Rob Smith – Acidman Mars – A Farewell

I can’t believe I missed the news that Rob Smith, better known as Acidman Mars on his blog ‘Gut Rumbles‘ died.

Rob and I had some ding-dong blog discussions back when I was a sprout. Here’s something I said about him then:

You want ballsy honesty, you want the truth?? Yeah, you can handle the truth, and here it is.

There are more Acidmans in the world than we recognize. Not nearly as many as I wish there were…

Somehow, I’m picturing Acidman and Denise Denton sitting at a bar, drinking Bourbon and Scotch…I’d pay-per-view that discussion, for sure.

I’m off for the weekend, headed north for a wedding. I may or may not have time to do any blogging; if I’m off the air this weekend please remember not to kill each other or blow anything major up while I’m away.

The Times And Citizenship

I want to take a few minutes and expand on my thinking about why the NY Times and LA Times were so wrong to publish the story about the SWIFT monitoring program.

I don’t think that the newspapers are treasonous, or doing this solely in an effort to thwart President Bush (i.e. I don’t think that a Democratic president would be getting a free ride right now). That doesn’t mean that the impacts of what they are doing doesn’t damage the country, put lives at risk, or negatively impact President Bush’s effectiveness.

I think, in simple terms, that they have forgotten that they are citizens, and that they have an obligation to the polity that goes beyond writing the good story. I don’t think they are alone; I think that many people and institutions in the country today have forgotten they are citizens, whether they are poor residents of New Orleans defrauding FEMA or corporate chieftains who are maximizing their bonuses at the expense of a healthy economy.

But that’s another blog post.

I wrote about journalism and citizenship back in February, and one of the examples I cited was James Fallows’ story about a conference in 1987 held at Montclair State College as a part of a PBS series called “Ethics in America”.This conference was about the ethical issues involved in being in the military, and one of the discussions involved media superstars Mike Wallace and Peter Jennings. Here’s Fallows:

Then Ogletree turned to the two most famous members of the evening’s panel, better known than William Westmoreland himself. These were two star TV journalists: Peter Jennings of World News Tonight and ABC, and Mike Wallace of 6o Minutes and CBS. Ogletree brought them into the same hypothetical war. He asked Jennings to imagine that he worked for a network that had been in contact with the enemy North Kosanese government. After much pleading, the North Kosanese had agreed to let Jennings and his news crew into their country, to film behind the lines and even travel with military units. Would Jennings be willing to go? Of course, Jennings replied. Any reporter would-and in real wars reporters from his network often had. But while Jennings and his crew are traveling with a North Kosanese unit, to visit the site of an alleged atrocity by American and South Kosanese troops, they unexpectedly cross the trail of a small group of American and South Kosanese soldiers. With Jennings in their midst, the northern soldiers set up a perfect ambush, which will let them gun down the Americans and Southerners, every one. What does Jennings do? Ogletree asks. Would he tell his cameramen to “Roll tape!” as the North Kosanese opened fire? What would go through his mind as he watched the North Kosanese prepare to ambush the Americans? Jennings sat silent for about fifteen seconds after Ogletree asked this question. “Well, I guess I wouldn’t,” he finally said. “I am going to tell you now what I am feeling, rather than the hypothesis I drew for myself. If I were with a North Kosanese unit that came upon Americans, I think that I personally would do what I could to warn the Americans.” Even if it means losing the story? Ogletree asked.

Even though it would almost certainly mean losing my life, Jennings replied. “But I do not think that I could bring myself to participate in that act. That’s purely personal, and other reporters might have a different reaction.” Immediately Mike Wallace spoke up. “I think some other reporters would have a different reaction,” he said, obviously referring to himself. “They would regard it simply as a story they were there to cover.” “I am astonished, really,” at Jennings’s answer, Wallace said a moment later. He turned toward Jennings and began to lecture him: “You’re a reporter. Granted you’re an American”-at least for purposes of the fictional example; Jennings has actually retained Canadian citizenship. “I’m a little bit at a loss to understand why, because you’re an American, you would not have covered that story.” Ogletree pushed Wallace. Didn’t Jennings have some higher duty, either patriotic or human, to do something other than just roll film as soldiers from his own country were being shot? “No,” Wallace said flatly and immediately. “You don’t have a higher duty. No. No. You’re a reporter!” Jennings backtracked fast. Wallace was right, he said. “I chickened out.” Jennings said that he had gotten so wrapped up in the hypothetical questions that he had lost sight of his journalistic duty to remain detached. As Jennings said he agreed with Wallace, everyone else in the room seemed to regard the two of them with horror. Retired Air Force general Brent Scowcroft, who had been Gerald Ford’s national security advisor and would soon serve in the same job for George Bush, said it was simply wrong to stand and watch as your side was slaughtered. “What’s it worth?” he asked Wallace bitterly. “It’s worth thirty seconds on the evening news, as opposed to saving a platoon.” Ogletree turned to Wallace. What about that? Shouldn’t the reporter have said something? Wallace gave his most disarming grin, shrugged his shoulders and spread his palms wide in a “Don’t ask me!” gesture, and said, “I don’t know.” He was mugging to the crowd in such a way that he got a big laugh-the first such moment of the discussion. Wallace paused to enjoy the crowd’s reaction. Jennings, however, was all business, and was still concerned about the first answer he had given. “I wish I had made another decision,” Jennings said, as if asking permission to live the last five minutes over again. “I would like to have made his decision”-that is, Wallace’s decision to keep on filming. A few minutes later Ogletree turned to George M. Connell, a Marine colonel in full uniform, jaw muscles flexing in anger, with stress on each word, Connell looked at the TV stars and said, “I feel utter . . . contempt. ” Two days after this hypothetical episode, Connell Jennings or Wallace might be back with the American forces–and could be wounded by stray fire, as combat journalists often had been before. The instant that happened he said, they wouldn’t be “just journalists” any more. Then they would drag them back, rather than leaving them to bleed to death on the battlefield. “We’ll do it!” Connell said. “And that is what makes me so contemptuous of them. Marines will die going to get … a couple of journalists.” The last few words dripped with disgust. Not even Ogletree knew what to say. There was dead silence for several seconds. Then a square-jawed man with neat gray hair and aviator glasses spoke up. It was Newt Gingrich, looking a generation younger and trimmer than when he became Speaker of the House in I995. One thing was clear from this exercise, he said: “The military has done a vastly better ‘job of systematically thinking through the ethics of behavior in a violent environment than the journalists have.” That was about the mildest way to put it. Peter Jennings and Mike Wallace are just two individuals, but their reactions spoke volumes about the values of their craft. Jennings was made to feel embarrassed about his natural, decent human impulse. Wallace was completely unembarrassed about feeling no connection to the soldiers in his country’s army considering their deaths before his eyes as “simply a story.” In other important occupations people sometimes need to do the horrible. Frederick Downs [an earlier speaker who had discussed the ethics of torture and battlefield interrogation], after all, was willing to torture a man and hear him scream. But had thought through all the consequences and alternatives, and he knew he would live with the horror for the rest of his days. When Mike Wallace said he would do something horrible, he didn’t bother to argue a rationale. He did not try to explain the reasons a reporter might feel obliged to remain silent as the attack began–for instance, that in combat reporters must be beyond country, or that they have a duty to bear impartial witness to deaths on either side, or that Jennings had implicitly made a promise not to betray the North Kosanese when he agreed to accompany them on the hypothetical patrol. The soldiers might or might not have found such arguments convincing, but Wallace didn’t even make them. He relied on charm and star power to win acceptance from the crowd. Mike Wallace on patrol with the North Kosanese, cameras rolling while his countrymen are gunned down, recognizing no “higher duty” to interfere in any way and offering no rationale beyond “I’m with the press”–this is a nice symbol for what Americans hate about their media establishment in our age.

That’s a long quote, so let me pull out two key quotes from it that, to me sum up the nub of the issue.

Mike Wallace:

“I am astonished, really,” at Jennings’s answer, Wallace said a moment later. He turned toward Jennings and began to lecture him: “You’re a reporter. Granted you’re an American”-at least for purposes of the fictional example; Jennings has actually retained Canadian citizenship. “I’m a little bit at a loss to understand why, because you’re an American, you would not have covered that story.” Ogletree pushed Wallace. Didn’t Jennings have some higher duty, either patriotic or human, to do something other than just roll film as soldiers from his own country were being shot? “No,” Wallace said flatly and immediately. “You don’t have a higher duty. No. No. You’re a reporter!

[emphasis added]

Col. George M. Connell:

“I feel utter . . . contempt. ” Two days after this hypothetical episode, Connell Jennings or Wallace might be back with the American forces–and could be wounded by stray fire, as combat journalists often had been before. The instant that happened he said, they wouldn’t be “just journalists” any more. Then they would drag them back, rather than leaving them to bleed to death on the battlefield. “We’ll do it!” Connell said. “And that is what makes me so contemptuous of them. Marines will die going to get … a couple of journalists.” The last few words dripped with disgust.

The problem is, simply, that journalists are part of a larger society. Journalism as Mike Wallace practices it could not be practiced in ‘North Kosistan’ (funny name, now that I think about it) or in Al-Zarquawi’s fantasy of Iraq.

Earlier journalists, as I show in my Feb. post, got that. I do not believe that the editors of the NY Times and LA Times do.

Dean Baquet (who got a copy of my email canceling my subscription) has a letter justifying their decision in today’s paper (no, I don’t get the paper, it was in the roundup email that I still get from the Times, and yes, as Kevin Drum pointed out at lunch Sunday, I know I’m ‘cheating’ by reading the online edition)

Here’re some highlights from Baquet, with some comments from me interspersed:

MANY READERS have been sharply critical of our decision to publish an article Friday on the U.S. Treasury Department’s program to secretly monitor worldwide money transfers in an effort to track terrorist financing.

They have sent me sincere and powerful expressions of their disappointment in our newspaper, and they deserve an equally thoughtful and honest response.

The decision to publish this article was not one we took lightly. We considered very seriously the government’s assertion that these disclosures could cause difficulties for counterterrorism programs. And we weighed that assertion against the fact that there is an intense and ongoing public debate about whether surveillance programs like these pose a serious threat to civil liberties.

I do think there’s a legitimate set of debates to have about the limits of the surveillance state (see what England is doing these days). But by the standard Baquet holds up here, any and all surveillance programs are up for disclosure, no matter how legal or effective – simply because the controversy exists. I guess I’d like to know where Baquet draws the line.

We sometimes withhold information when we believe that reporting it would threaten a life. In this case, we believed, based on our talks with many people in the government and on our own reporting, that the information on the Treasury Department’s program did not pose that threat. Nor did the government give us any strong evidence that the information would thwart true terrorism inquiries. In fact, a close read of the article shows that some in the government believe that the program is ineffective in fighting terrorism.

And now we know. If it’s so operational that someone might die, then it’s off bounds. Anything else is fair game – secrets to be kept, if the government can do so.

And let’s also go to the point that patterico makes: the program had had significant successes, but the Times reporters weren’t good enough to have unearthed them.

In the end, we felt that the legitimate public interest in this program outweighed the potential cost to counterterrorism efforts.

Well, the public is interested in all kinds of things, including autopsy pictures. I’m slightly worried that Baquet feel that he and his lawyers are the arbiter of which of those interests is ‘legitimate’.

Some readers have seen our decision to publish this story as an attack on the Bush administration and an attempt to undermine the war on terror.

We are not out to get the president. This newspaper has done much hard-hitting reporting on terrorism, from around the world, often at substantial risk to our reporters. We have exposed terrorist cells and led the way in exposing the work of terrorists. We devoted a reporter to covering Al Qaeda’s role in world terrorism in the months before 9/11. I know, because I made the assignment.

But we also have an obligation to cover the government, with its tremendous power, and to offer information about its activities so citizens can make their own decisions. That’s the role of the press in our democracy.

I don’t actually disagree with this. But the perspective that you cover the government from – the way you decide what and when to report – does matter.

And the problem is that I keep seeing Mike Wallace sitting and rolling tape with the North Kosanese, and he’s saying exactly the same things.

I think that what Bill Keller and Dean Baquet went too far in this case. I don’t know if they are feeling pressure yet (after all, my subscription might have paid his coffee bill for a day or two) or genuinely wondering what the reaction is all about.

Patterico is all over this, and points out some of the slippery thinking and changing stories coming from the Times.


I’m at the Catalina Terminal, waiting for Littlest Guy to show up so we can send him away to camp for two weeks.

And I’m watching the kids and parents, and the steps – fast, slow, scared and confident that the children are taking toward adulthood, and I’m realizing how short our time as parents really is, and how little time we get to prepare them for the world they want so very much.

Goodbye, LAT

[Update #2: See my earlier post on ‘News And Citizenship‘ to understand my take on the broader issues.]

Subject: Cancel Subscription

From: Marc Danziger

Date: 9:54 am



I’ve been a subscriber to the Los Angeles Times continuously since I moved back to Los Angeles in 1980.

With this email, I’m asking that you cancel my subscription, effective Monday, June 26, 2006.

Subscription details are:


I’m canceling my subscription because I am appalled that you would publish the details of a legal, effective government program – the financial transaction monitoring program.

The Times and its staff are not above the obligations of citizenship. Those obligations absolutely do extend to vigorously questioning the government about its actions and inactions and continuously challenging it to get better.

But it seems to me that there is a bright line between challenging government policies with an aim to ensuring that it is doing its job, and openly disclosing the mechanics of a program designed to identify those who murder innocent civilians and who have openly declared war on our nation, its people, and on the values that make us who we are.

I’m disappointed in the Times for doing this, and I cannot support you by funding you. I’ll miss the paper.

Marc Danziger

Patterico did it, too.

If I subscribed to the Wall Street Journal or the NY Times, I’d cancel those, too.

[Update: Listen to Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus (Washington bureau chief for the LAT) discuss the decision to go to press here (look for ‘To Publish Or Not?’)

People Make Comments

Folks, my apologies for not joining in the threads on the posts below; it’s been a week (and it’s not done yet!!).

I want to cherrypick a few comments and respond quickly just so some things don’t hang out there unremarked. This is kind of an experiment, and we’ll see if the comments here have any coherence at all or just turn into a furball.

In ‘Intel At Intel Dump’:

Tom Holsinger and I are going to go around again about his unsourced military claims (#7) re Korea.

Tom when did we ever (#31) go around (i.e. disagree) re the odds of success for a decapitating air strike?

In general, I don’t find Davebo’s casual comment in #3 convincing:

To assert that bombing a camp believed to be used by terrorists to manufacture WMD’s would have doomed any international cooperation against Saddam, while not mentioning that fairly extensive bombing campaigns were already proceeding in Iraq isn’t being ignorant. It’s being blatantly dishonest.

Davebo, the bombing campaign in 2002 was specifically targeting Iraqi air defense capabilities – whether legitimately in response to the fact that the Iraqis launched a few missiles at our folks, or somewhat less so in a precursor to war (I can easily imagine a response that includes both – we’ll stop then shooting at us, and if we choose to invade, they’ll be less capable) rather than random targets of value.In ‘Fightin Moderates’:

AJL (#3):

As I wrote in the Slate Fray, what has Lieberman so hot and bothered is he’s in danger of losing to a liberal. Holy Joe likes losing to Republicans; they tell him what a great guy he is, pose for a photo op, tell him “Nice try”. Hell, he passed up his best chance of being Vice President for the honor of being the Democrat that Republicans would support—if they weren’t, of course, supporting the Republican. Remember how he literally couldn’t wait to rat out Gore on the military votes is politics in Florida—including ones that looked suspiciously like they had been cast after the election? Joe couldn’t find it in himself to be ungracious and filibuster any of the Bush court nominees either.

Andrew, I’ll add LDS (Lieberman Derangement Syndrome) to the lexicon here. Lieberman isn’t being opposed because of his corporatist votes (which I don’t like); he’s being opposed because he supports the War in Iraq, and for actions in which – as quoted – he puts the national interest (as he sees it) above the partisan one.

If the Democratic Party is about nothing except opposing the War in Iraq and disciplining those who stray from Party Discipline, my response would be that it’s dead, Jim. I still believe that it’s not and that once the bubble that Kos and MyDD have stirred up collapses, we can put together an adult Democratic Party that can win.

And yeah, Andrew – it’s a great point to highlight that Lieberman refused to disenfranchise overseas troops in Gore’s interest. That’s highly convincing to me that Gore (and you) cared most of all about an honest election, and not about whatever it took to win.

Gabriel Chapman (#6):

And FYI: Moderate is codeword for “won’t take a stand”.

No it’s not. Moderate is a codeword for “there’s a truth somewhere in this mess that isn’t represented by Daily Kos or the Freep”.

Davebo (#17): When did I call Whitman a liberal? He’s a right-moderate, I’m a left-moderate. I do think I probably have more in common with him than I do Kos (we’re both honest and sane), and I’ll guess that his positions – if adopted by the Republican Party will win a lot more elections than Kos’ if adopted by the Democrats.

AJL (#22):

Let me be blunt: Lieberman isn’t your hero because his positions are deep, or his advocacy impassioned, or his daughters cute. He’s the hero because he’s your fellow participant in the self-induced illusion that the War in Iraq is being won. The problem with presidential credibility in Iraq is that the president is a blowhard and a liar, and your problem in acknowledging the same is the natural embarrassment of looking down and seeing you are naked.

And Andrew, saying it a million times, emphatically and forcefully may eventually make it so by changing people’s minds and so what we do, but the reality is that Iraq isn’t lost, and while Bush may be a blowhard and a liar, so are all Presidents (especially in wartime) and you’ve lost all judgment when it comes to Bush or Iraq.

hypocracyrules (#31):

“it’s not that they want to break the iron ricebowl that’s been feeding the political elites; they just want their own chopsticks.”

Without any facts this is simply propaganda smear. And A.L. knows it. Who is the “they?” What is the preponderance of evidence that, after millions of words written, that the “they” simply want the rice? (And yes, I mean the PREPONDERANCE OF EVIDENCE. Not one or two examples, in the thousands of bloggers, with infinite words written.)

Oh please, hypo. This isn’t a court of law where I have to make a case supported by the preponderance of evidence (or better, beyond a reasonable doubt). Kos tells Micah Sifry, when asked why he is supporting Warner:

I’ve now had two opportunities (first at PDF and now here at YearlyKos) to ask Markos Moulitsas why he thinks Warner is THE candidate who gets the Internet, and both times his answer is, essentially, “He hired Jerome.”

So I’ll call bullshit on this charge.

You then segue into, ‘well if they’re making money, why is that so bad’??

And, who are you to be throwing stones? Is WOC part of any advertising market? Don’t YOU make recommendations? Did you get paid for your work – and good work – in Iraq? Didn’t this gig help in that?

We get our ads directly from TribalFusion, in part because we chose not to be a part of the baggage involved in the various blog ad networks. Yes, I make recommendations – but the people I recommend don’t pay me to do so (in fact, it’s the other way around, I back them with my own cash. In the case of Debra Bowen, I’ve disclosed that I’ve known Debra for some time so people can freely decide whether they think my recommendation is backed by supportable positions or personal bias. When I took the Spirit of America gig, I took a $4K/mo cut in pay, so yeah, I was profiting wildly from that one – but yes, blogging did lead me to that one. You forgot Pajamas Media, which I helped start and sold out of – and which blogging led me to. You’ll note what a shill I am for them…

AJL (#50):

Now, did Saddam dream of re-acquiring WMD? Well, I suppose he did. I dream of seducing Anne Hathaway (yeah, weird taste in starlets), but is that cause for whoever her boyfriend is to come beat me up? The inspections that we interrupted so that Bush could get his war on were in all likelihood going to squelch whatever Saddam had going on. Mostly he seemed interested in maintaining the human capital to develop weaponry, and I can’t imagine you would think more highly of Saddam if all of his WMD-capable scientists mysteriously disappeared. It takes a little more expertise than I have to understand whose definition of dual-use is in play in these reports. In our early, confident announcements, it was obvious that equipment in my son’s junior High science lab would have been considered dual use—perhaps rightfully so, it doesn’t take much to come up with tactical-level chemical munitions.

Andrew, this is the core charge against the war (nice riff on Ann Hathaway, btw – I use Uma Thurman for the same point), and one that seems so obviously wrong that I’m puzzled it’s still around.

Sanctions were what was preventing Saddam from making progress on his dreams of WMD – dreams he had the means to realize once he could freely sell his oil and import outside close supervision. Sanctions were breaking down, both operationally as the corruption of OFF corroded the administration of them and as the political consensus for them corroded under Madeline Albrights ‘half a million Iraqi babies’ comment. There’s little doubt in my mind that had the US said ‘basta!’ and given up, that the sanctions would have be over in weeks, and Saddam would have happily started selling oil and buying centrifuges.

Saddam did admit and cooperate (grudgingly and inadequately, per Hans Blix) with UN inspectors once a quarter-million US troops were on his borders, cleaning their guns. But those troops couldn’t stay there indefinitely, and the window for operations before the heat of summer or rain of winter was a narrow one. So we used them or we waited a year. Was it likely that Saddam was going to be more cooperative we couldn’t move? Or even that sanctions would hold up another year?

Intel At Intel Dump

Adam White, posting over at Phil Carter’s Intel Dump while Phil is teaching the operations of law to Iraqis (Phil, I owe you a steak when you come back…soon and healthy, please!) has three great posts up.

In reverse chronological order:

He takes apart the argument that there was no justification for Bush not to have bombed the terror camp where Al-Zarqawi was hiding in the No-Fly Zone in 2002 except as a pretext to rationalize the war.White’s argument is simple; Bush tried to move international institutions (read France and Germany) to support actions up to and including war with Iraq, was ultimately unsuccessful and proceeded anyway. A premature attack would have been sees as reckless escalation, and since there was no way to know that the negotiations would be unsuccessful in advance (we hadn’t seen the Oil-For-Food books yet), it was sensible to try everything in our power – including restraint – to strengthen them.

He highlights the Perry/Carter proposal that we send a Tomahawk in to bomb the Nork launch pad before they launch their missile. He’s kinder to the proposal than I would be, and asks his audience for comments (which are interesting). My view is that this is a fairly typical example of Clinton’s policy calculus: cheap, theatrical, guaranteed casualty-free, and ineffective. The fact that it would constitute an act of war seems to evade folks’ attention.

And he highlights the LA Times/ NY Times articles exposing the (valuable, now hopelessly compromised) financial intelligence programs, and points out the first-cut legal arguments that support their legality.

As a side note, I’ll comment that the LA Times has finally pushed me to cancel my subscription with this article, and I’d encourage anyone else reading this who gets the paper to do the same thing.

“…Rectifying The Rightward Drift Of British Society…”

Crooked Timber leads me to urban drift uk, who is commenting from a far-left point of view on Gordon Brown and the future of the Labor party.

The worst possible outcome is not necessarily that of a Labour party shut out of power for the foreseeable future, but that of a Labour government enjoying sustained electoral success in a society that has become more rightwing under its watch. Gordon Brown may harbour a progressive vision of the ideal society, but without a different approach, and with time, and the patience of the left running out, the challenge of rectifying the rightward drift of British society will be insurmountable.

The notion that the government should be empowered to move society to the right or left, rather than somehow implementing policies through programs, is somehow kinda disturbing to me. Then again, I don’t have a Mao or Che poster in my living room.

Fightin’ Moderates

The inter-Democratic chattering class wars are heating up, as the somewhat checkered backgrounds of netroots heroes Joe Trippi and Jerome Armstrong float to the surface. But hey, I’ve got a checkered background as well (nothing in their league, but there was this one time I was trapped overnight in a sorority…).

There are real issues there, which I’m chewing over – at a basic level, it’s the cooptation of ‘trusted recommenders’ by advertising – the political equivalent of BuzzAgents. And, to me, it exposes the hollowness of the positions of the netroots leadership – it’s not that they want to break the iron ricebowl that’s been feeding the political elites; they just want their own chopsticks.

I’ve been casting about for a post explaining where I stand on this, and after a number of false starts, discovered just what I wanted to say on someone else’s site.

Bull Moose is another liberal who the TAPPED folks probably look at askance.Monday, he put up a great post:

The Moose calls for moderates with attitudes.

These days if you want to be taken seriously in politics you have to have an attitude. Just look who the MSM pays attention to – blowhard bloggers and pugilistic pundits. In fact, Coulter and Kos are kissing cousins.

They deserve each other. The primary difference between the two is that the Republican Party leadership does not grovel at the feet of Coulter nor do their Senate candidates give her a staring role in their commercials.

It is time that changed. The Moose suggests that our nation desperately needs moderates with attitudes. No, they should not be course, crude and crass. But they should be unafraid and unapologetic about their centrism.

First and foremost, the immoderate center should not temper their views when they come under assault from the fever swamp of the left and the right. There is no accommodating these folks.

America needs national unity as never before. We are faced with a Jihadist enemy that poses a potential existential threat to our nation. The stakes are high. That is why the McCain-Lieberman Party in American politics must be bold and daring. While the two parties slavishly appease their respective bases, the broad swath of the electorate remains unrepresented.

He goes on to quote David Broder interviewing Joe Lieberman:

My opponent says it [the controversial Wall Street Journal op-ed] broke Democratic unity,” Lieberman said. “Well, dammit, I wasn’t thinking about Democratic unity. It was a moment to put the national interest above partisan interest…

“I know I’m taking a position that is not popular within the party,” Lieberman said, “but that is a challenge for the party — whether it will accept diversity of opinion or is on a kind of crusade or jihad of its own to have everybody toe the line. No successful political party has ever done that.”

Where do I sign up?

Eats Shoots And Lobbies

Over at Kevin Drum’s place, Christina Larsen links to the new “American Hunters and Shooters Association“, which she describes as aiming “…to be a pro-gun, pro-conservation, pro-safety alternative to the NRA…“.

In other words a less absolutist gun owner’s organization, premised on the notion that the NRA is so deeply involved in legislative affairs that it’s selling short it’s mission to encourage hunting and use of firearms in areas other than self-defense.

This ties to a Washington Monthly article by Larsen a while ago about “The Emerging Environmental Majority” in which she suggests that environmental concerns that impact outdoorsmen (and women) – those who fish and hunt – mirror those of environmentalists, and that a loose coalition may be forming.

It’s an interesting idea, and AHSA is a clear manifestation of it.

There’s a set of questions about the extent to which the organization is grassroots or Astroturf, and as those get answered, that’ll obviously have an impact on my view of it.

But I’m absolutely the target audience for a group like this – I shoot, I’m policy-oriented (i.e. not going to go ballistic because government proposes something), and I believe that in reality there is gun regulation that exists and could exist that’s a good thing both for society and gun owners.

I let my NRA membership lapse when I stopped competing in part because of my distaste for some of their political tactics, and even more because I do think it’s become a self-perpetuating bureaucracy, like many advocacy groups.

So what’s my initial reaction?


Here’s why.

On the website, there’s a clear message sent by the images – all of which are orange-vested long-gun toting outdoor sportsmen. No target shooters, no precision long-distance shooters, no handgun shooters at all (not even handgun hunters).

Go to the “Gun Rights” section, and there are two links: Working With Our Legislators and DC Gun Law.

Working with our legislators involves a day of bonding and upland bird hunting (hey, I like bird hunting…).

DC Gun Law encourages (sensibly) that the District allow law-abiding citizens to purchase guns.

Nothing earth-shaking.

Then we go to the Law Enforcement section. Here’s the lede:

AHSA is an organization committed to supporting our nation’s law enforcement officers and first responders in their fight against easy access to guns by criminals, terrorists, and others who would abuse the right to keep and bear arms.

Reading down the policy proposals, what it looks like to me is an effort to broaden the data gathered and stored about gun purchasers and purchases.

There’s a huge and recent history around this, in which current law pretty clearly prohibits law enforcement from retaining gun sales data gathered during background checks. Some agencies kept it anyway, thinking that it would have some future utility and Congress and the Administration jointly slapped their hands.

In other words, law enforcement administration attempted to use records that are by law to be used only to vet gun purchasers and are supposed to be destroyed as a backdoor registry.

My feelings about registration are complex, but at the end of the day if the option is a single federal or state registry, I’m against it. Go see how well it worked in Canada.

OK, one strike.

Let’s go to the section headed A Gun In The Home For Self-Protection?

The American Hunters and Shooters Association does not promote nor do we discourage keeping a firearm in the home for self-protection. We believe it is inappropriate for anyone to make a one-size-fits-all recommendation that an individual in Maryland, Texas, California or Massachusetts should or should not keep a firearm in the home.

In deciding whether a firearm in the home is a risk or a benefit, four common sense factors must be considered:

1. Is a firearm in the home more likely to be used to protect its owner or is it more likely to be used against a member of the household?
2. How frequently are guns used for self-protection?
3. How effective are handguns when they are used for self-protection?
4. Overall, how safe are guns in the home?

There are certain factors that weigh heavily against keeping a gun in the home for self-protection. One of the most widely quoted statements about guns is that a firearm kept in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder. This comes from the Journal of Medicine in 1986, following a six-year review of gunshot deaths in Seattle, Washington, conducted by Dr. Arthur Kellermann and others. The validity of this study in determining the value and risk of firearms for home protection has been questioned. The Kellermann study focused only on defensive gun uses where the criminal intruder was shot and killed. Instances in which intruders or assailants were wounded or frightened away were not included.

This is waffling at a level I would have thought only John Kerry capable of. Strike two.

I don’t believe everyone in America should own a gun. I don’t believe that people who don’t have guns in their homes ready to hand are in imminent danger because they refuse to arm.

But here’s a place where a clear stance should be taken – and we ought to know exactly where the organization stands.

because in reality, that’s the fissure point in American society around guns. Most Americans wouldn’t have an issue with the Savage deer rifle in my gun safe, or the classic Remington 53 shotgun.

But the Scattergun Tech police shotgun or the handguns probably give them pause.

Because the fundamental question is: do you trust me and citizens like me enough to allow me ready access to the tools for deadly force in order to defend myself?

And do you in light of the incontrovertible fact that many people misuse those tools with tragic outcomes?

It’s a bright line, and you’re typically on one side or the other.

When I’m clearer which side AHSA is on, I’ll know more about how I feel.

But at this point, the cynic in me suggests that it’s a stalking horse designed to try and split the shooting community. It feels vaguely like a ‘womens rights’ organization that is ambivalent about women working outside the home.

I’ll suggest two steps the organization could take that would make me feel a lot more comfy.

First, clarify their position on nonhunting, nonsporting ownership and use of guns. There’s language on the site which could be taken either way, and that’s bad. Assuming their position is close to mine, clarity here would buy a lot of comfort from me.

Second, take a position on ‘shall-issue’ CCW. While John Lott’s data supporting lower crime rates in states with policies that readily grant weapons permits to noncriminal citizens is pretty much out the window, I have seen no data that suggests any significant negative impacts – and I know people are looking.

Overall, my problem with that isn’t Ray Schoenke, the former Redskin who’s the president of the group (although his campaign donations to Sen. Kennedy, Sen. Feinstein, Sen. Boxer and others on the anti-gun side of the world would seem to put him clearly on one side of the issue), or Bob Ricker, the executive director who left the NRA in a Fury and participated in several of the lawsuits against gun manufacturers (a particularly odious thing to do, in my view), or their consultants who include former Congressman David Bonior, who has been a reliable antigun voter. It’s quite possible that they could come to the conclusion that gun rights matter, and that a different organization than the NRA could do a good – or even in some lights better – job of defending them. My problem is that there is a space to the left of the NRA, but it’s a narrow one. And I wonder if these guys haven’t stepped too far away.

If they haven’t, it’d be a great opening to the Democrats to the ‘guys who have Confederate flags on their pickups’ – men and women whose support they need if they are going to start winning elections.

Kagan on Anti-Americanism

Robert Prather, writing over at James Joyner’s ‘Outside the Beltway’ has an interesting post up on anti-Americanism. It’s a riff on a column by Robert Kagan in the Post and concludes:

My own theory about these resentments includes the fact that, yes, we have done some things that were hurtful, but generally when our choices weren’t good in any case. One instance is our interference in Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s. We were engaged in an existential struggle with communism and, as part of that struggle we opposed communist dictatorships and supported other types of dictatorships. It is clearly resented in Latin America, but I can’t say I would do things differently given what we were facing. The whole world was a chess board with us playing the Soviet Union in a series of proxy conflicts, at least in part because if we fought one another, the outcome would have been horrendous.

My other theory is that much of this comes from envy. Some of it is relatively benign, like French politicians using the U.S. as a whipping boy to get elected. I’m sure that stuff doesn’t go unnoticed, but most people understand that’s how politics works. The other things, like the African dictator’s son damning us for acting in one instance (Bosnia) and not in another (Rwanda) is simply throwing up things to see if they will stick. There is a market for this kind of nonsense in Europe and elsewhere, and given the detachment from reality and/or stupidity of the accusers, I’m not overly concerned with that either. We will be resented by someone no matter what we do simply because of our current place in the world.

One instance that demonstrates what we should do is the tsunami. We figured out the right thing to do, and we did it with the help of Japan and Australia. We had ships on the scene shortly after the catastrophe to help by flying people out of soaked areas, bringing fresh water and food to others and various other things. While we were doing this, to distract from their own incompetence, the UN had Jan Egeland complaining that we didn’t give enough of our GDP to international institutions. While they were having conferences about setting up more conferences, we were helping people. That’s how I believe we should handle these matters: Decide the right thing to do and do it; let others bicker over insignificant side issues. We should probably accept that no gratitude will be forthcoming when we do help. It’ll be another reason to criticize us later on.

We should help anyway.

In case you’re wondering, I agree.

But I also think that we have to be working toward international institutions that work as they should and have some measure of effectiveness and legitimacy.