season in the 10 years since they joined what is now called the Division I Football Championship Subdivision. They lost to a Howard team last season that was beaten by Rutgers, 56-7. A historically black university, Norfolk State has in Adrian, a former defensive coordinator in the conference at Bethune-Cookman, its first white head football coach, the only current one in the country at a historically black university.

Miller said he had to ask the university president’s permission to make the controversial hire for the 2005 season, after a turbulent period for the program that included N.C.A.A. infractions. Adrian subsequently recruited a quarterback transfer, the 6-foot-5 Casey Hansen, who is also white and is now the starter.

“There’s been no issues, none whatsoever,” Adrian said when asked about racial complexities or complications. “When they hired me, they told me they just wanted to win. And I always thought that Norfolk State — looking at the area, at the stadium, which seats 30,000 — should be able to. Now we look at a school like Rutgers and say: Why can’t we be that in our conference?”

But what, exactly, is Rutgers after one season of flying? It’s going to take another season or two — and the university’s community at-large — to answer that question.


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From Championship Years to Tarnish on Belichick


Published: September 14, 2007

I can hear it now, the chorus of Patriots haters shouting: “I knew it, I knew it, I knew it. I knew them guys were cheating.”

The justified cynicism will come forth now that N.F.L. Commissioner Roger Goodell has levied a hefty penalty — a $500,000 fine for Coach Bill Belichick, a $250,000 fine for the team and the loss of draft picks to be determined — for videotaping the Jets’ signals.

That’s right, boys and girls: Santa Claus cheats.

Goodell said that because the video was seized in the first quarter Sunday, he did not believe it affected the game. But knowing Belichick, the video was not for that game, anyway, but for an encounter later in the season.

In the wake of the commissioner’s stiff penalty against the Patriots, announced last night, claims that the Patriots’ successes were counterfeit, sadly, have to be considered.

Goodell came down hard, and he should have. In fact, he should have come down harder, given how he has leveled players like Pacman Jones, Tank Williams and Michael Vick. What New England did cuts to the integrity of the game; what those players did makes the game look seamy, but it does not impact our faith that the game is being played on a level playing field.

Given the commissioner’s harsh action against players who have transgressed off the field, I would have suspended a head coach whose actions strike at the integrity of the game. I would have liked to have seen Belichick suspended and the Patriots stripped of a first- and third-round pick. Under the current penalty, the Patriots only forfeit their first-round pick in 2008 if they make the playoffs.

Why the sudden mercy? Because Belichick’s a coach? When the league suspended the Cowboys’ quarterback coach, Wade Wilson, for five games for buying human growth hormone, Wilson said he was told by Goodell that he held authority figures in higher regard than the players. Goodell said in a statement yesterday that he considered a suspension for Belichick but thought the fines and the loss of draft choices was more effective.

Yesterday’s ruling confirms that the Patriots, held up by the news media as the model of how to run a franchise, had a little bit of help along the way. They cheated. So, is the essence of Belichick’s genius: the X’s and O’s, or the hidden cameras?

In any event, the second-guessing has already started. On Wednesday, Hines Ward, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ star receiver, told reporters that he had always been suspicious of the Patriots and that the Patriots might have cheated during the American Football Conference championship game of the 2001 season.

“Oh, they knew,” Ward said. “They were calling our stuff out. They knew, especially that first championship game here at Heinz Field. They knew a lot of our calls."

Maybe. Maybe not. On the one hand, I feel about the camera scandal the way I feel about drugs and great home run hitters: Drugs don’t help eye-hand coordination, but drugs do help.

Similarly, for all of the cameras and improperly taped hand signals, a team still must execute — and the Patriots have.

But a little extra, ill-gotten information in the hands of a coach like Belichick goes a long, long way.

The next question is, how widespread is this?

The former Steelers running backs coach Dick Hoak recently told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that the Steelers once received a suspicious videotape by mistake from an opposing team during a routine tape exchange. The tape focused on a coach making hand signals from the sideline. Hoak said the Steelers did not report the tape to the N.F.L.

Now you wonder: If the Patriots, the N.F.L.’s standard bearer, stooped to cheating, is the practice widespread? I’m curious to hear what Belichick says about this. Is it widespread and the Patriots simply got caught?

Is every team cheating? Is everyone out there trying to steal signs? Does every team have a camera operator slithering around? I doubt it. At least the cheats were caught.

At one level, I’m tempted to pass this off as the pros just trying to get an edge. Hey, everybody tries to get an edge: Players continue to use H.G.H., and some still use steroids. There are tests in place to catch some of those cheats, although the league does not currently test for H.G.H. The N.F.L. more or less operates on an honor system of sorts when it came to its head coaches because head coaches know how difficult it is to get a W in their league.

On the other hand, an edge in the hands of a coach like Belichick is more than an edge. It’s an ax. My mother used to famously say, “Cheaters never prosper.”

Now, we’re left to wonder.


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Domestic Disturbances: a blog at the NY Times by Judith Warner

September 13, 2007, 6:40 pm

“A prudent cuckold (and there are many such at Paris), pockets his horns, when he cannot gore with them; and will not add to the triumph of his maker by only butting with them ineffectually.”
– Philip Dormer Stanhope, Earl of Chesterfield, “Letters to His Son on the Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman, 1753-54

One last, lingering thought on France:

It was fascinating to be on the other side of the Atlantic this summer while Americans were chewing over our latest rounds of slimy political sex scandals.

It wasn’t that the sinning, maneuvering and marital posturing of the Larry Craigs and David Vitters received so very much attention. It was, rather, that their stories seemed so dreary, so tawdry and so second-rate compared with the much more dignified and attractive tableau vivant of family disorder exhibited by France’s new president, Nicholas Sarkozy, and first lady, Cécilia.

In case you missed it, Sarkozy last year greatly entertained France by running a campaign in which his wife was almost entirely absent. Cécilia, a former model whom Nicholas first eyed, in his previous incarnation as mayor of the city of Neuilly, while administering the vows that consecrated her last marriage, left him in 2005, eventually showing up – and being photographed – with her lover in New York City.

The Sarkozys ultimately reunited. But life together remained rocky. Cécilia made major headlines once again last May when she pulled a no-show on the night of her husband’s final run-off race against his Socialist rival, Ségolène Royal.

She was rumored not to have voted at all.

Yet by summer, in the press at least, all was forgotten. When I was there, every major magazine featured glowing profiles of the new first lady. They praised her charm, her fashion sense, her break-the-mold modernity.

Could such public forgiving and forgetting of a wanton political wife ever have happened here? And could Americans, like the French, ever elect a cuckold to the presidency?

The question is more relevant than it seems.

I’m thinking, of course — aren’t I always? — of Hillary Clinton.

I spent the end of the summer thinking how remarkable it was that Cécilia’s affair hadn’t sunk Nicholas Sarkozy’s presidential prospects. After all, throughout history, the “cuckold” has typically been viewed as a fool, lacking in wit, power and general masculine wherewithal. It’s believed that the image of a cuckold as horned fool dates back to a legend of European villagers donning horns and parading around to humiliate betrayed husbands.

Although a female version of the word cuckold exists (it’s cuckquean), it’s little used, probably because, as far as the larger sense of the word’s meaning is concerned, there has been no female equivalent of the cuckold. Wronged wives typically have been figures of sympathy, not jest. The difference has stemmed, I think, from the fact that, throughout history, a wife’s infidelity meant that male power and privilege was upended. The natural order of things was usurped.

At least, that’s the way it’s traditionally been.

Sarkozy has made a lot of bold and defiant gestures since winning the election – appointing Socialists to key government posts, vacationing in America – but perhaps one of his boldest, cleverest and most successful has been the fact that, by keeping his head high, standing by his woman and steadfastly, defiantly, professing his love and desire (she is “the only non-negotiable part” of his career, he has said), he has transcended the old role of cuckold. He has instead been something more like a political wife.

As for Hillary – contemplating the Sarkozys this summer drove home to me the gender-bending aspect of her own unfortunate personal history. A formidable woman of real power and prestige, she emerged from the Monica affair much more cuckold than cuckquean. Her husband’s perfidy did, in a sense, disturb the natural order of things; in the post-feminist age, women like Hillary are not supposed to be subject to such indignities.

Hillary has never been, as she herself once put it, “some little woman standing by my man.” Perhaps that’s what made the spectacle of her public humiliation so unique and so unsettling and, ultimately, so unforgivable for the many women who came away from it all despising her.

I think I now understand that particular aspect of the Clinton conundrum in a way I never did before. It comes down to this: nobody likes a cuckold.

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Ottoman Swede


Published: September 13, 2007


As members of Congress mull what to do next in Iraq, they might glance at a League of Nations report of July 16, 1925, on the new Middle Eastern state then being carved by the British from the wreckage of the Ottoman Empire.

The report said that despite “the good intentions of the statesmen of Iraq, whose political experience is necessarily small, it is to be feared that serious difficulties may arise out of the differences which in some cases exist in regard to political ideas between the Shiites of the South and the Sunnites of the North, the racial differences between Arabs and Kurds, and the necessity of keeping the turbulent tribes under control.”

And it warned: “These difficulties might be fatal to the very existence of the State if it were left without support and guidance.”

So much for things changing. They don’t, or only slowly, when attempts are made to carve sustainable nation states from multiethnic empires.

This 82-year-old document was handed to me by Carl Bildt, the Swedish foreign minister, a man of dry humor and quick tongue who can claim to be the world’s authority on messes in post-Ottoman areas. “From Bihac to Basra,” he said, referring to towns in western Bosnia and Southern Iraq, “these things take time and benchmarks don’t count for much.”

Bildt recently returned from Baghdad where Sweden has much to discuss given that 20,000 Iraqi refugees are expected to arrive here this year, a number that dwarfs the trickle of fleeing Iraqis into the United States. This imbalance is shameful, but that’s another story. Iraqis have no special desire to trade desert for pine forest, but Sweden has the merit of letting them in.

In the Iraqi capital, Bildt heard divergent political visions from Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, the Shiite prime minister, and Tariq al-Hashemi, the Sunni vice president. The notion of give-and-take, of compromise reached rather than domination imposed, is a Middle Eastern novelty.

Give-and-take has not been a big Balkan thing either, and it was in the Balkans, as a special European Union envoy, that Bildt cut his teeth on post-Ottoman mayhem. He sees “massive parallels” between Yugoslavia’s violent dismemberment once dictatorship ended and Iraq’s turbulent deliverance from tyranny.

Both states were invented in the post-World War I years in areas long under complete or partial Ottoman dominion. Both were beautiful inventions, bridges between divergent cultures and religions and ethnic groups, mosaics beneath a national flag. Both had the drawback of tending toward their own self-destruction in the absence of a strongman to resolve contradiction through force.

Freedom is a funny thing. Life without it is misery. But a glance at the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia or now Iraq is a sufficient reminder that distinct peoples forcefully gathered into a dictatorial state will react in the first instance to liberty by trying to get free of each other rather than trying to imagine a liberal democracy.

As Miroslav Hroch, the Czech political theorist, has observed, ethnic or religious nationalism easily become the “substitutes for factors of integration in a disintegrating nation.” That’s where we are in Iraq. In plotting a social revolution, the ushering to power of a subjugated Shiite majority through the overthrow of a minority Sunni dictatorship, the Bush administration did not ponder or plan for these realities.

That’s unfortunate, indeed unforgivable, but it’s done.

Bildt, Balkan-hardened, takes the long view. “If you take the Ottoman areas, they were Muslim but tolerant with an array of different cultures and their replacement with different versions of the 19th-century nation state has proved very difficult, be it in the Balkans, in Cyprus or the Middle East.”

He cannot imagine a quick American exit. “Iraqi leaders will want some sort of exit perspective, but a long-term one,” he says. As long as Iran and Saudi Arabia see Iraq as a Shia-Sunni battlefield, peace will be elusive.

The Balkan analogy is interesting. Yugoslavia’s breakup saw four years of war, then another war in Kosovo four years later. Only regional pressure — the bait of European Union membership — and a large European and American military presence have brought calm. The question of Kosovo’s independence from Serbia remains explosive.

This fragile stability is where the 16-year arc from the eruption of the Balkan wars in 1991 has led. Given that regional realities make an Iraqi breakup unthinkable, the architecture of the Yugoslavia-in-miniature in Bosnia is probably the most helpful guide for Baghdad: a fig-leaf national government presiding over a loose federation.

If the United States meets the responsibilities its invasion engaged and the region can be coaxed to help rather than hinder, we may attain such fragile stability 16 years from Saddam’s fall: that would be 2019, just over a century after the Ottoman collapse.

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Sleepwalking in September


Published: September 13, 2007

Fred! Fred!

He’s here. He’s tanned. He’s ready.

He looks like he needs a nap.

When it comes to overhyped underperformers, Fred Thompson’s entry into the presidential race was right up there with Britney Spears at the MTV awards.

The Republican Party’s great tall hope announced his intentions on Jay Leno’s show, and timed it to coincide with his avoidance of the candidate debate in New Hampshire. That was supposed to send the message of — what? A fear of crowds? A preference for answering questions only while seated? His performance certainly could not have been more low-key. You do not often hear somebody say “I’m running for president” in the same tone Jay’s guests use to announce that they’ve signed on for the next season of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Then Thompson climbed onto a bus for a trip through Iowa and other states that are going to be first to vote, even if they have to hold the elections tomorrow. It quickly became apparent that whatever our newest top-tier candidate had been up to during those long months of water-testing did not involve practicing a speech. In Iowa, he rambled. The Daily News reported that at one town hall meeting he seemed to be telling the audience that Americans were winning over Iraqis because of Al Qaeda’s no-smoking policy. He appeared to be developing a different position on Osama bin Laden for every state.

(Best guess now is that Thompson wants to see bin Laden “caught and killed,” then granted due process.)

On the subject of gay marriage, he told an interviewer for the Christian Broadcast Network that he had an idea for a constitutional amendment that would “prevent that one state moving from another and someone having to recognize it.”

This was supposed to be the answer to the Republican core’s primal pain. Find us somebody to nominate! Someone slightly less smarmy than Mitt and slightly less strange than Rudy. “My story is an American story ... a small-town kid of modest means and modest goals,” Thompson tells the voters on his Fred08 Web site. Viewers can feel free to recall that Mitt Romney’s dad was a business tycoon and governor. And you can be sure that Fred was not spending his teens founding a high-school opera club like some former New York City mayors we could name.

Thompson, by all accounts, was indeed an underachiever who rose to fame and fortune mainly through powerful friends and good luck. The perfect answer for a country reeling from two terms with an underachiever who rose to fame and fortune mainly through powerful friends and good genes. And so far at least, it’s working in the polls. An affable guy who doesn’t try hard — what could be more refreshing?

There was always speculation that Thompson’s supporters were trying to cast a president rather than nominate one, and that his big selling point was not a résumé or even a personal story, but simply that down-home aura — a drawl in a nice suit. What nobody really expected, though, was that the former senator/lobbyist/actor would emerge on the political stage in a state of apparent exhaustion. He’s 65, but compared to him, 71-year-old John McCain looks like a pup. Either the guy never had an edge, or he lost it somewhere between “Die Hard 2” and “Baby’s Day Out.”

Or maybe he’s a victim of trying to Have It All.

You may have heard that Thompson, who was long divorced, married a woman 25 years his junior in 2002. They now have a 3-year-old daughter and an infant son. Everybody started the campaign off together last week. Little Hayden showed a crowd how she could make like an elephant and Samuel got his diaper changed on the bus during a TV interview.

It’s not unusual for wealthy men to decide they can dive into fatherhood and Social Security at the same time. This presidential field is awash with candidates of late-middle-age whose kids can still qualify for Breakfast with Santa. But none are quite so old or have children quite so young as Thompson’s. And these days it’s hard for an overage dad to get away with absentee fatherhood, especially when mom is intimately involved in the management of his campaign, as Jeri Thompson, seems to be. Yes, his wife goes by Jeri Thompson. Maybe the combination of kids and campaigning has left him too ground down to glad hand. Too pooped to pander.

If so, a lot of women are going to find the story very comforting. Not that we’re resentful of the fact that men’s biological clocks never seem to ring. Or that they’re not the ones who have to decide if they can handle both children and a career.

If it turns out that mixing a race for the most powerful job on the planet with two preschoolers is too much for any one 65-year-old man to do, millions of women will say, welcome to the club, Fred. We know how you feel.

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Woodstock’s Values, and Abraham’s, Too

Published: September 13, 2007


In his Rosh Hashana sermon today, Rabbi Jonathan Kligler, like many rabbis, will try to put the eternal struggle to square human fallibility with human aspiration in a context particularly germane to his own congregation.

So in the prepared text of his sermon he begins by meditating on “messianic visions of modernity,” particularly the idealism and passions of the ’60s that brought so many of his peers to this Catskill town still defined by the concert that wasn’t held here. Along with mulling over the “yetzer hara,” the capacity for evil, and the “yetzer hatov,” the capacity for good and the ancient wisdom of Rabbi Huna of Tzipori, he’ll tell his congregation to keep hope alive.

“I never want to abandon my idealism,” he says, near the beginning of the sermon. “I’m the rabbi of Woodstock, for God’s sake!”

Yes, Mr. Kligler is the rebbe of a distinctive congregation, where the High Holy Days ceremonies are always held outdoors in their beloved tent, and the first Rosh Hashana service begins with the singing of the ’60s anthem “Turn! Turn! Turn!” with the rabbi playing guitar, where there’s always plenty of singing, dancing and hugging along with the davening.

But still, two decades on, there’s a tale of modern Jewish life in the success of the Woodstock Jewish Congregation — Kehillat Lev Shalem (which means “the congregation of the full heart”). Like its members, like many Jews, it has tried to balance tradition and modernity, staying true to its core values and adapting to change, and has managed mostly to do it, even though no one began with a vision of a place that has an annual golf outing at the Rip Van Winkle Country Club.

“Our goal has always been to be truly welcoming, truly tolerant, true to the Woodstock ethos,” said Rabbi Kligler, who came to the congregation in 1988 as a student rabbi and never left. “At the beginning, no one wanted to have memberships, there was no accounting system. Our challenge was to grow without losing our vision and spirit.”

There were plenty of Jews in Woodstock, but no synagogue closer than Kingston until late 1986, when two refugees from Brooklyn, Laurie Schwartz and Nathan Brenowitz, decided to start one. First, they wanted to have a place where their son could learn to be Jewish — and they could learn along with him. Second, as Mr. Brenowitz noted, most of the Jews in town seemed to be Hindus or Buddhists, and they wanted a place with a Jewish identity that evoked the spirituality all their friends were seeking.

They placed an ad in The Woodstock Times announcing their intentions to start a synagogue that attracted 70 responses. First they planned a High Holy Days ceremony in a single room at the Woodstock Children’s Center. Then as word spread, they thought they could do it in two rooms with the prayer leader straddling the doorway between them. In the end, they rented a tent and more than 250 people attended the first service.

They operated for many years out of an abandoned flea market in nearby Saugerties. They contemplated a new building but worried that a traditional capital campaign might not be their thing. “The capital campaign consultants talked about a giving pyramid, with the big donors at the top,” Rabbi Kligler said. “That wasn’t going to work. We’re more like a giving mesa.”

But they pulled it off. This is their second year in the new $3 million, 12,500-square-foot building (which actually is in Woodstock) with the 150 purple chairs in the sanctuary donated by the Catskill Mountain Christian Center in Margaretville. There will be about 1,500 people attending the High Holy Days ceremonies, the membership is now 375 families, and the new building means the rabbi no longer has to operate out of a trailer behind the old flea market.

There have been at least two times of crisis. The first came when the congregation split over the rabbi’s suggestion that it affiliate with the Reconstructionist Movement, where he was trained (they decided to remain unaffiliated), the second the result of bitter political schisms after 9/11 and the second intifada over whether the synagogue was supporting Israel enough or supporting it too much (a few members quit, but life went on).

THE congregation is still distinctive, proud to have sponsored the bat mitzvah of a transsexual member who had her bar mitzvah decades ago. But Rabbi Kligler figures that with Judaism facing a growing chasm between the Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox on one side and those more comfortable with modernity on the other, its experience isn’t just its own.

And though anyone can attend the High Holy Days services, those who’ve paid their membership dues get to park at the temple, a perk that might have been blasphemous in the old days, but no more.

“We finally have a privilege for members,” the rabbi said. “It makes a big difference. People have joined, so they can park on site.”


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The Opinionator Sept 11-13

Who cares if it’s not really a mash-up? The Yahoo!/Huffington Post/Slate forum for the Democratic presidential candidates is now live, and Todd Beeton of thinks it’s pretty good. Beeton writes:

Although not technically a debate, this is one of the best forums we’ve had to hear the views of the candidates if only because each candidate is allowed to delve more deeply than normal into each of only 3 topics. It’s also refreshing to see the “lower tier” candidates given as much time as the front-runners so they can actually be heard for a change. What’s missing, of course, is the opportunity for candidates to clash head-to-head but that hardly happens during the normal debates anyway.

Internet evangelist Jeff Jarvis is, shall we say, less positive. Writing at his BuzzMachine blog, Jarvis calls the forum “a pathetic insult to the voters that is years behind in Internet culture.” He adds:

So we end up with watching Charlie Rose and Bill Maher asking the candidates questions on the usual topics –­ do we have a shortage of this on TV debates? Where’s the interactivity? Well, we get to pick which videos to watch. Oooh, the freedom. It’s like a bad children’s museum: “Here, children, push this button. You won’t do any harm.”

We should be the ones asking the questions. We should be the ones selecting the questions. We should be the ones editing the questions.

Instead, they give us buttons to push. What an insult.

Jarvis proposes a way to make the debate a true mash-up: “For you see, it’s not just about us watching. It’s about us producing and broadcasting.” He elaborates, “Indeed, why not go one step farther and take all the video from all the debates ­ since they are open to our unrestricted reuse ­ and put them together so we can produce and publish the ultimate mashups from the election so far?”

It is an understatement to say that two prominent conservative opinion-slingers are unhappy with Fred Thompson’s presidential campaign rollout. In his Washington Post column, George Will writes:

Fred Thompson’s plunge into the presidential pool — more belly-flop than swan dive — was the strangest product launch since that of New Coke in 1985. Then, the question was: Is this product necessary? A similar question stumped Thompson the day he plunged.

Will then dissects Thompson’s interview with conservative talk-radio host Laura Ingraham about his past support for the McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform. Will writes of Thompson, “His rambling, incoherent explanation was just clear enough to be alarming about what he believes, misremembers and does not know.”

Robert Novak is less unkind but still critical. “Thompson’s late start in itself is not a fatal flaw,” Novak writes in his Chicago Sun-Times column. “Still, it had been conceded in party circles that when he finally became a candidate, his beginning better be memorable. It was not.”


Tonight’s presidential “mash-up” debate, sponsored by The Huffington Post, Slate and Yahoo! is neither a debate nor a mash-up, complains National Review’s Jim Geraghty at his Campaign Spot blog.

Geraghty links to a Wired story by Sarah Lai Stirland that explains the problem:

Mashups typically involve the combination of two disparate elements — for example, metropolitan crime data and Google maps, or rapper Jay Z’s The Black Album and the Beatles’ The White Album — to make new creations such as or Danger Mouse’s The Grey Album.

To that end, Yahoo said as recently as Friday that it would upload the raw footage from the online debate to its own web-based video editing service Jumpcut, to make it easy for the footage to be spliced and diced as citizen editors saw fit. “Users will be able to create their own mashups and post the footage onto their websites afterwards — that’s for the hardcore fans who want to engage with this video,” spokesman Brian Nelson told Wired News.

But on Monday, Nelson called back to say the company had changed its mind. Instead the “mashup page” will only [let] citizens pick and choose which candidates they want to hear from on particular issues, by pointing and clicking on a web interface.

Geraghty concludes, “So in the end, users can… watch 15-minute interviews with the Democratic presidential candidates conducted by PBS host Charlie Rose. Thrilling!”

(Click the following link to read six articles published on the Times op-ed page last month as responses to the question, “What would a real new-media debate look like?”)


Time magazine political columnist Joe Klein thinks the full-page advertisement, which referred to “General Betray Us,” in Monday’s New York Times was “morally and politically outrageous.”

“MoveOn has handed the Bush Administration a major victory — at a moment when all attention should be focused on whether we should continue to commit U.S. troops to this disaster,” Klein writes at Swampland, the Time political blog. “Just nauseating.” (Gen. Petraeus hadn’t yet told Senator John Warner, Republican of Virginia, that he wasn’t sure whether the Iraq war was making America safer when Klein wrote his blog post.)

Klein thinks the flap over the advertisement will be more than a one-day story. He writes:

Usually the Republicans are the ones who’ve tried to change topics at a crucial Iraq moment…but MoveOn usurped that gambit this time. This is going to put the Democrats on the defensive. They’re going to have to answer questions like the one posed by the odious Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida: Will you disassociate yourselves from this? The Presidential candidates will be asked…and they will have to either disassociate themselves from MoveOn (which the party’s base won’t like) or associate themselves with calling General Petraeus a traitor. And make no mistake: One who betrays us is a traitor.


Christopher Orr, a senior editor for The New Republic, is outraged that “more is not being made of the news that, back in 1992 when he was a lawyer/lobbyist, Fred Thompson billed a few hours of work on behalf of two Libyan intelligence agents charged with (and one of them later convicted of) the bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.” Orr writes:

Several prominent lobbyists, including Tommy Boggs, turned down overtures to work for Libya on the case, despite offers of a reported $1.5 million retainer. Vicki Reggie Kennedy, wife of Ted, actually resigned a partnership in her law firm over its decision to represent Libya, even though–as far as I can tell–she was never asked to do any work on the case.

But not good ol’ Fred. Not go along to get along, take a dollar where you find it Fred. A couple dozen hours lobbying for abortion rights? Why not? A few more spent helping defend two men accused of a heinous act of terrorism? Heck, if it wasn’t Fred, it’d just be someone else, right?

In a political era in which the cost of a man’s haircut can be treated as though it were a window into his soul, you’d think people would be a little more curious what it says about Fred Thompson that he’d do work–even just 3.3 hours of it–for indicted terrorists.


You don’t need to listen to Gen. David Petraeus to know that “the surge has failed, as measured by the president’s and Petraeus’s standards of success,” writes George Will in his Washington Post column. He continues:

Those who today stridently insist that the surge has succeeded also say they are especially supportive of the president, Petraeus and the military generally. But at the beginning of the surge, both Petraeus and the president defined success in a way that took the achievement of success out of America’s hands.

The purpose of the surge, they said, is to buy time — “breathing space,” the president says — for Iraqi political reconciliation. Because progress toward that has been negligible, there is no satisfactory answer to this question: What is the U.S. military mission in Iraq?

Americans are, and will always be, uncomfortable with “wars of choice” like Korea, Vietnam and Iraq, Will suggests. “What ‘forced’ America to go to war in 2003 — the ‘gathering danger’ of weapons of mass destruction — was fictitious,” he writes. “That is one reason this war will not be fought, at least not by Americans, to the bitter end.” He continues:

The end of the war will, however, be bitter for Americans, partly because the president’s decision to visit Iraq without visiting its capital confirmed the flimsiness of the fallback rationale for the war — the creation of a unified, pluralist Iraq.

After more than four years of war, two questions persist: Is there an Iraq? Are there Iraqis?

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Model Franchise Sprouts an Unsightly Blemish

Published: September 13, 2007

The biography of the Patriots’ owner, Robert K. Kraft, in the team’s 2006 media guide, brags that the three-time Super Bowl champions “are often referred to as a model franchise.” But no longer.

It now appears to be a model fraud, a model cheat.

Coach Bill Belichick apologized yesterday for the video camera, seized by the National Football League, that taped the Jets’ sideline signals Sunday at Giants Stadium. At least, that was presumably what he was apologizing for, although he never said it in so many words. But that’s Belichick at his vaguest best, or worst.

Whatever the semantics, Belichick was simply copping a guilty plea.

Let’s hope Commissioner Roger Goodell doesn’t shed a tear. Let’s hope that Goodell remembers that the Patriots not only were the subject of similar videotape incidents in recent years, but that the issue was discussed at length at league meetings earlier this year. It is also the issue that the Patriots apparently ignored until the Jets’ security director, Steve Yarnell, alerted league officials to a Patriots employee suspected of taping signals Jets coaches were sending to their players.

Such defiance might justify Goodell penalizing the Patriots with the loss of multiple draft choices, possibly even a first-round draft choice. Maybe that would impress upon the rest of the N.F.L. how brazen the Patriots were in videotaping the sideline signals, especially during a game against the Jets, whose coach, Eric Mangini, was once one of Belichick’s trusted assistant coaches.

Mangini hasn’t commented to reporters on the incident or even on Belichick’s apparent apology. Mangini surely doesn’t want to answer the obvious question: Were the signals of opposing teams being videotaped for decoding when Mangini was Belichick’s defensive coordinator in 2005, or earlier when he was the Patriots’ defensive backfield coach for five seasons?

If the commissioner were to ask Mangini that question, the Jets coach can’t (and shouldn’t) say “no comment” or take the Fifth Amendment.

In ruling on Michael Vick and Pacman Jones recently, Goodell cited the importance of the league’s integrity. But Vick and Jones were involved in criminal cases outside the pro football realm. The Patriots case is strictly a pro football crime subject to the commissioner’s jurisprudence.

Goodell doesn’t have to wait for an indictment or a trial. He knows the evidence. He also knows that Belichick, often referred to as pro football’s latest genius coach, has copped a guilty plea.

Not that spying is new to pro football. But the Patriots’ method was not only too high-tech, it had been discussed and denounced as blatant cheating.

In baseball, stealing signs from a third-base coach is considered an art, but the 1951 New York Giants’ use of a telescope and a buzzer system to alert batters to the next pitch would have deserved a commissioner’s punishment had it been discovered and proved.

Over the years in pro football, spying was usually confined to suspicion. Going back more than four decades, whenever a helicopter appeared anywhere above a Jets outdoor practice before a game with the Oakland Raiders, Coach Weeb Ewbank would blow his whistle.

“Al Davis has somebody up there watching us,” Ewbank would say, referring to the Raiders’ general managing genius. “Don’t do anything until that copter leaves.”

Harland Svare, the San Diego Chargers’ coach who had been a Giants linebacker, once looked up at a light fixture in the visiting team’s locker room at the Oakland Coliseum.

“I know you’re up there, Al Davis,” Svare yelled. “I know you’re up there.”

Told later of Svare’s accusations, Davis was willing to perpetuate his sinister reputation.

“The thing wasn’t in the light fixture,” Davis said slyly. “I’ll tell you that much.”

Ever since the Giants moved to the Meadowlands, their coaches have wondered if their practices at the outdoor field next to the stadium were being watched by spies peering through binoculars from a room in a nearby high-rise hotel. According to a Giants official, Coach Dan Reeves wanted to erect a wall to block that view.

In 1998, when the Atlanta Falcons, with Reeves as their coach, were about to play the Giants, the Falcons were suspected of planting a spy in that hotel. Just in case, the Giants assigned a club employee with high-powered binoculars to survey the windows of the hotel and a nearby office building. No spies were spotted.

Jim Fassel, the Giants’ coach at the time, solved the issue that week by taking the Giants inside the team’s practice bubble. The Falcons won, 34-20.

Until now, all that spying was mostly mischief that usually was more smoke than fire. But what Belichick and the Patriots did (and got caught at) was a bonfire not normally associated with a model franchise.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The War as We Saw It

Published: August 19, 2007


VIEWED from Iraq at the tail end of a 15-month deployment, the political debate in Washington is indeed surreal. Counterinsurgency is, by definition, a competition between insurgents and counterinsurgents for the control and support of a population. To believe that Americans, with an occupying force that long ago outlived its reluctant welcome, can win over a recalcitrant local population and win this counterinsurgency is far-fetched. As responsible infantrymen and noncommissioned officers with the 82nd Airborne Division soon heading back home, we are skeptical of recent press coverage portraying the conflict as increasingly manageable and feel it has neglected the mounting civil, political and social unrest we see every day. (Obviously, these are our personal views and should not be seen as official within our chain of command.)

The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the ''battle space'' remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers' expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

Similarly, Sunnis, who have been underrepresented in the new Iraqi armed forces, now find themselves forming militias, sometimes with our tacit support. Sunnis recognize that the best guarantee they may have against Shiite militias and the Shiite-dominated government is to form their own armed bands. We arm them to aid in our fight against Al Qaeda.

However, while creating proxies is essential in winning a counterinsurgency, it requires that the proxies are loyal to the center that we claim to support. Armed Sunni tribes have indeed become effective surrogates, but the enduring question is where their loyalties would lie in our absence. The Iraqi government finds itself working at cross purposes with us on this issue because it is justifiably fearful that Sunni militias will turn on it should the Americans leave.

In short, we operate in a bewildering context of determined enemies and questionable allies, one where the balance of forces on the ground remains entirely unclear. (In the course of writing this article, this fact became all too clear: one of us, Staff Sergeant Murphy, an Army Ranger and reconnaissance team leader, was shot in the head during a ''time-sensitive target acquisition mission'' on Aug. 12; he is expected to survive and is being flown to a military hospital in the United States.) While we have the will and the resources to fight in this context, we are effectively hamstrung because realities on the ground require measures we will always refuse -- namely, the widespread use of lethal and brutal force.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.

Coupling our military strategy to an insistence that the Iraqis meet political benchmarks for reconciliation is also unhelpful. The morass in the government has fueled impatience and confusion while providing no semblance of security to average Iraqis. Leaders are far from arriving at a lasting political settlement. This should not be surprising, since a lasting political solution will not be possible while the military situation remains in constant flux.

The Iraqi government is run by the main coalition partners of the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance, with Kurds as minority members. The Shiite clerical establishment formed the alliance to make sure its people did not succumb to the same mistake as in 1920: rebelling against the occupying Western force (then the British) and losing what they believed was their inherent right to rule Iraq as the majority. The qualified and reluctant welcome we received from the Shiites since the invasion has to be seen in that historical context. They saw in us something useful for the moment.

Now that moment is passing, as the Shiites have achieved what they believe is rightfully theirs. Their next task is to figure out how best to consolidate the gains, because reconciliation without consolidation risks losing it all. Washington's insistence that the Iraqis correct the three gravest mistakes we made -- de-Baathification, the dismantling of the Iraqi Army and the creation of a loose federalist system of government -- places us at cross purposes with the government we have committed to support.

Political reconciliation in Iraq will occur, but not at our insistence or in ways that meet our benchmarks. It will happen on Iraqi terms when the reality on the battlefield is congruent with that in the political sphere. There will be no magnanimous solutions that please every party the way we expect, and there will be winners and losers. The choice we have left is to decide which side we will take. Trying to please every party in the conflict -- as we do now -- will only ensure we are hated by all in the long run.

At the same time, the most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. ''Lucky'' Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

In a lawless environment where men with guns rule the streets, engaging in the banalities of life has become a death-defying act. Four years into our occupation, we have failed on every promise, while we have substituted Baath Party tyranny with a tyranny of Islamist, militia and criminal violence. When the primary preoccupation of average Iraqis is when and how they are likely to be killed, we can hardly feel smug as we hand out care packages. As an Iraqi man told us a few days ago with deep resignation, ''We need security, not free food.''

In the end, we need to recognize that our presence may have released Iraqis from the grip of a tyrant, but that it has also robbed them of their self-respect. They will soon realize that the best way to regain dignity is to call us what we are -- an army of occupation -- and force our withdrawal.

Until that happens, it would be prudent for us to increasingly let Iraqis take center stage in all matters, to come up with a nuanced policy in which we assist them from the margins but let them resolve their differences as they see fit. This suggestion is not meant to be defeatist, but rather to highlight our pursuit of incompatible policies to absurd ends without recognizing the incongruities.

We need not talk about our morale. As committed soldiers, we will see this mission through.

Buddhika Jayamaha is an Army specialist. Wesley D. Smith is a sergeant. Jeremy Roebuck is a sergeant. Omar Mora is a sergeant. Edward Sandmeier is a sergeant. Yance T. Gray is a staff sergeant. Jeremy A. Murphy is a staff sergeant.

*SGTs Mora and Gray were killed in Baghdad on 11 September 2007.

**SSG Murphy was wounded while this op-ed was being written. He was shot in the head and is expected to recover.

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